'Hidden camera' inside USS Arlington women's bathroom highlights growing menace of sexual harassment in the Navy

The latest discovery of a hidden camera in the women's bathroom of USS Arlington has spurred a full-blown investigation into sexual assaults in the US Navy and, by extension, the US military


                            'Hidden camera' inside USS Arlington women's bathroom highlights growing menace of sexual harassment in the Navy

A hidden "recording device" was found in the women's bathroom of the USS Arlington after a complaint by a female marine. The device, which is reportedly a hidden camera, has spurred an investigation into sexual assaults in the US Navy.

The Navy takes reports of sexual harassment seriously, Commander Kyle Raines told Stars and Stripes. “The command has taken, and will continue to take, all necessary actions to ensure the safety and privacy of the victim,” he said.

While that may be the case, this is not the first time military personnel have complained in recent years about the issue of hidden cameras aboard a US Navy ship.

Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Freshman class try to hang from a rope for one minute without touching the ground during an event called 'Sea Trials' at the Naval Academy May 17, 2005 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In 2015, an elaborate "illicit filming" operation aboard the USS Wyoming was reported by the Navy Times, wherein male sailors would keep a watch on their female colleagues in places like shower changing rooms at the behest of their superiors. Using banned devices such as cellphones to carry out the recording, the supposed "operation" went on for over 10 months before the seamen were caught. The exposé resulted in the court-martial of eight of the sailors involved.

A RAND report in 2018 identified and analyzed the growing risk of sexual harassment in all four branches of the US military, and found sailors to be the most vulnerable when it came to sexual misconduct.

"We find that statistical techniques can be used to identify differences in sexual assault and harassment risk across installations and commands with good precision and that these differences are sometimes large," the report stated. "Moreover, the results of the analysis offer important insights into the distribution of risk across the services. The results may also provide clues about the conditions that contribute to sexual assault risk and about strategies that could be used to prevent sexual assault and harassment."

Former U.S. Military Academy Cadet Stephanie Gross (R), a survivor of sexual assault, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel with Naval Academy Midshipman Second Class Shiela Craine (L) and Ariana Bullard in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill May 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

According to the report, a large proportion of sexual assaults occurred at relatively few large installations for each branch of the military. An installation is a base, camp, post, station, yard, center, or other activity under the jurisdiction of a Military Department.

For instance, there were more than 500 sexual assaults of women and men in the Army and Marine Corps in 2014. The study advised that "the services might efficiently make important reductions in their sexual assault rates" if they targeted prevention, training, and other interventions at the largest and highest-risk installations.

Figure 3.4: The report emphasized that while there were no ships among the lowest risk installations for the Navy, ships dominated the highest risk installations. (RAND 2018 Report)

When it came to women in the Navy, the risk of sexual assault was found to be the highest, as represented in Figure 3.4. Meanwhile, the lowest-risk installations for women sailors included medical centers, National Capital Region installations, and smaller installations aggregated in postal areas, as was the case for women and men in the Army. 

The report emphasized that while there were no ships among the lowest risk installations for the Navy, ships dominated the highest risk installations.

"Of the 15 highest-risk installations for Navy women, 13 are ships or clusters of ships, including eight of the ten aircraft carriers," the report claimed. It was found that more than 10 percent of all women at each of these high-risk installations experienced sexual assault over a one-year period, while over 15 percent of women were assaulted at two of the ships.

Shockingly, the report concluded that each service member's estimated risk of being sexually assaulted in the next year depended on a large extent on his or her duty assignment to a particular unit, command, and installation. "For example, estimated sexual assault risk for women assigned to ships in the 96667 FPO address is 70 percent higher than expected based on similar Navy women with other duty assignments," the report stated. "24 of the estimated 59 sexual assaults of these women in FY 2014 are associated with this installation-specific risk."

US Navy recruitment poster for the 'Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service' (WAVES) program, depicts a uniformed woman while anti-aircraft fire explodes above a ship behind her, accompanied by the text 'There's a Man-Size Job for You in Your Navy; Enlist in the WAVES,' early to mid 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When it came to large bases, the risk of being sexually assaulted was also found to be installation-specific instead of being based on similar individuals with other duty assignments. "Across Fort Drum, Fort Lewis, Fort Hood, and Fort Bragg, we estimate that more than 257 of the female assault victims in FY 2014, or about 17 percent of all women estimated to have been sexually assaulted at these bases, were associated with the installation-specific component of risk—that is, risk above what those women would have experienced at a typical Army duty assignment."

In a similar fashion, 357 of the 2,262 women sexually assaulted while serving in the Army’s US Forces Command during FY 2014 were above the expected assault rates against women with similar individual characteristics assigned to other Army installations.