It’s obvious by now that in the U.S. military we’re not only dealing with an unacceptable environment that discourages people from reporting sexual assault, we’re dealing with a full-on culture of impunity.
Pentagon officials last week announced that an Army sergeant in Fort Hood, Texas, who worked as a a sexual assault prevention and response coordinator is under investigation for allegations of “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.” The allegation of “pandering,” according to a source who spoke to The New York Times and asked to remain anonymous, is that the soldier was helping manage a prostitution operation—one that may have involved a subordinate.
Is this deja vu all over again? Just two weeks ago, Air Force Col. Jeff Krusinski, chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was charged with sexual battery in Arlington, Va. How reassuring these weekly allegations must be to women in the military!
In further evidence of the ineffective response to military sexual assault, it was also discovered recently that there was a brochure distributed at Shaw Air Force Base telling potential victims of sexual assault that if they are attacked, “it may be advisable to submit than to resist.” Submit? You mean like the off-duty U.S. navy sailor who beat her attacker into submission when he tried to rape her at knifepoint? We realize not everyone can do to their attacker what the off-duty sailor did to hers, but the message that it’s the survivor’s responsibility to “submit” is just another form of victim-blaming. Why aren’t we distributing brochures called “Stop Raping“?
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) announced last Wednesday that a formal review of all materials to service members is going to be conducted. In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Slaughter says:
We cannot perpetuate the myths of sexual assault and expect to see real change in the prevalence of such events at the same time.
The ongoing problem of military sexual assault may be coming to a tipping point, after all these stunning revelations and especially because women will soon be officially allowed in direct combat roles. After last Tuesday’s allegation, Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), who co-chairs the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus told Roll Call:
They still seem to be incredibly clueless … When we talk to the leadership, I think they honestly don’t understand that they have a culture problem, which they should see in the statistics.
With the documentary The Invisible War, front-page news on the issue and the first Senate hearing about military sexual assault in more than a decade, maybe the underreported nature of these assaults will finally start to change. From the 2010 to the 2012 fiscal year, the number of reported sexual assaults went up by 5.7 percent. It’s not a drastic increase, but maybe it’s the beginning of a trend. With all this in mind, will the military finally realize they aren’t doing enough to stop this culture of sexual assault?
For more on women in direct combat roles and how it affects the conversation about military sexual assault, see author Molly M. Ginty’s article titled “The Tipping Point” in the new Spring 2013 issue of Ms.
Photo of U.S. soldiers used under Wikimedia Commons.