Pentagon Unveils Policy to Combat Misconduct, Harassment in the Ranks

A data network specialist works to trouble-shoot a computer issue.
A data network specialist works to trouble-shoot a computer issue. (Sgt. Richard Blumenstein/Marine Corps photo)

The Pentagon has put forth a new policy that aims to deter misconduct and harassment among servicemembers, reaffirming it does not tolerate any kind of harassment by any service member, either in person or online.

Under direction from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the Defense Department on Thursday unveiled DoD Instruction 1020.03 Harassment Prevention And Response in the Armed Forces, which goes into effect immediately, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White announced.

"One of the secretary's main priorities is increasing the lethality of our force," White told reporters during a briefing. "Something that affects lethality and readiness is harassment in all forms," she said.

The 23-page comprehensive policy dictates the department's definitions of what is considered harassment and the proper response to attacks on individuals via social media, as well as misconduct on bases. The policy will supersede any past department policies on sexual harassment for service members.

Each service -- Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps -- will be in charge of planning its implementation, outlining steps and milestones in order to comply with the instruction, White said.

"It's just the beginning," White said. "It's a framework for military services to address unacceptable behaviors such as offensive jokes, stereotyping, violence, and discrimination."

Violations of the new policy may constitute violations of specific articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, and may result in administrative or disciplinary action, according to the guideline.

White added, "Harassment has no place in our military."

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In the guideline, DoD says that harassment may include "offensive jokes, epithets, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, displays of offensive objects or imagery, stereotyping,

intimidating acts, veiled threats of violence, threatening or provoking remarks, racial or other

slurs, derogatory remarks about a person's accent, or displays of racially offensive symbols."

"Activities or actions undertaken for a proper military or governmental purpose, such as combat

survival training, are not considered harassment," it said.

Other types of harassment include:

  1. Discriminatory: based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity), national origin, or sexual orientation;
  2. Sexual: unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and deliberate or repeated offensive comments or gestures of a sexual nature to include forced or coerced submission, either online or in person. Those who condone this behavior will be subject to punishment as well;
  3. Bullying: harassment that includes acts of aggression either online or in person for either physical or psychological harm;
  4. Hazing: physically or psychologically injuring or creating a risk of physical or psychological injury to service members for the purpose of initiation into, admission into, affiliation with, change in status or position within, or a condition for continue membership in any military or DoD civilian organization.
  5. Retaliation: illegal, impermissible, or hostile actions taken by a service member's chain of command, peers, or coworkers as a result of making or being suspected of making a protected communication in accordance with DoDD 7050.06, or the military's whistleblower policy;
  6. Reprisal: taking or threatening to take an unfavorable personnel action, or withholding or threatening to withhold a favorable personnel action, for making, preparing to make, or being perceived as making or preparing to make a protected communication outside the chain of command.

When asked whether the far-reaching policy alarms the department over freedom of speech issues, White said the goal nonetheless is to address harassment.

This "is to ensure we have a safe workplace," White said. "No one should feel intimidated. No one should feel as though they can't do their job without being discriminated against -- this goes to hazing, this goes to political beliefs, religions beliefs -- but those details will be developed by the services."

An overall DoD "working group," White said, will then take the service definitions to ensure consistency.

The latest guideline follows a hearing that took place Wednesday on Capitol Hill about senior officer misconduct, where each of the services and lawmakers couldn't comprehensively agree how to hold leaders accountable for various misconduct in the ranks.

It also follows a recent report that the number of reported sexual assaults at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, roughly doubled during the last school year, according to the Associated Press.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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