FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2012
Contact: Brian Purchia, firstname.lastname@example.org
***PRESS RELEASE ***
Air Force Launches Sweep for Misogynist Materials in Response to Complaint Filed on Behalf of Air Force TSgt Jennifer Smith
Active-duty Air Force TSgt Jennifer Smith exposes Air Force indifference to blatant sexual harassment and retaliation against many of those who report misconduct.
Washington DC – Earlier this week the United States Air Force launched Air Force wide inspections searching for pictures, calendars and other materials that objectify women. This effort comes in the wake of Active-duty Air Force Technical Sergeant Jennifer Smith going public last month with allegations of ongoing sexual abuse, harassment and hostility toward women that is fostered by United States Air Force leadership. The New York Times broke the story of TSgt Smith’s allegations and Protect Our Defenders called on Congress to immediately investigate the allegations, releasing the administrative complaint filed on behalf of TSgt Smith and other active duty women.
The administrative complaint filed by attorney Susan L. Burke contains extensive exhibits detailing a wide range of sexual harassment, “including, but not limited to, verbal slurs and inferences, nonverbal gestures, pictures and notes, unwanted physical contact, unwanted touching, and physical advances.”
“Protect Our Defenders is pleased that the Air Force is undertaking this long overdue sweep for misogynist materials, however this like so many other initiatives that have been announced and tried before will not adequately address the fundamental problems of unpunished sexual harassment and assault facing our military,” said Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish. “If these incidents weren’t in the press or highlighted in complaints like Jennifer’s nothing would be done. This is not a new problem or revelation — it has been going on for decades. This is why we have called on Congress to investigate the culture of violence and hate filled speech and behavior toward women in the Air Force and throughout the military. Congress has an oversight role and needs to start playing it.”
Protect Our Defenders has called on the Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Los Angeles County) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) to investigate the allegations against the Air Force.
After 17 years of exemplary service, including tours in Iraq, Kuwait, Korea and Germany Jennifer decided she had enough of a military environment that too often is hostile to women. According to the complaint, she recently told a commanding officer of an assault she endured in Iraq and asked that violent pornographic Air Force songs, videos and photos be removed from government computers at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, where she and others see the material when they log onto a computer. At the time of the administrative filing, the offensive and degrading materials were still on government servers.
Some of the most disturbing content included in the administrative complaint has been stored in collections of Songbooks from the 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Squadrons, which have been used to record traditions and songs. They contain obscene, violent and misogynistic language and pornographic images, including the “Fighter Pilot Songs – Combat Songbook; F**k Songs and Trash Tunes.”
The Air Force has been aware of this hostile environment for decades, but has taken no effective steps to stop the behavior. The administrative complaint alleges, “Smith and other female Air Force personnel should not be forced to endure such a hostile environment as a price to be paid for volunteering to defend this nation.”
Jennifer has earned constant promotions for her service and the highest performance reviews possible. She did not initially report her attacks, because she knew the Air Force would blame her, the victim, and reprimand her for not having a companion, a “battle buddy,” with her at all times.
According to the military’s own reports, there are 19,000 victims a year of mostly unpunished rape and sexual assault throughout the military. Yet only 13.5% come forward, primarily out of fear of retaliation. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that veterans who had experienced military sexual trauma had a total of 696,250 Military Sexual Trauma (MST) related encounters with the VA in 2010 and that 20% of all women and 1% of all men have told the VA they experienced sexual trauma in the military.
Protect Our Defenders is calling on Congress once again to do it’s job of oversight and begin an investigation into the systemic, misogynistic culture within our military.
Over the past year Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced several reforms to address what he calls a “silent epidemic” of military sexual assaults, like bumping the reporting of rape and sexual assault further up the chain of command. But, it does little to address the problem. Many survivors, like Jennifer have made it clear that senior commanders are just as capable of encouraging or ignoring misogynistic behavior or covering up assaults and they frequently do. Commanders are incentivized to sweep problems under the rug, as their careers can be adversely affected if a rape or sexual assault is reported on their watch. And the DOD reports (PDF), “39% of women report that the perpetrator was a military person of higher rank and 23% indicated the offender was someone in their chain of command.”
Read Air Force Times story “Air Force-wide inspections begin today”
Read the New York Times article about Jennifer, “Military Has Not Solved Problem of Sexual Assault, Women Say”
View the Administrative Complaint filed by Attorney Susan Burke:
View exhibits from the Administrative Complaint:
Read Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish’s blog on the Huffington Post “Investigate Air Force for Openly Violent, Sexist and Hostile Environment to Women”
Read the National Journal’s cover story: “The Enemy Within”