It seems almost weekly the American news media reports new allegations of sexual misconduct by individuals ranging in various industries and roles of influence. The hashtag “#MeToo” has also emerged as a way for people to tell their own stories on social media platforms of sexual assault and harassment.
One segment of the population that has a history of these scandals is the military, and a nonprofit news organization has started a project to document as many of them as possible.
The War Horse, a nonprofit newsroom founded by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Thomas J. Brennan, has started a project called “Zero Tolerance,” an interactive timeline of military sexual trauma starting in 1979 to the present.
In March 2017, the organization published its investigation into the Marines United private Facebook page which shared nude photos of female service members without their consent, causing a national outcry and forcing military leaders to testify before Congress.
According to a recent Department of Defense report on sexual assault in the military, 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2016.
Andrea Januta, an independent reporter who has worked previously with The War Horse in reporting military sexual trauma stories, is behind the timeline project. The idea for the timeline came during her reporting after the Marines United investigation when she and her editor wanted to reference other examples of military sexual scandals.
“My editor and I wanted to include examples of—that would illustrate that this was not a one off event. That this was something that was part of the culture and had historical context,” she said.
They found cases to include that were forgotten or less well known, “and that this was something extensive and ongoing that reached back for several decades,” she said.
During her reporting, Januta said it became clear that no one had put all of this historical information in one place.
The goal of the project is to show how often these scandals happened, “how leadership and elected officials had tried to address this,” Januta said. “What had changed, what hadn’t.”
The timeline includes military sexual scandals across the different branches, including the service academies. It also includes how leaders in the military and Congress reacted in their aftermath.
“So it’s looking at both what has happened and the effects of it,” she said.
What surprised Januta was how frequently these scandals happen at the same installation or service academy.
“So you look up one scandal and you find reference to another. For example, I had in my files the Fort Leonard Wood scandal and then I had to add 1996 because there’s the 2008 Fort Leonard Wood scandal on the same base,” she said.
Januta also noticed, over the course of reporting this timeline “was that every time there was a huge momentum for change, any time that military leadership or congress came out and tried to put change into effect, it was in large part because service women had spoken out first and called out attention.”
“Many of them contacted media or made statements themselves and took action when they found that the military wasn’t properly addressing the issue,” she said.
“You can see that when the survivors of sexual assault and harassment speak up, they actually are kind of the driving force behind change,” she added.
Since the timeline was published, people have reached out and some of their conversations have “sparked more reporting projects that we’re looking into.”
“We want this information to evolve and be useful to anyone trying to understand the issue and also the context around it,” she said about submissions to the timeline. “And so we would like people to reach out to us with any information that they think should be included in the historical context.”
They hope that the timeline will be useful for people looking to understand military sexual scandals but also to take action.
“We’re hoping that it can be used as a tool for people to push for change and show this is what has caused change in the past and this is what hasn’t worked,” Januta said.
“And we’re hoping that it also help people step away from the immediate scandal-based reactions and look at the entire culture,” she said. “And in stepping back and see kind of the pervasiveness, maybe attack it in a fresher way.”