September 08, 2017

Senator Gillibrand Calls On DOD Inspector General To Investigate Allegations Of Navy Protecting High-Ranking Official Accused Of Sexual Assault And Harrassment

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the Department of Defense’s Acting Inspector General to open an investigation into a case reported by USA Today this week alleging that a high-ranking spokesman for the Navy was protected by top Navy officials and allowed to keep his job after being accused of sexually harassing and assaulting several female junior officers and a female civilian employee at the Pentagon.

“The response of military leadership to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault is critical to stopping this behavior, encouraging reporting, and supporting survivors,” Senator Gillibrand wrote in her letter to the Acting Inspector General. “I am extremely troubled that it appears Navy leadership turned a blind eye to this unacceptable behavior to show favor to a trusted aide to the detriment of not only the subjects of his unwanted advances, but the entire Pentagon community who knew of this alleged abusive behavior yet saw no immediate action by their leaders.”

This case follows the same troubling trends that Gillibrand highlighted in her latest annual report on sexual assault in the military, released yesterday, which found that punishments for military sexual assault accusations are rare, inconsistent, and insufficient. Gillibrand found that issues surrounding military sexual assault over the past two decades have continue to be a pervasive problem despite pledges of zero tolerance from top military officials.

Gillibrand’s full letter to the Department of Defense Acting Inspector General is below:

The Honorable Mr. Glenn A. Fine

Acting Inspector General

U.S. Department of Defense – Office of Inspector General

4800 Mark Center Drive

Alexandria, VA 22350-1500

Dear Mr. Fine,

It was recently brought to my attention by a USA Today report, that a high-ranking spokesman for the Navy, Commander Christopher Servello, was accused of sexually harassing several female subordinates and sexually assaulting a female civilian employee at the Pentagon in December 2016.  Despite these troubling allegations, it appears that CDR Servello was allowed to remain in his position until recently and may even have retained some level of supervisory control over his alleged victims for several months.

The reactions of senior Navy leadership seem incongruent to CDR Servello’s reported inappropriate behavior and warrant an independent, impartial party to fully examine the handling of this case.  The response of military leadership to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault is critical to stopping this behavior, encouraging reporting, and supporting survivors.  Leaders at the highest levels should be expected to make decisions considering the rights of an accused, the rights of victims, and also the deterrent effect their actions can have on the broader community. 

I am extremely troubled that it appears senior Navy leadership turned a blind eye to this unacceptable behavior to show favor to a trusted aide to the detriment of not only the subjects of his unwanted advances but the entire Pentagon community who knew of this alleged abusive behavior yet saw no immediate action by their leaders. Failure of leadership in an instance such as this, if accurate, would directly undermine good order and discipline. It is essential we answer the question of who knew what, when, and why no action was taken to remove the alleged offender (even temporarily) from such an important, public position.

You have a unique ability to conduct a fair assessment of whether mismanagement and bias occurred in this case.  I urge you to open an investigation into this important matter.  I look forward to your response and report of your findings.   

Sincerely,

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator