No Dirty Jokes: Defense Department Releases Its New Harassment Prevention Policy

By Susan Jones | February 9, 2018 | 5:50am EST
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White (Photo from Defense Department video)

( - The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday released what a spokesman called "a comprehensive policy to prevent and respond to all forms of harassment in our military."

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the policy is just the beginning -- a "framework for the military services to address unacceptable behaviors such as offensive jokes, stereotyping, violence and discrimination."


Offensive jokes? Who determines what is offensive? a reporter asked White. "Is there going to be like a list of what constitutes offensive words, like George Carlin's magic words in the '70s?"

White didn't really answer the question:

The goal of the harassment policy is to address all issues of harassment. So the implementation policies will be developed by the services. They will come up with the framework. OSD, the under-secretary for P and R, will then look at those standards, look at what their -- their proposals are, and then determine if they're consistent with the goals of this framework. There's a working group.

We have to be in -- the point of the harassment policy is to ensure that we have a safe workplace. No one should feel intimidated. No one should feel as though they can't do their job without being discriminated against.

I mean, this also goes to hazing. This goes to political beliefs. This goes to religious beliefs. But those -- those details will be developed by the services, and then this working group will work with them to ensure consistency and standardization.

The military's memo (DoD Instruction 1020.03) laying out the "Harassment Prevention and Response" first defines harassment, then lists six specific types covered by the policy -- discriminatory, sexual, bullying, hazing, retaliation and reprisal.

The military defines harassment as "behavior that is unwelcome or offensive to a reasonable person." It can be spoken, written or physical, but if the behavior creates an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment," it is proscribed.

"Harassment may include offensive jokes, epithets, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, displays of offensive objects or imagery, stereotyping, intimidating acts, veiled threats of violence, threatening or provoking remarks, racial or other slurs, derogatory remarks about a person’s accent, or displays of racially offensive symbols," the policy says.

But -- "activities or actions undertaken for a proper military or governmental purpose, such as combat survival training, are not considered harassment."

The military's ban on "discriminatory harassment" includes "gender identity" and sexual orientation.

White said the various military branches now have 90 days to explain how they'll implement the policy:

"Let me be clear: Harassment has no place in our military," she said. "This policy brings us one step closer to eliminating these behaviors. Over the next 60 days, the military services and DOD components are required to provide us with their implementation plans. We are doing this because we owe our all-volunteer force every protection."

Congress, in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, required the military to develop a harassment prevention policy.

Every branch has done so, but the policy rolled out on Thursday provides a common platform for tracking offenders, data collection, services provided, and the items that must be included in every policy.

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