Friday, October 3, 2008

An Update on Sexual Assault in the Military

Via Jezebel, the The Wall Street Journal reports that the Army is taking new approaches to the rising problem of sexual assault in the military. A new set of data from the Pentagon puts the rate of sexual assault at 2.6 per 1,000 soldiers, but other reports show the figure to be much higher than that. And even the higher number, which would indicate that nearly 7 percent of female soldiers are victims of an assault, is almost certainly lower than the reality, given the extent to which sexual assaults are underreported.

People who work on this issue are optimistic about the leadership shown by new Army Secretary Pete Geren, who even co-authored an essay on the subject recently in the Army Times that called for putting increased resources and attention toward victims and preventative measures to stop sexual assault from happening in the first place. Additionally, there’s been some increased pressure lately from Congress through hearings on the subject.

But Geren and others like him have a long way to go in reversing a sickening upswing in sexual assault. As the WSJ article notes, “[S]ome female veterans say the Army’s macho culture has enabled soldiers to behave in ways that would be unacceptable in the civilian world.” It’s weird to think that an entire industry has a whole different set of social standards. If such culture is encouraged and allowed to flourish, it becomes much harder to crack down on unacceptable behavior.

Since the military is so hierarchical, it’s important for commanding officers to take the lead in opposing sexual assault, but by the same token, it creates problems when it is the commanding officers who are doing the assaulting. Female soldiers are reluctant to report their superiors as perpetrators of an assault. It’s a complicated issue, but the best thing to do is to make it a real priority. From there, the military can begin to address some of the problems.

Cross posted on Pushback.

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