Would you feel comfortable if you knew a sexual predator was living on the same street as your teenage daughter?
What if your spouse went to work each day worried she would be sexually harassed and feared assault by a fellow service member? Or your newly enlisted brother was at risk of being raped by another service member while deployed overseas?
Eliminating sexual predators from the ranks is vital for maintaining service members’ confidence in the community within which they serve, is required for maintaining the mission readiness of your spouse’s unit, and is essential for ensuring the community your family is a part of is safe.
The most recent DoD statistics indicate the majority of reported assaults are service member against service member but approximately a quarter of assaults reported in 2012 were service member against non-service member.
All too often, the picture that is painted of sexual assaults within the military community is of “one-off” events between two young service members blamed on provocative clothing, late night partying, or deployment conditions. A picture that makes dealing with the reality more difficult.
Truth is that sexual predators in the military are often no different from sexual predators in the civilian world. They often groom their victims with inappropriate jokes to test the waters and/or put potential victims in situations where they are isolated. And assaults happen to both men and women by both men and women.
Learn the facts
This year, high profile sexual assaults perpetuated by service members in positions of trust have brought media attention to a problem that has always existed within the military. The recent labels of “epidemic” and “growing crisis” have been in dispute, but getting solid statistics is difficult. The DoD estimates that fewer than 15 percent of military sexual assault victims report the matter to a military authority.
Here are some statistics available from the DoD:
- In the Active Component, 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines who were surveyed said they experienced unwanted sexual contact (USC) in the past 12 months. Of the 6.1 percent of women, 67 percent experienced the assault at a military installation and 41 percent during work day/duty hours. The percent of women experiencing USC increased from 4.4 percent in the 2010 survey. Click here to view the full report.
- In the Reserve Component, 2.8 percent of women and .5 percent of men in the National Guard and Reserves who were surveyed said they experienced unwanted sexual contact (USC) in the past 12 months. Thirty-nine percent indicated that the offender sexually harassed them before or after the situation; 4 percent indicated the offender stalked them; and 22 percent indicated the offender both sexually harassed and stalked them. Click here to view the full report.
These studies, combined with the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (Fiscal Year 2012), provide a sea of statistics. But understanding the magnitude of the problem is still difficult due to underreporting, broad definitions of “sexual assault,” and restricted reporting.
In the absence of being able to get truly accurate numbers (for comparison, only between 11 and 16 percent of civilian women also report rape to the authorities) and the recognized need for a more professional military, the focus cannot be on chasing statistical validation of a need for more robust programs and processes. Instead, our community should be embracing an effort for zero tolerance.
But are we?
Be a part of the solution
Is there too much of a willingness within our community to dismiss the issue of sexual assault out of a protectiveness of the institution? Is there too much of a “boys will be boys” mentality and the thought that the assaults are all about young women drinking too much and regretting it later? Worse yet, are rumors of false accusations fueling a dangerous fire?
With predators who appear to be “great troops,” higher ranking, and/or charismatic, the report of an attack may leave friends scratching their heads because “he/she would NEVER do that.” But the reality is that many sexual predators are also master manipulators.
And what about the argument that sexual assault is a reality within the civilian community so how can we expect it to be eradicated from the military?
As our community repeats over and over, being a part of the military is very unique. It is more than a job but an entire lifestyle which includes deployments. Being sexually assaulted within this community is far reaching and, because of the nature of the military, creates a situation ripe for revictimization and undermines unit cohesion.
But if we view the military as a job instead of community: What company would keep an employee who exhibited gender biased behavior with a fellow employee? And what company would require an employee who was attacked by another employee during business hours to show up and work with his/her accused attacker? And then would that employer force the victim to undergo a trial in front of his/her boss who may be friends with the attacker?
Directive and policy changes
Spurred on by a media spotlight and members of Congress, the DoD is playing catch up in closing the gaps and setting up more robust policies and programs to work on issues such as revictimization and protecting the rights of both parties throughout the process.
“This effort requires our absolute and sustained commitment to providing a safe environment in which every service member and DOD civilian is free from the threat of sexual harassment and assault,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a statement last week. “Our success depends on a dynamic and responsive approach. We, therefore, must continually assess and strive to improve our prevention and response programs.”
Last week, seven new initiatives were announced by the secretary regarding commander accountability, command climate, victim advocacy and safety including:
- The secretary directed the services to improve victim legal support. He directed the service secretaries to create a legal advocacy program to provide legal representation to sexual assault victims throughout the judicial process.
- Hagel directed that pre-trial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by Judge Advocate General officers.
- The secretary directed service secretaries to enhance protections calling on them to develop and implement policies allowing for the reassignment or transfer of members accused of committing sexual assault or related offense to eliminate continued contact while respecting the rights of both victims and the accused.
- Hagel is requiring timely follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command.
- He also directed the DOD Inspector General to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations.
- Hagel ordered the service secretaries to standardize prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees across the department.
- Hagel also directed the DOD general council to develop and propose changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial.
“Remember, we are all accountable and responsible for eliminating this crime from our ranks,” Hagel said in the memo.
Changing a culture
Critics say the changes that have been made have not gone far enough in a culture they say often blames the victim for the attack. They also question the ability of the military justice system to fairly handle allegations of sexual assault and the impartiality of the chain of command in the process.
Whether or not the changes to programs and policies will meet the goals set by the DoD to eliminate sexual assault within the ranks has yet to been seen. But in order to achieve the goal of changing the culture of the military, families need to be a part of the discussion. Family members must also encourage working toward eliminating predators from the ranks by recognizing that the victims are often a part of our military community. We must be working to protect them and our own families.
For more information on what is being done within the military regarding sexual assault, visit DoD SAPRO.