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When allegations of sexual harassment in the Army first broke in relation to events at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Army officials dismissed the complaints as a result of a "few bad apples". As the count of women alleging sexual harassment at Aberdeen escalates, from 19 at the first count in November to 50, the Pentagon is being forced to reevaluate the seriousness of the problem. Furthermore, interviews with female recruits and Army officials show that the Army failed to identify the warning signs of the problem's pervasiseness for over twenty years. In 1980, 150 of 300 women in the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany reported that they were subject to unwanted physical advances. In 1989 and 1996 a majority of women responding to polls conducted in all branches of the military reported that they had encountered some form of sexual harassment. Many of the women also reported that their complaints were met with ridicule and indifference at best and retaliation at worst.
As hundreds and thousands of complaints of sexual harassment erupt throughout the nation, Army officials are quick to point out that they have a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual harassment. However, because women must report through a chain of command and because many officers refuse to listen to the complaints or to take them seriously, critics see a structural barrier to successful solution. The Army's top enlisted officer, for example, has just stepped down from the panel reviewing sexual harassment because of allegations of sexual harassment made against him. Approximately 500 formal complaints are logged each year, but only 12 weeks after a special number was created, outside the normal chain of command, the Army recorded 7,000 calls alleging sexual harassment.
While the Army is reviewing whether or not to continue integrated training for males and females, many critics argue that women are being unfairly punished for the sexual harassment. Some advocates of segregation maintain that women and men simply can't train together because putting the two sexes together in that type of atmosphere naturally leads to problems of sexual harassment. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) commented on February 7th, however, that this is unfair to the female recruits. Snowe observed that the extent of sexual harassment is not found in college dorms where women and men "train" side-by-side and there should be no excuse for it to occur in the military. She also commented that "Every time a woman is excluded from a position, she's devalued in terms of what she can do in performing her responsibilities and fulfilling the mission."
A study by Egypt's National Population Center has produced some stark statistics regarding the treatment of women and girls in that nation. The study shows that 35% of Egyptian wives polled were victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Of the 35%, 70% were attacked for refusing to have sex. The study also reported that 97 percent of married women had undergone female genital mutilation, a process which removes some or all of a woman's external sex organs. Though the mutilations are illegal, they are still commonly practiced, often in unsanitary conditions.
San Francisco City Supervisors unanimously approved a deal with United Airlines on February 10th over a dispute concerning the City's new domestic partner law. The agreement requires United Airlines to offer health benefits to same-sex partners of their employees within two years. The supervisors had earlier refused to approve a lease for an expansion of United's facilities at San Francisco International Airport. In approving the lease on Monday, the board approved of United's offer to provide the benefits within two years. While United originally asked for a 25-year lease, the supervisors agreed on a two year lease, extendible to 23 more years if United did indeed provide the promised benefits. Supervisor Leslie Katz commented on the agreement, "I think it's setting a precedent for other businesses, small and large, that they can come into compliance; that these are principles of fairness, that we don't want to contract with employers who discriminate."
2/11/1997 - First Abortion Vote Scheduled for Thursday
Lobbyists on both sides of the abortion debate are intensifying their efforts as the first abortion vote of the 105th Congress draws near. The first vote concerns when, March or July, the government will release funding for overseas family planning and how much, $215 million or $92 million. While those funds will not cover abortions, both the pro-choice and anti-choice forces have treated this as a signal of Congress's future votes on abortion. A second measure coming up for a vote deals with the abortion issue directly. The measure, offered by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) would provide $385 million for family planning on the condition that no organization which provides abortions, even if with private funds, would receive U.S. funds.
The unofficial U.S. military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reports that authorities are looking into allegations of sex crimes at an Army Training Center in Darmstadt. Female students allege that three male instructors committed acts of rape, sodomy, cruelty and maltreatment against them. The three men have been removed from their jobs at the training center.
The Army has suspended Gene McKinney from his duties as Sergeant Major amid allegations that he sexually harassed an employee. The Army maintains that it had become "increasingly difficult" for McKinney to carry out his duties amid "continued public attention." Brenda Hoster, the woman who alleges he sexually harassed her, commented on ABC's "This Week", that it was unfair for the Army not to suspend McKinney because it is standard policy to suspend Army drill instructors accused of sexual harassment. Two senators had also urged the suspension. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) commented, "The suspension is a positive signal that the Army takes this seriously." Another military source has confirmed that the Army is investigating a Navy sailor's allegations that McKinney also made comments to her which were inappropriately sexual in nature. The military source commented only, "The Army Criminal Investigation Division has it."
