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Scale of Violence Alleged in Army Sex Scandal Tops Navy’s Tailhook

November 13, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Much of the story of the Army’s widening sex scandal has yet to be told, but already it ranks as one of the military’s most serious.

Even if the Army scandal had been limited to the Aberdeen Proving Ground training center in Maryland, where it began with five men facing charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment, the scale of alleged abuses would top the well-publicized Tailhook debacle that hit the Navy in 1991.

On Tuesday the scandal widened. The Army said three noncommissioned officers at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri were charged with sexual misconduct involving basic trainees. Details were thin but officials said the cases involved prohibited consensual intercourse and indecent assault, but not rape.

In the Aberdeen case, the women were victimized in their workplace, an Army base where young recruits are given early instruction on how to repair and maintain equipment and weapons. They are the newest, most vulnerable soldiers, still adjusting to military life and highly dependent on their superiors.

A drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, is accused of raping three female recruits and threatening to kill them if they reported the crimes. In all, four Aberdeen drill sergeants and a company commander face charges and 15 other supervisors have been suspended. The Army’s investigation is not finished.

In Tailhook, the victims _ none of whom made allegations as serious as rape _ were attending a naval aviators’ party in a Las Vegas hotel. The Navy and Marine Corps pursued 140 harassment cases in Tailhook but no one was convicted of a crime.

Tailhook was sensational not only because of the public debauchery _ drunken male aviators groping and assaulting women in hotel corridors _ but also because the Navy brass initially seemed to take it too lightly and ultimately failed to break a code of silence among the male witnesses. The scandal dragged on for years, and even today the Navy is not fully recovered from it.

Army Secretary Togo West says Aberdeen won’t be a festering wound to the Army. Unlike Tailhook, he said, the Aberdeen abuses will be examined quickly and openly.

``We will expose them and we will eradicate them,″ West told CNN on Sunday.

But aside from the question of how the investigation and criminal prosecutions are handled, the scale of violence at Aberdeen appears greater than in Tailhook.

``There’s a difference between Tailhook and this,″ said Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who served on the House Armed Service Committee in the last Congress. ``This is not a bunch of fly boys on a lark, it’s deadly serious.″

The five men charged at Aberdeen allegedly had at least a dozen victims, average age 21.

In Tailhook, both the perpetrators and the victims were officers, nominal equals in the military hierarchy. At Aberdeen and Fort Leonard Wood, the alleged perpetrators were authority figures who had power over their victims’ futures.

Martin Binkin, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution think tank, said that while it is too early to know the full scope of the Aberdeen case, he thinks it will prove to be a more serious setback than the Tailhook episode.

``It certainly seems more widespread than Tailhook,″ he said. ``And this may be just the tip of the iceberg.″ He thinks female soldiers elsewhere are likely now to step forward with tales of abuse they had held back out of fear of reprisal.

Indeed, a telephone hot-line set up at Aberdeen had logged about 2,000 calls by Monday from people across the country, the Army said. Of those pertaining to sexual complaints, 246 were considered serious enough to investigate further.

There have been recent indications of a sexual misconduct problem in the Army, although the Aberdeen case is the first time it has been publicly exposed.

A Defense Department survey last spring revealed a higher percentage of women reporting sexual harassment in the Army than in other branches of the military. And it showed that Army women were losing confidence in their leaders’ efforts to combat the problem.