Army Sgt. Accused Of Filming Female Cadets Without Consent

The sergeant worked at West Point. The story, first reported by The New York Times, is the latest in a series of embarrassing cases for the military, which has acknowledged it has a significant problem of sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. There is another case of alleged sexual misconduct in the military, this time at West Point. The Army is investigating a sergeant for possession of indecent videos of female cadets, taken without their consent. Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClendon taught at the elite military academy for about four years. The Pentagon has already admitted it has a major problem with sexual harassment and assault, and lawmakers are calling for changes in the military justice system.

NPR's Quil Lawrence joins us for more on this latest case, and the broader issue. And Quil, what can you tell us about what's alleged to have happened at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Army officials say they're contacting at least a dozen alleged victims. These are cadets, so college-aged women. Sgt. McClendon was in command of 121 cadets, so overseeing their lives, responsible for their growth as future officers. He's been in the Army for 23 years. He's a combat veteran, and he was charged last week with 35 violations of the Military Code of Justice. He's been transferred while this investigation goes on, and all of this was first reported in The New York Times.

BLOCK: And Quil, it does seem that there's been a spate of these stories lately; investigations into members of the military for some sort of sexual offense. Why don't you remind of us what the latest numbers are on the prevalence of these incidents.

LAWRENCE: Right. The latest survey said 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual conduct annually. And these have been underscored, as you say, by nothing short of a wave of these cases. Some are particularly disturbing because they're involving senior officials from the very offices that are dedicated to preventing rape in the military.

The head of preventing sexual assault in the Air Force was arrested for groping a woman in a parking lot, earlier this month. There were mug shots of him in the paper with scratches on his face after the woman had fought him off.

BLOCK: There was also a case involving an Army sergeant at Fort Hood.

LAWRENCE: Yes. He was also part of the team there, that's supposed to be preventing sexual assault. He was charged with abusive sexual conduct and allegedly forcing a female subordinate into prostitution. These are the people troops are supposed to come to for help, if they're raped.

Earlier this year, there was an Air Force general who overturned a military jury's verdict in a sexual assault case where a fellow pilot had been convicted. And that case, in particular, was infuriating to lawmakers who've been demanding of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that they make major changes in the military justice system.

BLOCK: Well, Quil, what have the top brass in the military said about this, and what are they doing about it?

LAWRENCE: They said that they're going to do everything in their power to address the issue. They've admitted that there's a crisis in the armed forces. They've done some things like instituting a special victims counsel for rape trials. But just last week, President Obama called the secretary of defense, and Joint Chiefs, into the White House, called the situation disgraceful. The head of sexual assault prevention at the Pentagon admits that they need to change their culture. He says it'll take time.

Now, critics say that this latest case at West Point is an example of that culture of constant sexual harassment, combined with impunity for the perpetrators. And they say that until this system - the justice system - changes, and until perpetrators start getting punished and victims feel safe to come out and blow the whistle, nothing is going to change.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Quil Lawrence. Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

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