McKinney will take a desk job during his suspension with the head of the Military District of Washington, Major General Robert Foley. He will continue to receive his $4,728 monthly pay and allowances. McKinney has denied the allegations.
Citing that drill sergeants accused of misconduct are suspended from training duties, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and Rick Santorum (PA) both stated on February 7th that the Army should suspend Gene McKinney. McKinney, the top ranking enlisted Army man, has been accused of sexual harassment by Brenda Hoster, a retired sergeant major. Hoster alleges that while on a business trip to Hawaii, McKinney asked for sex, kissed and grabbed her. Hoster subsequently quit the Army after officials ignored her complaints. McKinney denies the allegations, but did step down from a panel reviewing allegations of sexual harassment in the military. Both Senators, who are members of the Armed Forces Committee, stated that McKinney's decision to step down from the panel was not enough; they said McKinney should also face suspension until the matter is resolved. Army Secretary Togo West has defended the Army's decision to allow McKinney to continue with his duties, but later said that the decision of his suspension was an "open question" that "we will undoubtedly consider again."
Cynthia Bundy has filed a discrimination complaint with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights against the Fairdale Christian Church Day Care. The Commission heard Bundy's complaint that the Church violated her civil rights and the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act when it fired her because she became pregnant and did not marry the father. Jeffery Stamper, an attorney for the church, commented, "She knew she would be terminated if she became pregnant and didn't marry the father. An unwed mother is not a good role model for children at a day care." The Commission is expected to rule within 60 days.
South Africa's first democratic parliament's abortion law went into effect on February 1, 1997. The law gives women of any age the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion. The law will also allow women and girls who have no health insurance to receive state-funded abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.
2/6/1997 - House to Vote on Two Abortion Resolutions
In the first abortion related votes of the 105th Congress, the House will vote on whether or not to speed up overseas family planning funding and whether or not to outlaw overseas funding to organizations which perform abortions, even if the abortions are paid with private funds. If the House votes to speed up the overseas family planning funding, the money would be released in March instead of July. The vote would also increase the amount of money which would be released, from $92 million to $215 million. President Clinton lifted a ban on funding for agencies which performed abortions overseas in an executive order in 1993. Rep. Christopher Smith's (R-NJ) resolution would override his order, but it is expected to fail in the Senate. If passed by both houses, Clinton would certainly veto it. The House Rules Committee planned to meet on February 6th to discuss the rules which will govern the votes on both resolutions.
Pamela Harriman, Ambassador to France, Democratic fund-raiser, political socialite and the ex-daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, died on February 5th in Paris due to complications resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage. President Clinton commented on Wednesday, "[she was an] extraordinary U.S. ambassador. She was a source of judgment and inspiration to me, a source of constant good humor and charm and real friendship and we will miss her very, very much." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remembered Harriman by calling her a "central figure in the history of this century." Albright also said, "America has lost a remarkable representative, the State Department has lost one of its most effective diplomats and I have lost a friend."
Often referred to as a punctilious host (one of her biographies is entitled Life of the Party), Harriman started giving fund-raising dinners for Democratic candidates in the 1970's. She dramatically increased her efforts for the Democratic party after Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. After becoming Ambassador to France, Harriman devoted her often 18-hour days to working on issues of international trade, NATO expansion, and the war on Bosnia. After her long days, she would often stay up for hours more in communication with the State Department on international affairs and trying to forestall cuts in the Foreign Service budget.
A self-described feminist for the last fifteen years of her life, Harriman commented last year, "It's almost incredible to people I work with today to realize I was born in a world where a woman was totally controlled by men. I mean, you got married and there was kind of no alternative. The boys were allowed to go off to school. The girls were kept home, educated by governesses. It never sort of occurred to me in the first, I suppose 20 years of my life, that a woman could move from the position that pre-World War II women like me were in."
In late 1996 she gave an interview during which she was asked if there was anything she wish she'd done differently. She replied, "No. I consider I have had a very fortunate life." Asked if she'd lived a happy life she commented, "Very, very. I drank deep of the well."
Authorities have questioned suspects in relation to a Tulsa abortion clinic which was bombed twice on New Year's Day and twice on January 19th. FBI spokesman Dan Vogel announced that authorities have four persons, two of them juveniles, in custody for questioning. "Everybody in there is a suspect. And there's a possibility that we may make an arrest sometime today," Vogel said. Authorities received a tip late Wednesday which led them to get a search warrant for a house in the suburb of Bixby. Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer said, "We are X-raying things in the house in regards to explosives."
