'Molesters in uniform' are blamed for drop in women recruits to Italian army

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The Independent Online

Recruitment of the first women soldiers to the Italian army has plummeted due to sexual discrimination by "molesters in uniform" who pester young female recruits with salacious text messages and make indecent proposals to them.

Recruitment of the first women soldiers to the Italian army has plummeted due to sexual discrimination by "molesters in uniform" who pester young female recruits with salacious text messages and make indecent proposals to them.

Thousands of young Italian women eagerly competed for places in military academies and for short-service commissions when the country's armed forces first allowed female combat personnel in 2000. As many as 23,000 women applied to academies that year, making up 56 per cent of the total, while 1,300 others applied for short-service spells in the army, making up 40 per cent of the total.

By 2002, however, female applicants represented only 21 per cent of those applying to the academies and 25 per cent of those seeking short-service entry. L'Espresso magazine blames rigid discipline and unwelcome sexual advances for the drop in applications.

The magazine cited the example of a woman serving in northern Italy whose superior officer fired off regular text messages at her, such as: "I can't sleep for thinking about you," "you excite me very much," and "would you come on a cruise with me?" When she failed to reply he sent her a message saying " Stronza" (bitch).

Another female soldier found herself alone with her commanding officer in his office. "Without warning he lowered his trousers, showing her his boxer shorts," L'Espresso said. A short time later the same officer stunned two female soldiers by recounting how he and his wife shaved their private parts. "We like it that way," he added.

The women were not amused and filed a complaint."There has been too much silence on sexual molesters but the military and civil courts are beginning to work," the magazine said.

Not all the disenchantment is due to sexual harassment. One recruit stayed in the army but confided that she lives in fear of peace-keeping duty: "When I applied I never thought one day I might have to fight."

Defence ministry officials play down the significance of the fall in applications. "These are figures we expected after the boom of applications in the first competitions," a ministry source said. In all, just 1,736 women serve in the armed forces.

Their arrival has also led to complaints from male soldiers. An NCO based in Piceno said relations with female soldiers were complex. "Officers punish the men and offer the women coffee. If it rains, outdoor exercises are cancelled to avoid complications for the girls. Men are transferred out of units by over-zealous superiors to avoid embarrassing situations."

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