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The U.S. Marine Corps suspended Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, director of Marine and Family Programs, on Tuesday after he shrugged off allegations of sexual harassment in his command as “fake news” and made a joke about a chaplain who was recently fired for having sex in public, USA Today reports.
Stein made the statements on April 6 as he addressed hundreds of civilian employees and Marines at an all-hands meeting at their base in Quantico, Virginia, according to three people who chose to remain anonymous and were at the meeting.
During his speech, Stein referred to allegations from February, when two civilian employees accused a Marine officer of making sexual advances at them, specifically by showing them his erection without their consent on multiple occasions, as “fake news.” When the allegations were initially made, they were considered to be unfounded, but the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, ordered a new investigation into the accusations in March. Stein also reportedly used “crass language” in reference to the two women who have made the accusations. It was Neller who suspended Stein this week.
"We expect every Marine, uniformed and civilian—and particularly those in leadership positions—to take allegations of misconduct seriously and to promote positive command climates," said Lt. Col. Chris Devine, a Marine spokesman. "As a Corps, we are committed to fully investigating and holding ourselves accountable when those allegations are shown to be true. Leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their Marines and civilian employees believe they will be taken seriously if they come forward with allegations of misconduct of any kind."
“If these allegations are true, Gen. Stein has no business serving in the Marine Corps,” Rep. Jackie Speier, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said. “Leaders must be held to the highest standard if the Corps expects the rank and file to live up to its core values of honor, courage, and commitment.”
Sexual harassment is a big issue within the military. For instance: the number of sexual assault reports has doubled at West Point, the New York-based U.S. Military Academy, over the last school year.
Stein also reportedly commented on the firing of Navy Chaplain Loften Thornton, who worked for the Marines and was fired after a video surfaced of him having sex with a woman outside a pub in New Orleans. It is unclear what Stein said, but USA Today described it as a joke.
“The comment relating himself to the chaplain is reprehensible,” said Scott Jensen, a retired Marine colonel and chief executive officer of Protect Our Defenders an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military, said. “Something no one expects of a general officer in any forum let alone a public forum in front of those he leads. Nothing but contempt and lack of respect for every person in the audience—particularly those women in the audience.”