A general who oversees sex assault prevention for the Marine Corps has been suspended after deriding allegations of sexual harassment as “fake news” – as well as joking about a chaplain who was fired last month for having sex in public.
USA Today reports that Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, director of Marine and Family Programs since November 2016, was suspended following remarks he made on April 6 in front of hundreds of civilian employees and Marines at their base in Quantico. Stein, according to three people who attended the meeting, pejoratively referred to allegations involving two civilian employees who claimed a Marine officer made unwanted sexual advances toward them.
A Marine Corps spokesman confirmed late Tuesday that Stein was suspended following an anonymous tip received by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service about his remarks.
“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,” Lt. Col. Chris Devine told the newspaper. “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.”
The allegations of misconduct were deemed unfounded initially, but Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller ordered a new investigation into the claims last month. Two female civilian employees allege Maj. David Cheek arranged to meet them privately several times at Quantico and showed him his erection through his clothing. Cheek, meanwhile, has denied the claim, USA Today reported last month.
During his remarks, Stein referred to several articles about the allegations as “fake news” and used insensitive language while detailing the claims made by the two women, according to people who attended the meeting.
Scott Jensen, a retired Marine colonel and CEO of an advocacy group for sexual assault victims in the military, said he was infuriated by Stein’s statements, saying they showed that victims of sexual misconduct in the Marine Corps will plainly be minimized.
“He made it clear that those who are vulnerable will not be taken seriously and victims have no recourse other than to remain silent,” Jensen said. “And if you do dare to speak up, you will be publicly vilified by the most senior of leaders.”
Jensen also took exception to Stein’s remarks on a Navy chaplain who was removed from his post last month after he was videotaped having sex with a woman at a bar in New Orleans.
“The comment relating himself to the chaplain is reprehensible,” Jensen 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.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, said Stein “has no business serving in the Marine Corps” if the allegations are proven. Stein will remain on administrative leave until an investigation into his remarks is complete, according to Devine.
“Leaders must be held to the highest standard if the Corps expects the rank and file to live to its core values of honor, courage and commitment,” Speier told USA Today.