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Women Flock to Armed Forces Despite Harassment Scandals

Critics say deep-rooted problems remain, and a fallout is very likely.

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Army recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Julie Beck says she's actually put more women into the Army than before the sexual-harassment scandal at the Aberdeen Proving Ground broke last November.

"It's a good time for a female to join the Army because no drill sergeant in their right mind would ... attempt to harass anyone right now," says Sergeant Beck, who spends her days scouring Long Island for potential recruits. "People are getting slam-dunked right and left."

While the armed forces have had trouble with general recruiting in the past few years, women have been lining up to join the ranks. To military officials, the increase in women recruits indicates confidence in their efforts to combat sexual harassment with their zero-tolerance policy and high-profile prosecutions. But critics, who charge the Army has handled the issue clumsily at best, believe deeper problems persist surrounding the sensitive issue of sexuality in the military.

Both the Army and Air Force report that recruitment of women has increased in the past six months, continuing a decades-long trend that's driving up the number of women in the military. And while the Navy's women recruits are down, officials say that's only because so many women are choosing to stay in the service, which has limited space for women on its ships. "We have many, many more women wanting to come into the Navy than we have billets to fill," says. Lt. Daren Pelkie of the Navy Recruiting Command in Arlington, Va.

But some see a backlash to the harassment problems coming. "If there hasn't been a chilling effect yet, there should be one," says Chris Lombardi, the organizer of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAMP). The nonprofit group is composed primarily of former military personnel who allege the armed forces either ignored their charges of sexual harassment, intimidation, and assault, or retaliated against them for raising the issue.

Since the scandal at Aberdeen broke in November, the Army has set up a high-level task force to examine the issue of sexual harassment throughout the service. It also established a hot line for victims of sexual assault. So far, more than 540 cases have been referred to the Criminal Investigation Division for possible felony charges.

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