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High-ranking officers disciplined over sexual harassment complaint

Oct. 25, 2013 - 05:17PM   |  
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A year after former Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith went public with her story of enduring sexual harassment during her Air Force career, the Air Force announced it substantiated several of her allegations against eight officers — two colonels, five lieutenant colonels and a captain.

Six of the officers — who were assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. — have received disciplinary action, including receiving letters of admonishment or counseling and being removed from assignments,according to Air Combat Command. The case against the seventh officer is pending. One lieutenant colonel left active duty before the investigation was completed.

According to the Oct. 25 statement, the inspector general’s office completed a six-month investigation in July and substantiated allegations including failing to prevent or investigate sexual harassment, condoning the display of sexually offensive material and refusing to remove it, and tolerating drinking alcohol during debriefs and academics.

None of the officers is named in the summary of disciplinary actions.

“The Air Force takes all allegations of this nature very seriously.” Air Combat Command said in the statement. . “In all such cases, [investigating officers] attempt to determine which allegations can be substantiated to the best of their ability. Commanders who reviewed the results of the investigation in this case took action they determined to be appropriate against the responsible officers. And, in light of the allegations, Air Force leaders at all levels took decisive steps to reinforce standards and sustain an environment of trust, respect and professionalism.”

Although Smith is not named in the IG report, Air Force Times has learned that she is the complainant. The report identifies her as “Tsgt Smith.”

Smith filed a formal complaint with the IG in October 2012, listing sexual harassment she endured during her 17-year Air Force career. Smith alleged that shortly after she enlisted, a master sergeant tried to force himself on her but she escaped.

When she reported the attack, her leadership told her to try to avoid being alone with the master sergeant, according to the complaint, as Air Force Times reported last year.

“Rather than disciplining men who harass and assault their female peers, the Air Force turns a blind eye to misconduct and instead retaliates against female Air Force personnel whenever they seek to defend themselves or otherwise mitigate the severe hostility of the Air Force environment,” her complaint says.

Several more incidents followed, she alleged, including being assaulted in Iraq, when a service member followed her out of a base gym, slammed her against the wall and threatened to kill her, the complaint says. She did not report the attack.

The last straw came when she found sexually explicit material on the operations group computer server at Shaw, Smith told Air Force Times last year. She complained many times but nothing was done.

She told Air Force Times that the best thing the Air Force can do to stop sexual harassment is to hold people accountable, not sweep incidents under the rug.

“The most productive thing they can do is firing the people who don’t do their jobs,” she said in the interview last year. “We need to see some firing, and it needs to be big. And it can’t be, ‘We retire you early; we’re going to fine you $10,000 and you can collect retirement for the rest of your life.’ ”

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