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A Navy poster supporting the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

A Navy poster supporting the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. (U.S. Navy photo illustration)

SEOUL – Most U.S. servicemembers who believe they have been sexually harassed do not bother to file formal complaints because, in part, they do not think their concerns will be taken seriously.

And, an estimated 41 percent of troops believe that in their work group, people would be able to get away with sexual harassment to some extent, even if it was reported.

Those were a couple of the findings included in a recently released Government Accountability Office report that took the Department of Defense to task for a perceived lack of sufficient control over incidents of sexual harassment in the armed forces.

“DOD has established some oversight requirements but has exercised little oversight of its policies and programs for addressing incidents of sexual harassment,” concluded the 47-page report, which was released Wednesday. “Decision makers in DOD do not have the information they need to provide effective oversight, or assess the effectiveness, of the department’s policies and programs.”

The GAO made five largely procedural recommendations designed to “improve the implementation and oversight of DOD’s sexual harassment policies and programs.”

In response, the report said, “DOD concurred with GAO’s recommendations and noted it will develop an executable plan, prioritize actions, and address resourcing for the changes recommended.”

The GAO report said, “Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination that can jeopardize the military’s combat readiness and mission accomplishment by weakening interpersonal bonds and eroding unit cohesion.”

As part of its investigation, the GAO analyzed DOD policies and data related to sexual harassment, as well as conducted group discussions and administered surveys during visits to six military installations. The survey found that 64 of 264 women and 53 of 319 men did not believe, or were unsure of whether their direct supervisor created a climate that discourages sexual harassment from occurring, according to the report.

“GAO also found that servicemembers resolve most complaints of sexual harassment informally rather than report them formally,” it said.

The survey found that 82 of the 583 servicemembers indicated that they had been harassed sexually during the preceding year, but only four indicated they had formally reported the incident.

“GAO found several reasons why servicemembers may choose not to report an incident, including the belief that the incident was not sufficiently serious to report or that the incident would not be taken seriously if reported,” the report said.

“GAO found that the office responsible for overseeing DOD’s sexual harassment policies and programs has not developed an oversight framework — including clear goals, objectives, milestones, and metrics for measuring progress — to guide its efforts,” the report said.

For example, it said, the DOD requires each service to file annual assessments of its sexual harassment programs, including specific data on complaints received.

However, the report said, “DOD has not enforced these reporting requirements for almost a decade.”

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