Sexual harassment affects the lives of women in a variety of organizational settings, and the United States military has been no exception. While several studies have documented the prevalence of women’s experiences with harassment among both the enlisted and officer ranks, little is known about women who are being trained to serve as future officers while attending the U.S. Department of Defense service academies. This paper summarizes the findings of a case study of the U.S. Naval Academy to examine the extent to which women experience sexually harassing behaviors and to analyze women's responses to harassment, focusing specifically on their reasons for not filing grievances. Drawing from survey and interview data, findings reveal that 96.8 percent of Academy women experienced some form of sexual harassment within a six-month period, while 48.4 percent reported experiencing harassment on a recurring basis. Despite the pervasiveness of harassment as well as the Academy’s provision of avenues for filing grievances, only 26 cases were formally reported within a five-year period. Women discussed two potential consequences of filing grievances, both of which prevented them from reporting incidents: the perception that nothing would be done and the possibility of negative repercussions, including social ostracism and retaliation. Moreover, the aforementioned consequences appear to be linked to the following aspects of Academy life: the midshipman chain of command as the dominant form of social organization, an informal code of silence that permeates Academy culture, and women's status as outsiders in a male-dominated institution. These findings suggest that any meaningful attempt to assist Academy students in responding to harassment should include policies that address women's social isolation as well as eliminating the student chain of command as a primary course of action in filing grievances.
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Jana L. Pershing is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at San Diego State University. Her recent articles have appeared in Sociological Perspectives (2003), Deviant Behavior (2002), and Armed Forces & Society (2001). The present article is based on a larger research project that examines social control within elite military institutions. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Pershing, J.L. Why women don’t report sexual harassment: A case study of an elite military institution. Gend. Issues 21, 3–30 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-003-0008-x