The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • Archive
  • Polls Section

  •  
    What America Thinks
    Sex and the Army: Behind the Headlines

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, Dec. 1, 1997

    "Army Finds Wide Abuse of Women"
    – The Washington Post, Sept. 12, 1997

    Women made headlines when the Army recently released its survey of sexual harassment in the ranks, and appropriately so. But overlooked and largely ignored in the statistical shuffle was this startling statistic: In terms of actual numbers, far more men than women reported they had been harassed, coerced or otherwise sexually assaulted while serving their country.

    Nearly twice as many men as women said they had been sexually harassed in the previous 12 months, according to the Army's study of 14,498 men and women on active duty.

    Three times as many male soldiers as female soldiers said they had experienced "sexual coercion." And for every woman who said she had been sexually assaulted in the past year, six men made the same claim, according to U.S. Army statistics.

    Who's doing what to whom? The Army doesn't exactly know. The survey didn't ask, so the victims couldn't tell.

    "But it's a good question," says Pentagon spokesman Col. John Smith. As a result of the study, there's a six-month plan underway to implement training designed to reduce sexual abuse of women and men in the ranks.

    This much is known: Larger percentages of women than men reported they had been sexually harassed, coerced or assaulted in the previous 12 months. And it was those percentages that were widely publicized after the study was released in September.

    But it's also true that based on those same percentages, men overwhelmingly outnumber women among the victims of sexual harassment and abuse in the Army. That's because there are far more men than women in the ranks.

    "If you do the arithmetic, there were more men harassed in the Army and the total effect on men was larger than the effect on women," says James Lowerre, a retired mathematics professor and a graduate of West Point, who examined the Army's survey results. "These issues didn't get attention, and are deserving of attention."

    Here's how the numbers work:

    Women comprise about 14 percent of the Army's 480,000 soldiers on active duty (about 67,200 women and 412,800 men). Overall, 22 percent of the service women surveyed said they had been sexually harassed sometime in the previous year, which translates into an estimated 14,800 women who experienced harassment.

    But 7 percent of the men also reported that they had been sexually harassed in the past 12 months. That works out to an estimated 28,900 men who were harassed.

    Likewise, when asked whether they had been sexually assaulted or not, a larger percentage of women (7 percent) than men (6 percent) reported they had. Those percentages mean that an estimated 24,000 men and 4,700 women were assaulted.

    These numbers do not minimize the problem of sexual harassment or assault of women in the military. Just the opposite: The problem apparently is bigger and more serious than news accounts, which focused almost exclusively on female victims, have suggested.

    So what form did this harassing, coercing and sexual assaulting take? Army officials say there's no single answer. Some female soldiers undoubtedly pestered, groped, coerced or otherwise sexually assaulted some of their male comrades. Some men undoubtedly did the same to other men, as did some women to other women, Smith says. And the Army is investigating complaints that some trainers went over the line in physically disciplining new recruits in ways that were nothing short of a sexual assault, even if the motivation or the intent of the trainers' actions was not sexual.

    Men also may interpret sexual harassment differently than women. A man who is called a "wuss" or a "wimp" by other men may see himself as a victim of sexual harassment, Smith says. Some men may misinterpret critical comments from female superiors as sexual harassment, while others may have difficulty taking orders from a woman.

    They Grow Up So Fast

    Hard to believe, but AAPORNET is three years old. This bulletin board, established by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, was born as an experiment on Nov. 23, 1994, when it blinked into life on the screens of 260 unsuspecting AAPOR members who had listed their e-mail addresses in the 1993-94 membership directory. One week later, 409 subscribers were on board, or about 30 percent of the AAPOR membership.

    "Because of this favorable response from AAPOR members, AAPORNET soon lost its experimental status," writes James Beniger of the Annenberg School for Communications at USC, the AAPORNET coordinator. "Today AAPORNET has more than 900 subscribers. So Happy Birthday to us all!"

    The list is open only to AAPOR members in good standing. Members who want to sign up should send an e-mail message to Beniger@rcf.usc.edu.

    What They're Worth

    If they had the money, average Americans say they'd pay $7,800 to caddie for golf sensation Tiger Woods and $2,300 to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, according to a recent national survey conducted by ICR Research of Media, Pa. Sharing a cuppa Joe at Starbucks with Vice President Al Gore fetched $480 in this fanciful auction.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at morinr@clark.net.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar