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Harassment allegations again surface in the Navy

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Still struggling to move beyond the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal and the attitudes that caused it, the Navy is now investigating accusations that instructors at a major training center in San Diego pressured female students for sex.

The case involves at least 16 young enlisted women who were learning to operate the Navy's computer and telephone networks BTC at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, Navy officials said yesterday.

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Investigators say the women have complained that at least seven male instructors at the Internal Communications "A" School of the Service School Command verbally harassed them, made unwanted sexual comments and, in some cases, grabbed them from March 1993 until last September, when an inquiry was ordered.

The instructors were all senior enlisted men who had served in the Navy from six to 12 years -- "long enough to know better," said Lt. Patrick Dennison, a spokesman for the school.

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Another senior Navy officer cautioned that the accusations were still under review and that no one had been charged yet. While there apparently were no blatant sex-for-grades demands, the officer said the instructors were clearly asking for sexual favors.

"It was more like, 'Now that you've gotten good grades, don't you think you should give me something back?' " the senior Navy officer said.

Navy officials said yesterday that investigators have found no instance in which women felt compelled to have sex to pass, or failed after rebuffing their instructors' advances.

The latest sexual harassment allegations come just a week after a jury in Las Vegas awarded $6.7 million to Paula Coughlin, a former Navy helicopter pilot who was among several dozen women sexually assaulted at the 1991 convention of naval aviators.

The investigation at the training center in San Diego was first reported in the current issue of Newsweek.

Since the Tailhook scandal, the Navy has inundated everyone from raw recruits to admirals with sensitivity training and stern warnings that harassment of any form will not be tolerated.

Indeed, the Navy's "zero-tolerance" policy requires automatic dismissal for aggravated sexual harassment or repeat offenses. About 90 officers and sailors have been discharged under the policy.

But senior Navy officials still express frustration that the accusations like those made by the women in San Diego suggest that the oft-repeated message has yet to change the behavior of many sailors and officers in the male-dominated service.

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Navy commanders said yesterday that they had found some encouraging elements in the matter. Capt. John C. Ensch, the head of the training center, said in a telephone interview that Navy officials became aware of the accusations after a senior chief petty officer heard about the accusations during a casual conversation with a woman who said she was a victim.

Captain Ensch said the petty officer immediately reported the conversation to his superiors, a move that triggered a wide-ranging investigation that is to be completed this week and forwarded to higher officials. But in fact, Navy officials said, none of the women who have told investigators they were harassed or intimidated felt comfortable or confident enough to report the abuse directly to a supervisor, as Lieutenant Coughlin did in her case.


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