Airmen graduate from U.S. Air Force basic training, May 14, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Airmen graduate from U.S. Air Force basic training, May 14, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. U.S. Air Force / Johnny Saldivar

One in Three Women in Air Force, Space Force Have Experienced Sexual Harassment

Inspector general investigation into gender, race disparities also found minorities, women far less likely to hold leadership posts.

One out of every three women in the Air Force or Space Force who responded to a wide-ranging inspector general investigation reported experiencing sexual harassment during their military career, according to a report released Thursday.

The report is the second Air Force deep dive into years’ worth of disciplinary, promotion, and retention data of its minority airmen and Guardians, as part of a servicewide look at race and gender inequality in its ranks. Conclusions are based on more than 100,000 survey responses from airmen and Guardians, and follow-up discussion sessions across the force. 

“1 out of every 3 female military respondents and 1 out of every 4 female civilian respondents stated they experienced sexual harassment during their Air Force career,” the Air Force Inspector General found. 

“For women, the most serious identified type of harassment was sexual jokes that make them feel uncomfortable, followed by repeated attempts to establish an unwanted sexual or romantic relationship and sexual comments about their appearance or body,” the report found. “Women reported the most common negative responses to a sexual harassment complaint was being treated worse or being blamed by coworkers (43%) and being encouraged to drop the issue (38%). Approximately 22% of women were satisfied with the complaint process overall.” 

“These disparities and gaps in trust affect our operational readiness—we don’t have time or talent to lose,” Gina Ortiz Jones, Air Force under secretary, said in a statement accompanying the report. 

The first IG report on racial disparities, released in December 2020, focused on Black and African American service members. Thursday’s report expanded that look to include reviews by gender and by additional race categories, including Hispanic, Asian and Native American service members. 

Thursday’s report also found that promotion and disciplinary disparities exist for those additional racial categories as well, said Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, the Inspector General of the Department of the Air Force. 

Those minority groups were also far less likely to rise to the top levels of the Air Force. For example, Asian Americans were 280 percent less likely to be promoted to serve as a wing commander compared to their white counterparts, Said said. 

One of the root causes is the continued disparity in recruiting from minority groups for the military career fields that traditionally lead to leadership roles in the service, such as pilots. 

“The problem starts with accessions,” Said said. 

But the expanded minority review found those groups were less likely to face disparity in disciplinary action compared to Black or African American airmen or Guardians. 

In December the Air Force IG found that Black and African American service members were 72 percent more likely to receive Article 15 nonjudicial punishment than other service members, and also face other discrepancies, such as being far more likely to be pulled over by security forces on base. 

The Air Force review was part of Pentagon-wide and nationwide efforts to address racial inequality following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020. 

Thursday’s report updated the findings from the December report to cite what efforts the service has made to date to address disparities for Black and African American service members. 

“The bottom line is, we have made some progress, but we have a lot of work to do,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said.