Collective Response on Sexual Assault in the Military

Women in the MilitaryOn Tuesday, May 7th, the United States Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office released its annual report on the rising sexual assault cases in the military. The survey estimates that 26,000 active-duty people in the armed forces, 6.1 percent of female respondents and 1.2 percent of male respondents, were sexually assaulted last year. This number is up from 19,000 in 2010. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program was established in 2005 to “promote prevention, encourage increased reporting of the crime, and improve response capabilities for victims.”

To add insult to injury, two days prior to the release of this report, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in Arlington, Virginia.

The ninth annual report lays out SAPRO’s goals for the report in its introduction. One of the overarching goals is to “establish a military culture free of sexual assault.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held a press conference on Tuesday where he admitted that, “Some things do need to be changed.” Females in Congress are stepping up to lead the charge against these atrocities, including Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was passionate in saying that these cases of sexual assault are “undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world.”

by Kait

Women struggle for equality–that’s nothing new. We fight for equal pay in the workforce. We fight for critical recognition in the arts. We fight to protect our reproductive rights. We even fight for the ability to serve alongside men in the defense of our country. Earlier this year, General Martin Dempsey and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a directive that will open front-line posts to about 200,000 women now serving in the active-duty military. That means that for the first time in history, women will fight on the front lines.

This is a significant advancement toward equality for women, which makes hearing about the staggering number of sexual assault cases in the military even more horrific. We fight our way up only to be pushed back down again. Women have proven themselves enough in the military to have earned their way into the infantry. So my question is, why do women in the military have to fight for their own protection from the men with whom they serve?

When the directive was signed, Panetta made 2016 his target year for finishing assessments and implementing the integration of women into the infantry. In January, Dempsey stated his belief that allowing women into combat units may ease the military’s ongoing problem with sexual harassment: “I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.”

If I find any solace in these troubling times for our military, it’s that women are fighters. Now that more attention from the media and congress is being paid to the sexual assault atrocities occurring in our military, I hope that greater steps will be made to prevent this from happening in the future and for dealing with those cases that have already been reported. Until then, I am confident women in the military will keep fighting, not only for our country and for equality, but for their own safety. These women are warriors and this fight has only just begun.

Swept Under the Rug
by Emily Walker

When I was four, a couple of Airmen on the base I lived on microwaved a baby duck to death. A few years later, some other Airmen beat a goat before they threw it off a cliff. When both of these things happened we were told these were isolated incidents and the Airmen in question were all thrown out of the military immediately.

But once I could walk to my school on base, we young girls would hear whispers from our mothers or older siblings. Don’t go near Airman X or Staff Sergeant Y; they weren’t nice to women. We’d hear our dads tell stories from work—how one of their guys was getting transferred to another base because he’d been too aggressive with a female Airman. Sometimes the women would get transferred instead.

In one of the countries I lived in (where the drinking age off base was more like a suggestion) my young foreign piano teacher told me she’d see some of the eighth, ninth and tenth grade girls from my school drunk at the bars often, making out with some of the enlisted guys in their twenties.

I also remember regularly walking around the base with my tall, lanky, book-reading, bike-riding, Staff Sergeant father, and hearing the bigger, buffer, pumped-up, higher-ranking Tech and Master Sergeants yell “faggot,” “homo,” or “queer” at him.

I could write a whole essay on how institutions like the military inherently emphasize dehumanizing others, asserting some trumped up sense of masculinity, and preying upon the weak, but that’s only part of the problem. There was a time where being in the military meant being upstanding and courageous, and if the military wants to get back to that reputation it needs to start doing the work from the top-down. The first step is handing over military sexual assault reporting and cases over to an independent unbiased body, that won’t shield rapists based on an outdated edict of “boys will be boys.” Believe me—if it’s not, everything will continue to be swept under the rug.

Just remember, these assailants often have access to whole base full of children as well.

A Blameless Culture
by Jessica Vealitzek

26,000. The number is just stunning. That’s 71 sexual assaults each day of 2012. In the U.S. military alone. If there was ever a time to use WTF, it’s after reading that.

It’s hard not to be angry that the man in charge of stopping sexual assault in the Air Force was arrested for sexual assault. Angry at the arrogance these people have shown—from the assaulters and rapists themselves to the brass who decided to either look the other way, overturn a ruling, or create and contribute to a culture in which those below them in rank thought that raping was OK. Lots of WTFs.

