More than 200 women who have or currently work in national security have signed an open letter about the culture of sexual harassment they see as prevalent and pervasive in their line of employment. In the letter, titled "#MeTooNatSec," the women — who come from a variety of departments at the federal level (including the intelligence community, the USAID and the Pentagon) — called for mandatory training on sexual harassment and for stronger reporting on the subject.
“This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress,” reads the letter, according to Time. “These abuses are born of imbalances of power and environments that permit such practices while silencing and shaming their survivors.”
All of the signees claim that they have seen or been the victim of sexual harassment and assault within their industry. The letter contains no specific accusations or allegations.
“Assault and harassment are just as much as a problem for women working on the night-shift cleaning offices as it is for diplomats,” said retired Ambassador Nina Hachigian, who co-authored the letter with former State Department official Jenna Ben-Yehuda.
Ben-Yehuda said she has never been the victim of sexual harassment in her field, but felt the need to open up a dialogue on the matter: “I think that this national conversation has led a number of us, even those of us who haven’t been the direct victims of assault to really harken back to moments like that and realize what a toxic environment even comments like those can create."
“There is NO room for sexual harassment within the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense," wrote US Army Major Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email to Time. "Sexual harassment violates the responsibility of DoD military and civilian personnel to treat each other with dignity and respect. Not only that, it jeopardizes combat readiness and mission accomplishment, weakens trust within the ranks, and erodes unit cohesion. The DoD maintains a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ for sexual harassment and is firmly committed to eliminating it from our ranks.”
“As Acting Secretary, I will not tolerate workplace harassment of any kind, and together with DHS leadership will continue to ensure any and all reports of intolerable behavior are addressed swiftly and in accordance with our laws and department policies,” echoed Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke in a statement. “DHS employees are expected to treat everyone they encounter with respect and professionalism — including their coworkers.”
The letter criticizes the training procedures on sexual harassment as “erratic” and “irregular" and calls on institutes to create “multiple, clear, private” channels through which to report abuses, along with demands for mandatory exit interviews and external data collection.
“I think the more we know about the women in this space and their decision to stay or to leave, the more effectively we can work to put policies in place to stop it,” said Ben-Yehuda. “Everybody can be a leader on this, no matter what your rank or what your position there are so many opportunities to set the tone to create a workplace that is safe and more inviting for women."
“Many women are held back or driven from this field by men who use their power to assault at one end of the spectrum and perpetuate-sometimes unconsciously-environments that silence, demean, belittle or neglect women at the other,” the letter reads.
You can read the full letter here.
[Photo: Getty Images]