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Published: Monday, 3/1/2004

Another military sex scandal

Finding a remedy for the discrimination against women inherent in keeping them out of the military was once paramount. Few imagined their victimization once they arrived. Tales of sexual assault surfaced in Tailhook, the Army drill sergeant scandal, the Air Force Academy mess, and now in the Persian Gulf.

It's time to end this primitive abuse of women by the men who serve with them in defense of the nation. Their attackers denigrate us all and mock the values they are there to protect.

In the gulf, complaints have cropped up in all military units, 86 in the Army, 12 in the Navy, eight in the Air Force, and six in the Marine Corps. Only a few have proven unfounded. In addition, two dozen women at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas reported assaults to an area rape crisis center.

They may be the tip of the iceberg if it's true that many women don't report the assaults.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has ordered not only a serious inquiry into the crimes but also into how the various services treat victims. The branches are doing likewise. Starting this month Marine recruits will get more intense indoctrination into the nature and risks of sexual assaults.

It won't be too soon to satisfy most Americans, or members of Congress, including Republican senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Susan Collins of Maine, who rightly think the wounds of war should be not be inflicted by our own. Other members are disturbed by a perceived lack of outrage in the command ranks. Until it exists, little will change. And change is a must.

Military women, some 68 so far, have also complained to the Miles Foundation, a victim advocacy group in Connecticut, about the lack of emergency medical care and rape kits, shoddy investigations, and retaliation for reporting the assaults by peers.

It is clear from the current furor that sexual assault in the military has not been adequately dealt with. Every few years the nation agonizes over fresh allegations of criminal sexual behavior on the part of men in uniform.

This shameful bit of military history must end.

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