Bad for Morale

Gays in the military?  Bad for morale and unit cohesion. Sexual assaults against women? Oh well. It's a problem, but hey, it's not that bad a problem.

The Department of Defense released an annual report on Tuesday showing an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military over the past year, including a 16 percent increase in reported assaults occurring in combat areas, principally Iraq and Afghanistan.


And in case you think the majority of the 3,230 reports filed were relatively harmless cases -- you know, inappropriate jokes or the occasional playful ass-grab -- actually, no.

In the report, sexual assault was defined as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, including touching of private body parts. It did not include sexual harassment, which is handled by another office in the military.

This isn't a new problem; in fact, it gets worse every year. It's so bad, there's even a name for it: Military Sexual Trauma. And the Department of Veterans Affairs offers treatment for it.

Maybe that's why the military has devoted April to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year's theme? "Hurts one. Affects all." As in, Hey, soldier, you might want to rape that soldierette, but before you do, ask yourself, Is this wrong? How much will this bum out my fellow comrades in arms when they have to lie on my behalf because some chick wants to make a federal case out of my raping her in the battlefield?

Despite its failure to prosecute the vast majority of reported cases, the military has been lauded (mostly by itself) for attempting to address this problem. After all, they give it a Month and everything. And yet, the numbers increase every year. Naturally, the Pentagon doesn't see it that way. This 11 percent increase doesn't actually represent an increase in incidents, according to the Pentagon, but rather, it's a reflection of the great work the Pentagon has done to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward. Maybe if it increases another 11 percent next year, the Pentagon will throw itself a ticker tape parade.

The Pentagon offered no evidence that reporting rather than sexual assault itself was on the rise in the military, and there have been reports in recent years suggesting that the strains between men and women in close quarters in war zones have exacerbated the problem.

Obviously,  the stress of warfare has really taken a toll on the ability of men in the military to resist that all-too-natural instinct to rape the hell out of their female colleagues to blow off a little steam at the end of a long, hard battle. But fortunately, the Pentagon has a brochure about that. And we all know the most effective way to combat sexual assault is with brochures.

But despite the brochures, the training, and the special month, the military is largely ineffective at curbing this problem. A 2007 study found that in more than half of the reported incidents, no action is taken. Those who do come forward often face retribution and are threatened with criminal prosecution for filing false reports. Meanwhile, their attackers rarely face charges.

In other words, the military is more willing to lose a female service member who dares to come forward to report a crime than a male service member who actually commits a crime. Take the case of an Army reserve sergeant in Pennsylvania, who was accused of rape but only convicted of the much lesser crime of indecent assault because none of the soldiers who witnessed the rape would cooperate with the investigation. (Maybe the Pentagon should look into designating May as How Not to Obstruct a Criminal Investigation Month.) The sergeant's lawyer was nonetheless disappointed that he was convicted of anything because, "After all, he did serve his country."

This latest study makes a mockery of the military's insistence that unit cohesion, above all else, takes priority in establishing policy. No panels have been convened, no studies commissioned, to examine whether the military should consider banning straight men. Where is the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy to ensure military readiness by excluding rapists?

In fact, if there's one thing this latest study makes perfectly clear, it's that gay members of the military are not the problem. Or, more accurately, they are only 7 percent of the problem. Meanwhile, 87 percent of the reported incidents were about men attacking women. Which means that the medal-wearing bigwigs should focus much less on whether gay members of the military are going to feminize the glories of battle, and instead figure out how to reform the military culture -- a culture that discourages honest reporting, protects the aggressors, blames the victims, and pretends that the biggest concern, when it comes to inappropriate sexual behavior in the military, is not just how many women are attacked, but whether the ones who attack them are gay.

Because apparently, women in uniform think, If I'm gonna get raped while serving my country, please let it not be by a closeted gay man. 'Cause that would really be bad for morale.

Read the original article in The Daily Kos


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