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No More Tailhooks

More than five years have passed since the Tailhook scandal, when male naval aviators sexually assaulted female colleagues at a Las Vegas convention, and again the military is facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

This time the Army is in the spotlight. Last week it charged four drill instructors and a captain with raping, sexually harassing, or having improper contact with female recruits at a maintenance training base in Aberdeen, Md.

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At a training base in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., meanwhile, three instructors were charged this week with having sexual relationships with women recruits. Now, the investigation is spreading to all 17 training bases across the country.

Unlike the Navy in the 1991 Tailhook scandal, the Army has acted swiftly - and commendably - in dealing with the problem. And unlike the Navy, by quickly making the investigation public, the Army won't be accused of trying to cover up. Army investigators, for example, say they will interview as many as 1,000 women who were trained at Aberdeen since the beginning of 1995, and a hot line has been set up for anyone wanting to report sexual abuse at the post. Aberdeen also is conducting an independent investigation to determine if there are "systemic problems" and to make necessary changes.

Change, clearly, is still necessary. As a recent Monitor article pointed out, for some the Army remains a place of masculine privilege, and transforming such attitudes takes time and commitment. Though the military leadership has put appropriate policies into place, that commitment has yet to filter down to every level of command.

But it must. The women at Aberdeen, Fort Leonard Wood, or any other military training base are there for the same reasons as their male counterparts. That some of these women have been harassed and abused by their superiors is unconscionable.

The Army wants to avoid its own Tailhook. To do that, it will have to follow through on its promise to find out how widespread the problem is and to punish those who take advantage of trainees under their supervision - in the mistaken belief that neither the law nor the rules of common decency apply in a military setting.

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