Senior Navy officer harassed women for years, Pentagon watchdog says

Pentagon watchdog substantiates allegations that Navy official sexually harassed a dozen women over two decades

Shweta Sharma
Friday 26 March 2021 06:20 GMT
A Pentagon official ordered 90-day review into sexual assault and harassment cases in military
A Pentagon official ordered 90-day review into sexual assault and harassment cases in military (REUTERS)

A former senior Naval officer allegedly harassed multiple women employees for more than two decades through predatory behaviour that included requesting sexual favours in exchange for career advancement, according to a report by a Pentagon watchdog.

The report by the Defense Department's inspector general “substantiated the allegation” that former Navy auditor general Ronnie Booth sexually harassed 12 Naval audit service employees.

Mr Booth retired in 2019 after a sexual harassment probe was initiated when the department received 10 anonymous complaints between the period 27 February 2019 to 1 July 2019.

“He propositioned five female employees — four of which propositions were clear examples of quid pro quo, requesting sexual favours in exchange for career advancement, all under the guise of professional career 'mentoring' that the employees expected from a senior leader,” the report said.

Mr Booth denied the allegations saying he did not know “where these accusations are coming from” and declined to give written comments to the investigators.

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The report comes as the US military is under pressure to address the growing issues of sexual assault, harassment and racism within the ranks. A 90-day review of sexual assault and harassment was announced by deputy defence secretary Kathleen Hicks on Wednesday after the report.

One accuser described him as a “predator” because he was known for “preying on young women.” A witness told investigators that “mentoring session” meant “sexual encounter.”

“[Mr Booth] seems to prey on young women, Black, white, or indifferent, that are naïve, that are looking to advance their careers, that are looking for status that he feels like he can manipulate.… that he can use to his advantage,” said the third witness.

The report stated that Mr Booth’s inappropriate behaviour and actions with women created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment.

His behaviour forced seven women to resign from the department or request a job move because he made them feel “uncomfortable or caused them distress.”

The role of the then-acting secretary of Navy, Thomas Modly, was also under the scanner over allegations that he knew about these accusations against Mr Booth but promoted him anyway. The report failed to substantiate the allegations against Mr Modly.

The inspector general instructed the acting secretary of Navy to take appropriate action in the case after reviewing the report that also asked the agency to consider ways to improve the confidence of employees to handle the cases of sexual harassment.

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