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Navy Works to End Culture that Spawned Tailhook Scandal

April 18, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy is trying to cast off the attitudes that spawned the Tailhook scandal by discharging sexual harassers and teaching every sailor from recruit to admiral what’s proper conduct and what’s not.

In the past 13 months, 35 officers and enlisted men and women have been discharged from the Navy for misconduct in connection with sexual harassment offenses. Eleven additional cases are pending, Navy officials say.

All service members now are required to attend repeated instruction on dealing with sexual harassment. There are 18 separate courses offered to civilian employees and active duty members of all ranks.

A toll-free advice line has gotten 500 calls seeking counseling about sexual harassment in the first four months of its existence.

″Tailhook ... jarred us into reality,″ Vice Adm. Ronald Zlatoper, the Navy’s chief of personnel, said in a recent interview. ″It’s the watershed event that got our attention. ... We have a big problem and we’ve got to get on with resolving it.″

At the now-infamous 1991 convention of the Tailhook Association of naval aviators in Las Vegas, dozens of women, including naval officers, say they were pawed by Navy and Marine Corps fliers. The scandal claimed the job of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III and several admirals.

The Pentagon’s deputy inspector general, Derek Vander Schaaf, has completed a final report on the incident that is widely expected to produce more resignations and possibly even criminal charges.

But the release of the report, demanded repeatedly by Congress, has been put off by Defense Secretary Les Aspin until a civilian Navy secretary is chosen by the White House.

In the meantime, top Navy officials have decided not only to enforce ″zero tolerance″ for offenses but also to teach their 58,000 women and 500,000 men how to avoid them.

″Tailhook ... has caused a tremendous amount of introspection, and we recognize that it’s a cultural climate″ that must be changed, said Rear Adm. Marsha Evans, who has been working the past year on the education program.

Sailors found guilty of ″a serious incident of sexual harassment″ will be discharged, she said.

″This is not a publicity stunt for us, it is serious business.″

In several months, Evans and her staff will publish a teaching guide to help service members identify certain behavior as ″green light,″ or proper; ″yellow light,″ or questionable; and ″red light,″ or definitely improper, if not illegal.

The motto of the course is, ″I do not ignore,″ stressing that all individuals bear responsibility for intervening to correct even potentially offending behavior. Four categories of people should play a role in halting improper behavior, the guide says: the recipient, the offender, witnesses or other third parties, and the supervisor.

The course also notes that most often the harasser outranks the victim, Evans said.

″We have to empower them (to speak up). ... We want to prevent it before it occurs,″ Evans said.

Zlatoper said the Navy is anxious to get the Tailhook report out and look to the future by expanding opportunities for women, even in combat jobs.

The admiral said some women are understandably troubled by events in the Navy, but he argued they should ″stay with us. Make us better because the opportunities are there. As long as we have good women, we’re going to have better naval officers and better sailors at sea.″

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