- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

It was painful to read, in a recent AP news report, that about 80 military recruiters were disciplined last year for sexually preying upon 100 young women. In August, the Government Accountability Office reported that confirmed cases of completely inappropriate behavior, often following after-hours drinking and groping in recruiting stations and cars, increased from 409 in 2004 to 629 in 2005.

These violations of trust are being punished, and rightly so. Young women initiated some romantic liaisons, but a GAO graph illustrated conspicuous “spikes” in misconduct reports toward the end of monthly recruiting cycles.

Adult sex with minors is always wrong. And “consexploitation” — consensual but exploitive sex with young women — must be deterred with firmly enforced rules mandating professional behavior. At the same time, authorities must avoid the demoralizing panic that usually follows reports of sexual misconduct in the military.

Feminists and professional victim advocates insist that women never lie when complaining of sexual abuse. That is as absurd as saying all women think alike. In cases involving recruiters, according to the GAO, only 10 percent of allegations of sexual misconduct made in 2005 were substantiated (629 of 6,602). The rest of the cases, approximately 90 percent, were unsubstantiated or uncorroborated. Even discounting that figure by half, it is not realistic to assume all accusers are truthful.

According to FBI, independent civilian and military research, fabricated accusations of rape or sexual abuse are not unusual. The most common motives include:

(1) Revenge or jealousy when a real (or perceived) romantic involvement ends.

(2) The need for an alibi to explain consensual misconduct.

(3) Or the need for attention due to emotional problems.

All these factors are more likely when teenagers misinterpret the friendly approaches of handsome servicemen in uniforms. Recruiters also have been known to take advantage of trusting girls and, in some cases, boys. Skilled investigators, acting with sensitivity, know how to recognize evidence and signs that help to differentiate genuine charges from false ones.

Given the high risk of false accusations, responsible policies should build in protections for adults as well as potential recruits. A successful program adopted last year by the Indiana National Guard demonstrates how this can be done.

In 2005, a serious sex scandal erupted in Noblesville, Ind. Sgt. Eric P.Vetesy, 36, was jailed for rape and other felonies with seven victims, ages 17-21. To restore community trust, Guard commanders established a model “No One Alone Policy.”

This sensible policy mandates that male recruiters may not be alone with a female prospect in offices, cars or anywhere else. If they are, or if they fail to report another recruiter’s misconduct, they risk immediate disciplinary action. Wallet-sized “Guard Cards” advise parents and students of the rules and a telephone number to call if they experience anything improper.

Community trust is up, misconduct reports are down. The need for such a policy in all of the services is a no-brainer. But the Defense Department officials can’t seem to recognize a successful policy when they see it.

A Pentagon spokesman tried to put the problem in perspective by noting that a quarter-million young people are recruited annually, with professional behavior occurring 99.7 percent of the time. But any number of substantiated reports of sexual misconduct with minors drives a wedge between parents and recruiters. The all-volunteer force cannot afford that.

The Defense Department announced it will closely “monitor ” recruiters and commanders for five to 10 months before considering policy changes. This strategy does nothing to prevent compromising situations, or to protect young people from predatory recruiters.

Increased Pentagon pressure could also cause local commanders to routinely initiate disciplinary procedures whether accusations are fabricated or not. Treating men as if they are “innocent until accused” would worsen the risk of injustice to honorable, hard-working men. It could also reinforce the message that a male recruiter’s career is only one accusation away from ruin. The services try to get their best people to be recruiters. Demoralizing violations of due process will drive them away.

Delay in addressing the recruiter abuse problem will encourage headline-seeking members of Congress to grandstand the issue. Political heat, with little light, usually flares whenever military sex scandals are reported. In June, for example, Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, who is being challenged for re-election by an aggressive female opponent, staged a hearing on military sexual harassment. The star witness was a former Air Force Academy cadet, weeping about alleged but unsubstantiated offenses that occurred in 1979, long before current reforms were implemented.

Pointless spectacles such as this would only serve to besmirch the reputation of all recruiters, and increase resistance already known to exist among parents who do not want their children to be approached by recruiters or deployed in the war.

The Defense Department has failed to act affirmatively, but various branches of the service are already adopting Indiana’s No One Alone Policy on their own. No hearings, legislation or lucrative “victim advocate” contracts are required. Why has this not been done before?

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization that specializes in military personnel issues.

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