A Navy command investigation has revealed that 12 sailors aboard a submarine secretly watched videos of female crew members as they undressed to shower. The report, which was obtained by the Navy Times, found that the recording occurred over 10 months, and raises fears that despite the Navy’s effort, which began four years ago, to integrate the sexes, female sailors remain a target for sexual assault aboard ships, even though the official stance has been that the integration is going smoothly.
The sailors involved are posted to the Kings Bay, Georgia-based Wyoming submarine, which carries ballistic missiles. The women on board, who reported to the Wyoming in 2011, form part of the group of female sailors to first be assigned to submarines. Due to the close quarters on board submarines, on which sailors can remain for months, they were the last ships to allow women aboard for service.
Submarines such as the Wyoming usually carry 140 sailors in addition to 15 officers. Showers are unisex and are mainly located in areas of the ship where officers shower. When a female sailor uses the shower, she hangs a sign outside to let male crew members know that they are not to enter until the woman has exited.
Eleven sailors are alleged to have watched the videos without reporting their existence to superiors. Only one sailor aboard the submarine has been accused of actually recording and then distributing the videos in text messages. At this time, the number of women actually recorded is undetermined, but officials with the Navy believe three or four women were violated during two time periods: Aug. to Nov. 2013, and March to June 2014. There is no indication that any of the videos were posted to social media sites. The submarine’s command was first alerted to the existence of the videos in mid-November after a sailor who had been temporarily assigned to the Wyoming returned to his own post and informed his commander of the existence of the videos.
All twelve sailors are petty officers who had either viewed the videos or known of their existence without reporting them to commanders. Speaking with Navy Times, a senior Navy official with knowledge of the investigation said that only one sailor, a 24-year-old second class petty officer, is alleged to have recorded the seven videos and dispersed them to others via his mobile phone. The possibility exists that crew members of both sex were filmed, but the report counts only women among the victims.
A spokesman for Submarine Force, Atlanta Fleet (SUBLANT) said that the command investigation into the recording has concluded, but the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is still looking into possible laws which were violated in the recording and distribution of the videos. The command report will be distributed up the submarine’s chain of command before any type of punishment or decision is made. Besides legal implications, there may be punishments meted out by the military for having cell phones in classified areas on a submarine, which is prohibited during deployments, or for watching the videos and not reporting them.
Vice Adm. Michael Connor insisted in a letter to the leaders of the submarine fleet that the scandal aboard the Wyoming does not diminish the success of the Navy’s integration efforts. He reminded them that 59 female officers are stationed aboard seven submarines in Bangor and Kings Bay, Washington. Connor cited the “overwhelmingly successful” performance of the integrated crew on those submarines. Women officers are scheduled to join additional types of subs in the next year, while enlisted women are due to follow suit later.
Although the NCIS is officially investigation the recordings as a “privacy violation,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, Press Secretary of the Pentagon, said that there is “no question” that the recordings would constitute “sexual harassment.” Kirby also confirmed that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had been notified regarding the investigation at the time it began. All 12 crew members involved were reassigned to their Kings Bay, Georgia, home base for shore duties when the investigation started. They are to remain in their current reassignments until the NCIS investigation is complete.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo by Submarine Group Ten – License