A Few Good Men?

The Marines are about to be hit by the same kind of sexual-harassment scandal that rocked the Army, Navy and Air Force. As yet, no Marine has gone on record talking about rape. But someone will—and I bet it will be soon. Documents I recently obtained show that the same hostility found in the other services is deeply embedded in the Marines. Worse, this past February, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld purged the committee that reported on the corps' miserable climate, and stripped the committee's charter of key investigative powers. The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, or DACOWITS, long targeted by the radical right, isn't exactly a feminist innovation; it was established by Secretary of Defense Gen. George Marshall in 1951 to give military women (those leftists!) a voice.

According to two DACOWITS reports—delivered, with spectacularly unfortunate timing, on Sept. 10, 2001—women entering boot camp are told "that there are only three kinds of female Marines: 'bitches, lesbians, and whores.'" Both men and women say that male Marines regularly call female Marines "bags of nasties," or use the semi-official designation for women Marines, "WM," to mean "walking mattress." One woman is quoted as saying that her commanding officer told her flatly, "If you don't fuck me I'm going to give you a poor evaluation."

No employer can entirely stop employees from misbehaving, but it can swiftly punish those who do. The Marine Corps flunked that respect-and-respond test. "Senior enlisted men confirmed, laughingly, that sexual harassment goes on," reported DACOWITS in 2001. "The men stated that women do not belong in the Marine Corps. They laughed about the derogatory names the women are called." One of the investigators, Barbara Glacel, says that a group of men explained, "in very graphic terms, that women should not be allowed to go into any frontline situation because they smelled so bad when they menstruated that they would attract the enemy."

If a woman does "request mast," the Navy term for leapfrogging your immediate superiors and reporting to higher-ups, woe is she. "A senior male [noncommissioned officer] confirmed that a woman Marine requesting mast would be 'annihilated,'" according to these reports. The findings were corroborated in a scathing follow-up report by the Marine Corps inspector general's Special Readiness Assessment Team.

Nor have things improved since 2001. This June, Marcella Baker, a sexual-assault counselor at the civilian Onslow Women's Center in Jacksonville, N.C., near where Camp Lejeune's 30,000 Marines are stationed, said that her office gets about one call each month from a female Marine who's been raped by a fellow Marine or officer, a number she thinks is low as not everyone on base knows about the center.

She added that many women "feel they'll get penalized if they report someone of higher rank." As a result, and because they can't legally quit until their term is up, they feel trapped.

The Pentagon public-affairs office rejected a request to interview the post-purge DACOWITS chairwoman, retired Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter, once the Marine Corps' highest-ranking female. The Marine Corps inspector general's public-affairs office issued a statement saying that a Marine Corps Climate Assessment Task Force will soon be issuing a brief about how to, in the statement's words, "Better educate Marines and commanders about the Marine Corps' policies on equal opportunity and sexual harassment."

Let's hope those recommendations are searingly clear. Because here's the real scandal: In practice, the Marine Corps sanctions the idea that only a man can be a real Marine. As the other services have found, that attitude can lead to rape. And according to research cited by the other military services, when women and minorities enter nontraditional jobs, their vulnerability to harassment goes down as their numbers go up.

Women Marines make up just 6 percent of the corps, less than in any other military service. "Most [Marine Corps] jobs are coded as combat jobs and off-limits for women," explained Carolyn Becraft, who under President Bill Clinton was assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs (which oversees the Marines). "Coded as" is the key phrase; it doesn't mean the jobs actually take you into combat. Marene Allison, one of the purged DACOWITS investigators, says, "If any other corporation talked about and treated women this way, they would be hung and sued. But in the military, we say 'boys will be boys.'"