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More than 200 US diplomats, civil servants and servicewomen say they’ve been harassed at work

AP Photo/Branden Camp
National security is not safe for women.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Just days after revelations of sexual harassment within the ranks of the US Congress, American women working in national security are speaking out, too.  An open letter titled #metoonatsec accuses their industry of systemic discrimination and harassment.

The letter was signed by 223 women, including 60 current and former ambassadors. The signatories are also current and former employees of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, the military, the National Security Council and the US Agency for International Development. Others work for think tanks, university and other institutions related to national security. 

Authors Gina Abercrombie-Winstanely, a former US ambassador, and Jenna Ben-Yehuda, founder of Women’s Foreign Policy Network, state clearly that “We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are.” They also detail ways in which the national security environment is unfair to women, from not championing women’s careers to outright abusing them.

“Many women are held back or driven from this field by men who use their power to assault at one end of the spectrum and perpetuate-sometimes unconsciously-environments that silence, demean, belittle or neglect women at the other,” the letter, published by Time magazine, reads.

“Assault is the progression of the same behaviors that permit us to be denigrated, interrupted, shut out, and shut up. These behaviors incubate a permissive environment where sexual harassment and assault take hold.”

The letter also contains specific recommendations for change:

Clear leadership from the very top that these behaviors are unacceptable;
Creating multiple, clear, private channels to report abuse without fear of retribution;
External, independent mechanisms to collect data on claims and publish them anonymously;
Mandatory, regular training for all employees;
Mandatory exit interviews for all women leaving Federal service.

Most of the above would also apply to other sectors seeking to create a safe and fair work environment.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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