It seems the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal males in American uniform are a bunch of rapists, sexual perverts, and misogynistic tail-chasers obsessed with making military life a living hell for females in the ranks. Don’t take my word for it. Just read any number of the studies, screeds, and stormy statements coming out of Capitol Hill these days that describe an epidemic of sexual assaults in the military as if we are faced with a second coming of the black plague and painting military men as more dangerous to military women than an enemy on the battlefield. And according to many of the politicians doing the most virulent pee-pee dance on the issue, our senior leadership is just giving the whole thing the good-old-boy nod, nudge, and wink.
What’s prompted the politicians to laser-focus on this issue—despite other more serious problems such as the Benghazi debacle, IRS outrages, and generic Big Government power-plays—is a Pentagon survey on sexual assaults in the military which is being outrageously cherry-picked and misinterpreted. Typical of the fainting-couch rhetoric are statements like this one from Representative Niki Tsongas (D-Mass) who serves on the House Armed Services Committee: “It has become painfully evident that saying the military has a cultural problem in regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct is a glaring understatement. At worst, this is a deep-rooted and widespread acceptance of unprofessional, inappropriate, and criminal behavior. At best, it is willful denial or head-turning on the part of too many military leaders.” I’m not sure what survey Ms Tsongas read, but I’m certain she’s got glaring understatement confused with political hyperbole.
Having read the survey from flashy cover through massive footnotes, I’m seeing a different picture which: (a) indicates an entirely different state of affairs regarding the sexual assault/harassment situation in the military, and (b) pisses me off. Our American military is being tarred with a disgusting and totally inappropriate brush as the figures show, given an objective and level-headed examination. Minus the emotional agenda and intentional obfuscation, here’s what the survey really reveals.
Sexual assaults occur in our military, no question about that. They do not occur in a higher proportion than in the civilian world. In fact, the numbers show it’s just the opposite. The Pentagon survey estimates that about 26,000 service people experienced what the report calls “unwanted sexual contact.” That looks fairly dire, but the key to understanding the numbers and what they mean is in context, so let’s have some.
Currently, we’ve got 1.4 million people on active duty. While I’m no math whiz, a simple calculation indicates roughly two percent of the people in uniform today have experienced some kind of sexual assault. That pales in comparison to an estimate by the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault that tells us 25 percent of females on any college campus today has been sexually assaulted. Suddenly, the sexual assault situation in the military looks a little less dire. So how come the college administrators aren’t being called on the White House carpet along with the Joint Chiefs? Could be the drum-beaters have a little more understanding about college campuses and a lot less about the realities of military service. Or it could be that the American military is an easy target for people with an anti-military bias. I’ll pick option two because the reality is that the rate of sexual assaults in the military is lower than it is throughout American society in general.
Another thing that jacks my jaws in this teapot tempest is the charge that our military leadership has created an Old Boy’s Club culture that tolerates sexual assault or, at the very least, does nothing particularly effective to prevent it. There’s even a movement afoot in Congress to strip commanding officers of authority to overturn court-martial decisions because some of the tub-thumpers believe these leaders can’t be trusted to properly prosecute and punish incidents in their ranks and that makes for a climate in which victims of sexual assault are reluctant to report the crime. Really? Let’s go back to the numbers.
Survey says: Seventy percent of military women report feeling free to report sexual assaults to their commanding officer without fear of retribution; 88 percent of women say that their command has made it crystal clear to them that sexual assault has no place in the command, and 98 percent report that their unit received Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training in the last 12 months. Does that sound like a climate of fear and intimidation? Not to me—but then I’m willing to believe our military is a solid and honorable institution with the best interests of its people at heart. I also believe that commanders who are trusted to wage war with their people’s lives at stake can be trusted to fairly and competently handle sexual assault cases at court-martial.
The real climate these days in our ranks with regard to this sexual assault tempest is more like abject paranoia. Commanding officers and military men walk on very thin ice in dealing with military women for fear of doing or saying anything that might be interpreted as misogynistic or remotely sexist. In some commands, the SOP is that commanders must have a witness present anytime they deal with a female subordinate. And it’s not unusual these days for females to be given preferential treatment in duty assignments that are generally odious or unpleasant for fear of accusation. Think that’s not happening? Check the Pentagon survey which says there were more than 400 false reports of sexual assaults at the end of completed investigations into various incidents. A little more math reveals that’s a full 20 percent of all sexual assaults investigated by the military.
Let’s go back to the first item I gleaned from reading the Pentagon report. Sexual assaults are indeed occurring in our military. While they are certainly not epidemic, they should not be happening at all. For me, that begs the question of why there are any sexual assaults regardless of the context or comparative figures. There’s an answer available but it requires an inquiry to search outside the ranks. Simply put, sexual assaults in the military reflect a disturbing trend of sexual assault in our society at large. The Pentagon study notes that 30 percent of the females who responded said they experienced sexual assault before they joined the military services as compared to six percent who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military. What that means is that our men and women in uniform—as expected in an all-volunteer military—reflect they society they serve. We can lecture and train all day, all night ad nauseum and our military people will still reflect the mores of a society obsessed with sex and raised on a constant diet of sex without consequences. Put those folks—male or female—in an environment where they must work in close, constant contact and at a time when hormones are raging and you’ve got what you get regardless of efforts to convince them it’s not proper. If it’s good for the civilian goose, it must be OK for the military gander. It’s not an epidemic nor is it a threat to good order and discipline in the ranks, but it is reality.
The leaders in our American military, while simultaneously dealing with two decades of war and constant deployments, plus trying to implement post-war cuts and restructuring, are doing all they should be expected to do and more to address the issue of sexual assaults and the facts indicate they are being effective. They deserve support for their efforts rather than hysterical accusations from outside the ranks by politicians and pundits who seem to equate anything military with the evils in society rather than the other way around. If we let the politicians, academics, and pseudo-social scientists determine the discourse regarding our military, then our future course will be determined for us regardless of the facts at hand. There it is.