The first place women meet today's Army is not at boot camp but in America's clean and well-lighted recruiting stations, where teenagers go to get the military sales pitch. When 18-year-old Carissa Schaper walked into one last year in St. Peters, Missouri, she thought she was safe. But as she later told an Army investigator, she was taken aback by what she saw and heard. "It's not a question of whether we can get you into the Army," she was told on her second visit, "but can the Army get into you?" The recruiters seemed more interested in enlisting her for sport sex than for service to her country. "They'd brag about all the young ladies they had slept with," she says. "They saw the young women as an added benefit of their job."
Schaper, a troubled young woman who was fighting depression and rebelling against her devoutly Christian parents, ended up having a six-month relationship with Sergeant Paul Belisle, a married recruiter. By the time it was over, the teenager had contracted herpes and twice attempted suicide. After a six-month probe, the Army washed its hands of the messy affair on April 14, telling the Schapers that it had no legal responsibility for an out-of-control sergeant. But Belisle acknowledges that he brought a formidable weapon to his role as seducer. "I didn't realize how powerful the uniform is,'' a repentant Belisle told TIME. "They look up to it--and to you when you're wearing it ... We're generally a bit older, and they talk to us about everything, even having sex with their boyfriends. And that leads to compromising situations. There are recruiters who take advantage of it."
They do indeed. A TIME investigation shows that women don't have to wait until they are under a sergeant's command to experience sexual harassment from men in uniform. They can just walk into one of the recruiting stations along Main Street or in shopping malls across America expressly designed to persuade youngsters to "be all that you can be." According to Army records obtained by TIME under the Freedom of Information Act, sexually predatory recruiters are a national problem. Though the reports had all names and locations blacked out, their dates show a dramatic rise in sexual-harassment complaints filed with national recruiting headquarters at Fort Knox, Kentucky. They climbed from two in 1994 to nine in 1995 to 20 last year, and don't include a rape charge made by a Massachusetts woman against a recruiter in 1996. Indeed, the Army privately concedes the problem is far worse than those numbers suggest. They don't include cases filed with the Army's inspector general, military police or equal-opportunity officials. Nor do they include cases Time has uncovered on its own. Belisle himself says harassment and relationships between male recruiters and female recruits are "pretty common." A veteran Army recruiter estimates that up to 15% of male recruiters commit such offenses. In fact, the Army's records indicate:
--At one station that was the target of Army investigators, a recruiter got a prospect pregnant and picked her up at the hospital after an abortion. The investigation also revealed that three recruiters had been dating candidates who had committed to enlist but not yet reported for duty, as well as prospective applicants. The recruiters bought alcohol for prospective recruits, invited them to their apartments "to socialize and drink" and even used them as baby-sitters.