By its very nature, the military — designed to protect Americans’ way of life — is currently a contradiction in terms because in horrible numbers, men in uniform are sexually assaulting their female counterparts.
The lax military culture — again, another oxymoron — allows the crimes to happen.
Two things are at play: Punishment rarely happens because complaints are handled in-house, and victims fear retribution by higher-ups who can use their rank to intimidate. One in four who sought medical care after the assaults refused to press charges.
A report released Tuesday estimates 26,000 members of the military suffered sexual assaults, up 35 percent from 19,000 cases reported in 2010.
Military officials offer a lame defense for the increase, saying the uptick of women in the military comes from questionable backgrounds.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force’s top commander, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, said 20 percent of women serving in the military had been sexually assaulted before they joined.
That past, Welsh maintains, means they come to the military with a sexual “history,” which somehow explains further abuse? (I’m grasping here for a logical conclusion.)
Sexual abuse is becoming entrenched in the military culture. Just two days before the report’s release, the officer in charge of a sexual abuse prevention program for the Air Force was arrested for sexual battery against a woman.
Clearly, an understanding of what constitutes inappropriate behavior is lacking.
TWO THINGS should be done posthaste. Adjudicating sexual assault cases must be moved away from the traditional method where a victim’s chain of command handles complaints. Legal advocates with responsibilities only to their clients should handle the cases.
Secondly, the culture must change. Sexual assault is a crime and it’s time the military treats it as such.
When we think of the danger our men and women, both in the armed forces and the National Guard, face in the line of duty, we imagine it’s from foreign insurgents and explosives, not rape by a fellow serviceman.
If left to continue, the armed forces and National Guard will witness a sharp decline of enrollees. With good reason.
— Susan Lynn
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