But all of that anger itself, even mine, makes me angry. As Rep. Jackie Speier said, “Congress is as culpable as the military in not addressing it, because we’ve known about this issue for 25 years.”

So, Congress sucks. But the rest of us carry some responsibility as well. All of this anger is overdue. Because we have a culture ripe for rape and, accordingly, the CDC estimates that 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime.

Really, the military just serves as a microcosm of the whole country—of what happens when you combine ignorance (of what constitutes rape and sexual assault), power (of gender or rank, etc.) and a culture of inculpability and under-the-rug-brushing (perfected by various coaches, priests, and generals). I’d also venture to say that if to the mess you add guns and violence and general ass kicking, you’re also going to get a whole lot more rape.

Unreported, Underreported
by Mary

Sexual assault is best unseen and unheard. I really believe that this is the mentality many people have toward crimes they find unsavory, particularly that of sexual assault. It’s as if in order for someone to acknowledge that sexual assault happens, they must alter their brain’s frequencies. Perhaps the mind’s sluggish understanding of that which we cannot believe to be possible–that one person would violate another sexually–is to blame for so many of these underreported assaults. More practically, however, the blame falls–as many of my fellow writers are saying–upon the military’s reluctance to hand over supervision of these cases to a judicial body outside of the military. Let’s have someone else clean that up, shall we, chaps?

I can appreciate the weight that news like this bears upon the averagely compassionate human, just as I can appreciate the totality of harm that sexual assault inflicts on a survivor of it. Therefore, I am not someone who would prefer that the Department of Defense’s survey findings that 26,000 men and women were sexual assaulted in the military last year be undisclosed to the public. Most of these men and women–over 22,000 of them–did not have their assaults officially recorded by the military (the military only recorded a total of 3,374 assaults last year). That number, 22,000, is an alarming one, to say the least. More alarming still is the possibility that the military will continue to assume we will trust them to protect our soldiers from each other.

I am very fearful that this latest survey will change nothing. After last year’s survey, the numbers went up. Might the increase in reported sexual assaults be a cry for help, dear President?

“This stuff”
by Tabitha

After the recent military sexual abuse statistics came to light, President Obama held a news conference where he offered this commentary (via the Washington Post):

“The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” Mr. Obama said in answer to a question about the survey. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

I find no fault with his promised consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence against subordinates, both male and female. In this case and countless others, it’s important to remember that men are also assaulted by authority figures. But where my fingernails begin to dig into my palms is hearing this sadistic violence referred to as “stuff.”

Engaging in this stuff. Shenanigans. Funny business.

This isn’t stuff. This is rape. R-a-p-e. Yes, President Obama. It’s a scary word. And all of the words that accurately describe the humiliating, haunting horror a victim of RAPE–not stuff–goes through after an assault. Assault. Penetration. Coercion. Force. To describe the act is unsettling, but gives the perpetrators even more power and the victims more shame. What happened to you is so unsavory that we’re not going to talk about it on television. No wonder the crime is tucked away, leaving victims to sort out the trauma on their own while their rapists go on, living life and protected by our society’s inept ability to define and condemn what they’ve done.

The 26,000 victims of rape in the military, and hundreds of thousands of civilian rape victims every year (90,000 reported in the United States in 2008, with a paltry arrest rate of 25%) should not be carrying the shame of a crime the rest of our country is too squeamish to talk about. Call the crime what it is (rape). Call the perpetrators what they are (rapists). Make the changes necessary to move forward, which will be impossible to do without concrete acceptance of what this “stuff” is.

To read more of our Collective Responses, including our most recent response to the OpEd Project, called “Women Writing Opinion,” click here.

5 thoughts on “Collective Response on Sexual Assault in the Military

      1. I haven’t, but I’m anxious to see it. Thanks for sharing. While writing I was thinking of a scene in The Americans where Keri Russell’s character is attacked while in (Russian) military training. It was a chilling, terrible, but very true moment.


  1. Thank you for this. This topic needs to be talked about *much* more frequently and you all did so with great eloquence.

    Have you heard about the YouTube channel WIGS? Just last week I found out that they have a free web TV series called “Lauren” about a female soldier who is raped and then subjected to a cover-up attempt. It looks really powerful.


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