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Women still face abuse at US `male citadel'

Barely a year after it was forced to admit women for the first time, the Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina, has suspended a cadet and three student officers for the alleged "hazing" - systematic humiliation - of two first year female cadets.

In a case which now involves both the state police and the FBI, the women - among four currently enrolled at the Citadel - were sprayed with inflammable liquid and their clothes set on fire. Neither was injured in the incident, but the two had previously suffered threats of violence and physical abuse, college officials said.

Such "hazing" is technically against college rules. In fact, however, the practice is ingrained in the culture of an institution which always prided itself on the supposedly character-forming qualities of the harsh treatment inflicted on new entrants in their first year.

But in 1995 the traditions of a century and a half were turned in their head, when the state-supported Citadel bowed to a Supreme Court decision that its previous men-only policy was unconstitutional. After a two year legal struggle, Shannon Faulkner, the woman who had brought the original case against the college, was admitted as a resident, full-time cadet.

Although she dropped out after just five days, complaining of the strain and isolation of being the only woman, four more enrolled in 1996. They parade and study with their male counterparts, but live in separate quarters and have been excused some of the physically toughest training disciplines. The FBI has been brought in because the two cadets' civil rights may have been violated.

According to a Citadel spokesman, the women did not initially report the clothes-burning incident, which took place a month ago, to the college authorities. But now that a probe has belatedly begun, more suspensions could be on the way, officials said.