An Army sergeant is being accused of videotaping female cadets while they were either undressing or taking a shower. Sgt. First Class Michael McClendon of West Point reportedly filmed about a dozen female cadets without their knowledge; the allegations surface at a time when the United States military is already faced with mounting cases of sexual assault. While West Point is lauded as having progressive faculty members that pride themselves on maintaining an environment of discipline and respect among the students, the academy has had problems with sexual assault before.
Briefed on the allegations Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was described as being "concerned and disturbed." Secretary Hagel will be speaking at West Point’s commencement ceremony this Saturday.
The recent charges against Sgt. McClendon come after he was recently transferred to Fort Drum, New York, but he had been assigned to West Point since 2009. It was at West Point where he was assigned to serve as a tactical noncommissioned officer, which made him "responsible for the health, welfare, and discipline" of at least 125 cadets. Under this position, Sgt. McClendon was expected to "assist each cadet in balancing and integrating the requirements of physical, military, academic and moral-ethical programs." Sgt. McClendon is now charged under four articles of the Uniform of Military Justice, including indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and actions prejudicial to good order and discipline.
A little more than 15% of the student body at West Point are female, and the faculty and staff are dedicated to regaining the trust of their female cadets. The women who were unknowingly filmed by Sgt. McClendon were notified about the breach of their privacy and have been offered support and counseling by the academy. Officials have stated that some of the videos indicate that Sgt. McClendon entered women’s bathrooms or shower areas without knocking.
The Army vice chief of staff, Gen. John F. Cambell, said Wednesday that "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 ... Our cadets must be confident that issues such as these are handled quickly and decisively, and that our system will hold those responsible accountable." Another Army spokesman, George Wright, reinforced that sentiment by stating that the Army was committed to "providing the full range of support to those whose privacy was violated" and "keeping them updated on the case."
With sexual assault in the military on the rise, the Pentagon's highest officials are promising that they will confront the problem and work to protect its military personnel from such attacks in the future. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno wrote to his personnel, "It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission ... It is up to every one of us civilian and soldier, general officer to private, to solve this problem within our ranks." Acts like that of Sgt. McClendon, according to Gen. Odierno, "violate everything our Army stands for" and that "they must not be tolerated."