On February 2nd, a man broke into and shot office equipment and the waiting room of the same Tulsa abortion clinic.
One of the military’s greatest honors is to serve as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located in Arlington National Cemetery. Sergeant Danyell Elaine Wilson has become the first African-American woman to serve as a tomb guard. Wilson, a twenty-two year old from Letohatchee, Alabama, will serve as a member of the E Company of the 3rd US Infantry, known as the Old Guard. Last March, Sgt. Heather Johnsen became the first woman to guard the tomb.
An anti-abortion extremist placed photos, perhaps illegally, of fetuses in the mailboxes of Colorado House members on February 4th. Kenneth Scott of Denver, who has a long history of arrests due to anti-abortion threats and violence, claimed responsibility for the act to House Majority Leader Rep. Norma Anderson. The photos were placed in the mailboxes on the same day the House State Affairs Committee heard a bill to ban the D&X procedure. Scott is currently under a restraining order to stay away from Dr. Warren Hern, a Boulder abortion doctor, after he stalked him and threatened his life. Dr. Hern was asked to leave a hearing two weeks ago on the D&X procedure so that Scott could testify.
A bill moving through the Virginia House and Senate and which has support from Virginia Governor George Allen (R) would force women younger than 18 to notify a parent before having an abortion. The Virginia House has passed the bill but did so with added amendments which would allow a young woman to notify grandparents or adult siblings. Governor Allen has threatened a veto if the bill comes to him with the less restrictive amendments, and the Senate has already passed a parent-notification bill that would require one of the woman’s parents' consent. During the House debate, Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax), a victim of childhood incest, said that requiring young women to notify abusive parents would lead to catastrophic results. She commented, that young women who have had to notify their parents, "have been burned. They have been bruised. They have been totally ignored. They have been intimidated and controlled in every possible way by authority. They have no active parent at all." Abortion rights activists argue that the parental notice restrictions on abortion are part of a barrage of anti-abortion legislation which has been increasing building in the past few years.
If Allen ends up signing any variation of the parent-notice legislation, it would be Virginia’s most significant restriction on abortion since the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to outlaw abortions in 1973. The Virginia Legislature, which has recently increased its number of Republicans, will also consider other abortion restrictive measures, like banning D&X procedures.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission administrative judge Ann Holler has recommended that the Army pay $300,000 in damages plus medical and legal costs to a former employee of Fort Bliss who alleges that an Army Colonel harassed her. Peggy Graham has alleged that Colonel Allen Hasbrouck forced her to submit to sexual acts over a six year span starting in 1988. Hasbrouck told her she would lose her job if she did not comply. The Army, which had conducted its own internal investigation, sent the Colonel a letter of reprimand and an order for early retirement. The Army maintains it is not liable for damages because Graham entered into the relationship "voluntarily" and did not follow established internal procedures to make her complaint.
2/5/1997 - Army Considers Segregation of Training
Army Chief of Staff Denis J. Reimer in testimony before a Senate Armed Services Committee said that the Army should perhaps reconsider coed training. Reimer, who identifies himself as a strong supporter of coed training, said that the Army’s quality has improved since integrating women, but commented about coed training, "I think afterwards there’s probably a need for a more detailed look in this particular area." He also commented that, while there is no excuse for sexual harassment, "It’s a high stress environment, Senator, and we put a lot of pressure on our drill sergeants, and everybody has their breaking point at a certain point." Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) commented, "I have some fundamental concerns about throwing very young women in a position with a drill sergeant…That’s you know, [like] sitting there with a match near some gunpowder and expecting a spark not to fly every now and then and cause a problem." These comments and others insinuate that some men cannot keep themselves from sexually harassing women and that this aberrant behavior should possibly take precedence over women’s equality.
2/5/1997 - Jury Finds Simpson Liable
In the 1997 Civil Trial of O.J. Simpson, the jury has unanimously found that the former football player is "responsible" for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown. The jury awarded the family of Ron Goldman $8.5 million in compensatory damages; Nicole Brown’s family has not asked for compensatory damages. The jury will now hear evidence as to Simpson’s financial status and determine punitive damages, which could also range in the millions, for Goldman and Simpson’s deaths. During deliberations, the jury asked to see evidence focusing on Simpson’s alibi and the recollections of Alan Park, the limousine driver who picked up Simpson on the night of the slayings. The jury also asked to see evidence of a New Year’s 1989 fight which left Nicole bruised and battered. Simpson denied, on the stand, ever hitting her saying instead that they wrestled while drunk despite having previously pleaded no contest to spousal battery.
