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The charges became public Nov. 7, after the Army's top leaders decided the best way to handle such a public relations nightmare was to be up front about it--before the seamy details surfaced in the press or congressional-hearing room. The Army now appears to be responding forcefully, giving rape-prevention classes to new trainees and putting the remaining drill sergeants through additional sexual harassment training. But questions remain about why it took so long for the allegations to come to the public's attention. Army officials say they wanted to complete their investigations before publicity jeopardized the case. They also moved cautiously, an officer working on the case told TIME, "because about 80% of the victims are white and 80% of those charged are black." But no evidence of discrimination was found, he said, and so the cases were allowed to proceed. Tracking down all the alleged victims has also proved difficult: Army officials say some went AWOL because of their treatment.

There were also hints of trouble at Aberdeen long before Simpson was locked up. Lieut. Colonel Martin Utzig, commander of the 143rd, formally scolded him in January for jabbing a female recruit (superiors are not allowed to touch subordinates in training) and transferred him from Bravo to Alpha Company. And another drill sergeant with the 143rd was booted from the service earlier in Utzig's tenure for inappropriately touching a female student. This may have led Utzig and others to believe the problems were being properly handled, but it could also have masked a more serious breakdown in the chain of command that allowed some officers to feel their misbehavior would be tolerated. "It is hard to believe that other drill instructors at Aberdeen were completely blind as to what was happening," says Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. A female officer with a decade of service, who says she has experienced sexual harassment in the Army, agrees. "I was enlisted once, and leaders who sit around in the barracks, popping a few tops, know what's going on," she says. "I'll bet you a million dollars some leaders knew what was going on a long time ago. When you've got multiple assaults, it's obvious some of them are looking the other way."

Indeed, some soldiers at the 143rd Battalion's headquarters, a cluster of brick buildings 12 miles from Aberdeen's main post, confessed they were not shocked by the charges. They described a high school atmosphere on base where gossip about sex rustled among the troops. "There's lots of talk about relationships, but it's whispered, not broadcast widely," says Private Xanett Salgador-Hill, 18, a mechanic from Savannah, Georgia. "It's the same as in the civilian world, but people expect more from the military." Private Bashir Gray, 18, has heard the rumors too. "People were saying some of the drill sergeants were flirting with some of the privates, but I just couldn't believe it," he says.

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