Four-Star Addresses Report Complaints of Sexual Harassment Ignored

FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Marine candidates with Officer Candidates school (OCS) participate in an obstacle course at OCS, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., on Jan. 16, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Yasmin D. Perez)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Marine candidates with Officer Candidates school (OCS) participate in an obstacle course at OCS, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., on Jan. 16, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Yasmin D. Perez)

The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps said service attorneys are now working closely with a woman who went public this week with allegations the Marine Corps did nothing when she reported sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior from her boss, a Marine field-grade officer.

USA Today reported Tuesday that two women had separately accused Maj. David Cheek, who now works at Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, of taking advantage of private one-on-one meetings to show them he was physically aroused. Cheek denies this ever happened.

Both women allege the incidents occurred in 2013.

One of the women, Sherry Yetter, had her complaint investigated by the Marine Corps in 2017 and found unsubstantiated. The other, Traci Sharpe, never made a formal complaint. She alleges she complained to her supervisor but was told nobody would believe her.

According to the USA Today report, Yetter, who now works as senior coordinator for sexual assault response and prevention at Marine Corps Recruiting Command, had initially made a complaint in 2014, but was encouraged not to pursue the matter at the time. In 2017, she revisited the matter after finding Cheek had been reassigned to the building where she works.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday on the topic of senior officer misconduct, Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters said the incident highlights a lack of trust in the existing system to address complaints of such misconduct.

"One of the problems is getting people to report and have trust in the system," Walters said, noting that Sharpe, the second complainant, had never previously registered her allegation with the Marine Corps, and the service would now have to investigate her allegations.

Regarding Yetter's allegations, "I believe mitigation was put in place," Walters said. "The mitigation broke down, and now we have to go look at mitigation again."

He suggested that it was possible that the investigation into Yetter's allegations would be reopen, or a new probe begun.

"Our lawyers are talking to the complainant and getting a mitigation plan as you would normally do," he said. "We've been through the [Equal Opportunity Employment] process once, she wasn't satisfied, and we'll do it again."

Walters said the Marine Corps had been given 12 hours' notice before the story published and was still looking to gather all pertinent information about the case.

"So we're looking deep into it," he said. "I don't know all the facts yet, but I will find all the facts."

The Marine Corps, which has the smallest proportion of women of any of the services, and has traditionally had one of the highest rates of reported sexual harassment and assault, has been taking significant steps to effect cultural change since March 2017, when an investigative report revealed that some active duty troops had been using a closed Facebook page called Marines United to swap photos of nude female service members.

In addition to efforts to investigate the perpetrators and hold them accountable, the Marine Corps stood up a talent management office under Walters to promote gender diversity throughout the Marine Corps.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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