The Arkansas House of Representatives passed House Bill 1351 on February 3rd (59-14) which would ban the late term abortion procedure know as D&X. The procedure is used when the health or life of the woman having the abortion is in danger. Opponents of the bill claim that it is unconstitutional because it does not make exceptions for women whose lives are endangered unless they have the abortion. The bill would also make doctors who perform the procedure liable to a felony charge with up to six months in prison and a $10,000 fine
2/4/1997 - Army’s Top Enlisted Man Who Served on Sexual Harassment Overview Panel Charged with Sexual Harassment
Army officials reported on February 3rd that a senior enlisted man, Sergeant Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney, has been accused of sexually assaulting Sergeant Major Brenda Hoster. McKinney as excused himself from his duties on a high-level panel investigating charges of sexual harassment within the Army in light of the accusations. Hoster sent a sworn statement to the Criminal Investigative Division yesterday alleging harassment. Hoster told The New York Times that McKinney kissed, grabbed her, and asked her for sex in her hotel room during an April business trip to Hawaii. McKinney’s wife was a few rooms down the hall at the time of the alleged harassment. Hoster also commented that she reported the incident seven weeks after it occurred to superiors. An Army official allegedly ignored her report, and officials refused her request for a transfer. Consequently, Hoster retired early, at the age of twenty-two. She filed a formal complaint after learning that McKinney had been appointed to the sexual harassment panel. McKinney has denied the allegations.
Over 400,000 female veterans will receive letters from the Department of Veteran Affairs which outline programs specifically designed to meet the women’s needs. The letter includes information on sexual trauma counseling now available for the veterans. In 1992, Congress passed legislation which authorized the Department to provide counseling specific to overcoming psychological trauma resulting from sexual assault, harassment and assault incurred while on active duty. In citing the need for the mailing and the services, Veteran Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown said, "Some women veterans who are the victims of sexual assault have come to VA for counseling and treatment, but we know there are many more who are reluctant to come forward for help – a common reaction to sexual trauma. I want women veterans to know that there is help available. VA staff can help them cope with the long-lasting effects of sexual trauma and improve the quality of their lives."
Women veterans who need further information can call VA’s national toll-free number, 1-800-827-1000 or can visit their Web site.
The Women’s Legal Defense Fund will hold a press conference and forum on February 5th at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 430, to celebrate and revisit the signing of Clinton’s first law of his administration, the Family and Medical Leave Act. Senators Dodd, Murray and Daschle will hold a press conference from 10:00 to 10:30 a.m. to celebrate the Act’s four year anniversary. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund will hold a forum entitled, "Expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act: Building on Four Years of Success" from 10:30 to 12:30.
To commemorate the anniversary, WLDF is releasing a new edition of its consumer-friendly Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act: Questions and Answers with explanations of how the law applies in a variety of situations. The Guide is $3.95 and can be ordered through WLDF.
2/3/1997 - Women Misinformed About Risk of Heart Attack
A study conducted by Prevention Magazine and published in the magazine’s February 1997 issue has found that nearly one-third of women do not know that their risk of dying from a heart attack is greater than their risk of dying from breast cancer. Approximately 58% of women thought that their risk of dying from a heart attack was similar to or lower than their risk of dying from breast cancer even though heart attacks are the leading cause of death among U.S. women. Actually a woman’s chances of dying from a heart attack is five times higher than dying of breast cancer. Six in ten women surveyed said that their doctors had not discussed heart disease risks with them; among women over the age of 55, 44% said their doctors had not discussed heart disease risks. Nearly 41% said they did not eat a low-fat diet, 45% have not had their cholesterol checked and 53% were not getting regular exercise.
During an interview on NBC’s Today Show, Bob Dole said that his wife, Elizabeth, might run for president in 2000. He commented when asked whether or not she would run, "She might. I’d like to see her do what she thinks she can to make a difference." Recently, Dole said she has no current plans to run and is devoting her energies to serving as President of the Red Cross. She has not, however, ruled out the possibility of running for U.S. President.
The U.S. released its annual human rights report last week and intensified its campaign to focus on women and children. The State Department report investigated conditions in 193 countries and found the problem of forced prostitution of women to be widespread in India. It also found that gang rapes were used as punishment for alleged adultery and that domestic violence over dowry disputes were a serious problem in India. The report estimated that 80% of Pakistani women were victims of domestic violence but that police often simply returned abused women back to their husbands. Female children in Pakistan were also found to have fallen even further behind than their male counterparts in terms of health care and education. The report did cite some progress for women in 1996: development of legislation on family law in Namibia; legislation on violence against women in Ecuador and on women’s political participation in the Philippines.