- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Last fall, Claudia Kennedy, the Army's first female lieutenant general, complained that a male general had sexually harassed her three years ago.
Gen. Kennedy had hoped the incident was behind her: "My approach was to turn [the sexual harassment complaint] over to my boss… . And I was very impressed with the way it was handled." However, her view changed when in late 1999 she discovered her alleged harasser was about to be named to the sensitive position of deputy inspector general in charge of investigations of general officer misconduct, including sexual harassment.
On April 6, The Washington Times identified Maj. Gen. Larry Smith as Gen. Kennedy's alleged harasser. The inspector general is said to be in the final stages of the investigation. Meanwhile, mid-1980s allegations against Gen. Kennedy have come to the IG's attention as well.
Given her strong views on the issue she has spoken on institutionalized sexual harassment and questioned the Pentagon's commitment to equal opportunity and the facts surrounding her case, Gen. Kennedy should have blown the whistle as soon as the incident occurred. The alleged groping occurred in October 1996, yet in December of that year, Gen. Kennedy missed another opportunity to speak out. At that time, the Army was racked by allegations of widespread sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Had Gen. Kennedy made her charge then, it would have added credibility to allegations that the Army had a widespread problem.
Instead, she trusted her chain of command. After Gen. Smith was nominated to become the deputy IG, Gen. Kennedy quietly spoke with general officer assignments about his selection, once again trusting informal channels rather than the IG. According to press reports, Gen. Kennedy "told the wrong person. The system ran away with [the allegation]."
It's possible Gen. Kennedy doesn't trust the IG system. Perhaps she sought to avoid the possible public attention associated with an IG investigation, and so took the case to her boss. Historically, the Army's IG maintains a group of colonels to investigate allegations against generals. These investigators follow procedures to examine charges thoroughly and then submit their confidential findings to the chief of staff for action.
Any corrective action is supposed to be kept secret, and for some, that's the rub.
Fortunately, some general officer misconduct is discovered before it is secretly dismissed. In 1998, Maj. Gen. David Hale, who oversaw IG investigations, was allowed to retire quietly before he was charged with sexual misconduct. Once his case was exposed, public pressure forced the Army to return Gen. Hale to active duty for court-martial. He plea-bargained away most of the charges in exchange for a fine and one of his stars.
It is likely Gen. Kennedy's case would have been concluded in much the same manner had she taken it first to the IG. This fact was not lost on Gen. Kennedy and has been cause for frustration among IG investigators who report the truth about general officer misbehavior and then watch those same officers go right to the top.
The problem in he-said/she-said cases like Gen. Kennedy's is the lack of corroborating evidence. Gen. Kennedy claims there was a sexually motivated kiss but Gen. Smith admits only to a little hug in comradeship. Yes, the door was supposedly open, but absent an eyewitness to the alleged groping, there is little alternative to a tongue-lashing for Gen. Smith.
The chief of staff is reluctant to torpedo promising careers if the evidence won't stand up in court. IGs follow strict rules of evidence, and given the tough legal standards associated with sexual harassment cases, convictions are rare. Too often the Army's safest action is no action.
Gen. Kennedy's allegation also raises the question of when sex-related behavior becomes harassment. She must know from her experience on the Army's 1996 Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment that sexual behavior permeates many units.
Her panel conducted an Armywide survey that found that 84 percent of Army women and 80 percent of Army men reported experiencing sex-related behavior in the previous year. The listed behaviors include crude or offensive behavior, sexist behavior, unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion and sexual assault. The survey also confirmed, however, that most soldiers do not consider these behaviors sexual harassment.
Thus, Gen. Kennedy's panel found that only 7 percent of men and 22 percent of women reported having been sexually harassed.
Even in this tough setting, and as demonstrated by the survey, the line between acceptable sexual behavior and harassment is blurry. As a result, it is the victim who must decide when that line has been crossed.
In 1997, Gen. Kennedy told USA Weekend that she had been sexually harassed in the past but dealt with it individually. In this case, she perhaps naively trusted her chain-of-command that failed to protect either her or the Army's best interests. Of course, there is the sour-grapes view attributed to anonymous sources that there was no 1996 complaint and the reason for the 1999 charge was Gen. Kennedy's disappointment over not gaining a fourth star.
If the allegations are true, it's unfortunate that the man who harassed Gen. Kennedy wasn't dealt with in 1996. Instead, he was selected to oversee all sensitive investigations, including many that involve general officer sexual misconduct.
Gen. Kennedy's case should cause the Army to renovate its procedures. General officers must be held to the same high standards expected of all soldiers. Senior leaders must make IG investigations work for the benefit of the entire Army and not just to protect generals.
Sexual harassment must not be tolerated, especially among those who wear stars.


Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis is senior director for national security and foreign affairs for the Family Research Council.

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