Soldier who filed sexual harassment report faces disciplinary measures

Defense Ministry admits 62 similar complaints made since 2003

Captain Zaida Cantero (above) is facing disciplinary proceedings after reporting a superior for sexual harassment.
Captain Zaida Cantero (above) is facing disciplinary proceedings after reporting a superior for sexual harassment.

It surely isn't the intention of the Ministry of Defense, but the message that some are reading into the disciplinary proceedings opened against Captain Zaida Cantero could be devastating for the integration of women into the armed forces: that a female soldier who files a complaint against a superior officer for sexual harassment will find it very difficult to carry on in the army.

In March 2012 Cantero succeeded in getting the Central Military Court to convict Colonel Isidro José de Lezcano-Mújica to two years and 10 months in prison for two counts of abusing his authority through degrading treatment and physical abuse of a subordinate. Ratified by the Supreme Court, the sentence concluded that the colonel acted "with serious disrespect for the female status of the victim" and that his actions, which included harassment, sexual advances, threats and public humiliation, "clearly undermined her sexual freedom."

Now, however, Captain Cantero faces a disciplinary probe herself. This, apparently, has nothing to do with the trial; apart from the fact that her professional career - impeccable until then with missions in Kosovo and Lebanon - has been plagued with problems since she filed her complaint. Cantero was ordered to pass an extraordinary personal evaluation just five months after the trial, seeing her classification sink from brilliant to deficient; she has seen her application for summer leave denied, together with a request for a shift change in the year she was due to be promoted to commander; and has also had a run-in with a superior officer who graduated from military academy alongside the convicted colonel. The motive behind the disciplinary proceedings against her for a serious misdemeanor - punishable by up to two months in a disciplinary center or the loss of her post - seems merely bureaucratic: the alleged alteration of the date on part of a permission request for medical leave for psychological reasons (owing to stress) and for the change in work shifts.

The motive behind the proceedings against her seems merely bureaucratic

Despite that, the Defense Ministry filed a complaint against her for disloyalty, punishable by up to three years in prison, which was later dismissed by the judge. But now the ministry has opted to follow the disciplinary route.

It is 25 years this month since Spain first allowed women to serve in the armed forces and they now make up 12.3 percent of the military. In the last 10, 62 complaints of sexual harassment have been filed in the services, according to a government response to a request made by Catalan leftist-green ICV deputy Laia Ortiz. However, the government did not clarify how many of those led to the opening of criminal or disciplinary proceedings. It only explained that in the same period there had been 25 convictions for abuse of authority or degrading treatment, but this crime includes many more forms of humiliating conduct than sexual harassment.

The government says mechanisms are available for victims of sexual harassment to file complaints and obtain justice, adding that the new disciplinary law now going through parliament will consider actions against sexual freedom as "very serious offenses" and that the new military penal code being drafted includes the specific crime of sexual abuse.

The integration of women in the armed forces will be one of the first issues on the table for the Observatory of Military Life, a new advisory body, attached to parliament, which will analyze the state of the military and how the state watches over its interests. The Popular Party and the Socialists, together with the Catalan CiU nationalist bloc and the United Left-Plural Left grouping, have recently reached an agreement over its composition.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS