On Military Sexual Assault

Yesterday’s hearing on military sexual assault provided an excellent illustration of what’s wrong with the way we approach sex crimes as a society:

– The focus was on commanding officers, not victims – and those officers were predominantly male. 11 of the 12 officers on the first panel were male, and only one officer (a woman from the second panel) stayed to hear testimony from victims.

The most vocal members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill. 

This ‘boys vs. girls’ dynamic plays out over and over again on this issue (Committee member Saxby Chambliss suggested the issue is a result of “the hormone level created by nature” when young men and women work together so closely.) Yet male servicemembers actually report more incidents of sexual assault than their female colleagues. (But because there are so many more men than women in the military, that means 1 in 100 men report being sexually assaulted, compared with 1 in 5 women.)

Once again, part of the problem is that we continue to think about sexual assault as a “women’s issue.” It isn’t.

– The discussion was almost entirely about how proposed changes to the Uniform Code of Justice would affect commanders in their jobs. Very little time was given to questions of justice for victims, punishment for perpetrators, or accountability for negligent oversight.

If 1 in 100 male soldiers were being tortured by their peers – tens of thousands every year – and the military demonstrated a total inability to address the problem on its own, would we allow them to keep trying, because commanding officers oppose involving the civilian justice system? Not a chance. But because we don’t take sexual assault seriously – chalking it up to “hormones”, among other things – that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Our continued failure to treat sexual assault like the serious crime it is, and put the focus where it belongs – on perpetrators and the conventions and people that protect and enable them – is the core of the issue in both the military and the general population.

A few good links:






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