An Army sergeant who served as a staff adviser for cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point has been accused of secretly videotaping female students as they showered, the latest in a string of sexual-assault or harassment cases plaguing the Department of Defense.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division is contacting about a dozen women who may have been filmed while in the bathroom or shower, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The soldier, identified as Sgt. First Class Michael McClendon, faces multiple charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty, and maltreatment, according to Army spokesman George Wright.
Sgt. McClendon, a veteran of two tours of Iraq, was transferred to Ft. Drum, N.Y., before charges were filed on May 14. According to The New York Times, he served as a tactical commissioned officer at West Point since 2009, where school personnel documents described his position as “responsible for the health, welfare, and discipline” for a company of roughly 125 cadets.
Time reports that McClendon, of Blakely, Ga., earned more than two-dozen awards, including a Bronze Star, and was a seven-time recipient of the Army’s Good Conduct Medal.
There are roughly 4,500 students at West Point. Women have been accepted to the prestigious military academy since 1976 and make up about 15 percent of the student body.
Army officials responded quickly after The Times reported the allegations Wednesday. “The Army is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our cadets at the Military Academy at West Point — as well as all soldiers throughout our Army,” Gen. John F. Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff, said Wednesday. “Once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem.”
The Department of Defense has been reeling from a string of sexual misconduct cases. On May 7 Jeffrey Krusinkski, head of the US Air Force sexual assault prevention unit, was charged with sexual battery. A US Army sergeant in Fort Hood, Texas, was accused of abusive sexual contact a few days later.
A Pentagon report released in early May found that the number of sexual assaults reported at military academies soared in recent years, from 25 in the 2008-09 academic year to 65 in 2010-11 and 80 in 2011-12. Reports of unwanted sexual advances also have risen throughout the military, from about 19,000 in 2011 to an estimated 26,000 in 2012, an increase of 37 percent, Reuters reports.
President Obama and members of Congress have spoken out publicly against the sexual-assault cases in recent days. Last week, Mr. Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the sexual assault cases and Department of Defense report.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D) of New York told NBC’s “Today” program that repeated sexual assaults without accountability, “allows the culture to continue.” Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Armed Services Committee, says sexual assault should be reported outside the chain of command, directly to a military prosecutor.
Hours before the West Point case was reported, Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, assured a Senate panel that addressing sexual-assault is their top priority.
"These crimes violate virtually everything the Army stands for,” McHugh said. “They will not be tolerated."
Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.