Women who have worked in U.S. national security wrote an open letter to their community calling on those in power to help combat sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
Published on Tuesday by Time, the open letter was signed by 223 women who serve or have served in the military, diplomatic positions and development organizations.
“We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are,” the letter reads.
The letter calls on people and institutions in the national security community to “reduce the incidences of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.” To combat sexual harassment, the letter asks people in power in the field to create better channels to report abuse, create better data collection on sexual violence and make employee sexual harassment training and exit interviews mandatory. The 223 women also demanded that the national security community address the “serious gender imbalance” in senior leadership positions.
“This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress. It is everywhere,” the letter reads. “These abuses are born of imbalances of power and environments that permit such practices while silencing and shaming their survivors.”
In 2016, there were 6,172 sexual assault cases reported in the military alone; it was a record number for sexual assaults reported in one year, which many believe reflects a stronger trust in the system since discussing sexual assault in the military has become part of the mainstream conversation.
“Many women are held back or driven from this field by men who use their power to assault at one end of the spectrum and perpetuate ― sometimes unconsciously ― environments that silence, demean, belittle or neglect women at the other. Assault is the progression of the same behaviors that permit us to be denigrated, interrupted, shut out, and shut up,” the letter reads. “These behaviors incubate a permissive environment where sexual harassment and assault take hold. And it’s time to make it stop.”
An anonymous survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense last year found that 14,900 service members had experienced some kind of sexual assault ― ranging from groping to rape ― in 2016. The same survey revealed that 1 in 3 service members who experienced assault in 2016 chose to report it; 10 years ago, only 1 in 14 chose to report.
The letter ends with a powerful question: “How will you protect, empower, and defend the women who serve our nation?”
Head over to Time to read the full letter.