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Exclusive: Long-withheld Pentagon survey shows widespread racial discrimination, harassment

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nearly a third of Black U.S. military servicemembers reported experiencing racial discrimination, harassment or both during a 12-month period, according to results of a long-withheld Defense Department survey that underscore concerns about racism in the ranks.

The 2017 survey, whose results have not previously been reported, also showed that U.S. troops who experienced racial discrimination or harassment had high levels of dissatisfaction with the complaint process and largely did not report it.

The data support the findings of a 2020 Reuters investigation here, which found that servicemembers feared that reporting discrimination would likely backfire and was not worth the risk.

“Overall, results reveal much work is needed to improve the reporting process for those who experience racial/ethnic harassment and discrimination,” the Defense Department acknowledged in a report that accompanied the survey data.

The Pentagon’s release of the data followed a Reuters article last month here disclosing how the Defense Department sat on the 2017 survey data during President Donald Trump’s administration, even last month denying a Reuters Freedom of Information Act Request.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a senior member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, condemned the Pentagon’s failure to disclose the data sooner. A Gillibrand aide noted that the senator’s office had been seeking the data for months.

“This just-released 2017 report shows that President Trump’s Department of Defense has deliberately concealed statistics exposing a racial justice crisis in the military,” Gillibrand told Reuters.

“While Defense Department leadership paid lip service to equality, they withheld a report revealing that minority service members face rampant discrimination and harassment, and those that report it are nearly as likely to face punishment as the perpetrators.”

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