As sexual harassment and assault allegations sweep through every single field from national journalism to American film, survivors have felt empowered to come out and share their own stories. Now, 223 women working in national security have signed an open letter called “#metoosec,” pushing for mandatory training on sexual harassment, improved private reporting structures, and a third-party assessment of sexual harassment and assault within the public sector.
Signatures include employees across the intelligence community, the State Department, the Pentagon, and USAID. Civil servants, diplomats, and servicemembers past and present feature prominently as well, pointing to a long-term problem across various national institutions.
“This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms, or Congress,” the letter explained, Time reports. “It is everywhere. These abuses are born of imbalances of power and environments that permit such practices while silencing and shaming their survivors.”
The open letter also stresses that it’s not just diplomats and civil servants that experience sexual harassment. Working-class employees also face sexual misconduct, too. The letter’s co-authors, former Ambassador Nina Hachigian and former State Department official Jenna Ben-Yehuda, know that focusing solely on white-collar abusers won’t make the problem go away.
“Assault and harassment are just as much as a problem for women working on the night-shift cleaning offices as it is for diplomats,” co-author Hachigian told Time.
The letter, which can be read online, doesn’t detail any specific national security officials who have committed sexual harassment and assault. Instead, Ben-Yehuda and Hachigian call on the government to fix the institutional and cultural problems within the national security community that ultimately drive women out of leadership positions. In short, the open letter strives to change the government’s institutions, its policies, and its internal cultures by pushing for changes as soon as possible.
“Many women are held back or driven from this field by men who use their power to assault at one end of the spectrum and perpetuate—sometimes unconsciously—environments that silence, demean, belittle, or neglect women at the other,” the letter reads. “Assault is the progression of the same behaviors that permit us to be denigrated, interrupted, shut out, and shut up. These behaviors incubate a permissive environment where sexual harassment and assault take hold. And it’s time to make it stop.”