I don’t support these troops
Not too long ago at the Sunday dinner table, my 17 year old granddaughter mentioned that she was thinking of going into the military. I suppose I should’ve welled up with pride that she would consider taking the solemn oath to defend our country. After all, I came from a military family. My dad served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years and was working for the Department of Defense at the time of his death. But the only emotion I felt was fear. And it wasn’t fear of her being in combat.
The rise in sexual assaults in the military is chilling.
In the Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assault, reported cases topped 5,000, a 50 percent increase over last year. This is only a drop in the bucket as the Pentagon estimates only 11 percent of victims report the assault. In 2012, the Pentagon estimated over 26,000 troops were victims of unwanted sexual contact. The Army is the branch with the most victims and the Coast Guard has the least. Of course, it’s likely that assaults haven’t jumped by 50 percent, but reporting has due to the publicity around the issue.
According to the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an advocacy group, 1 in 5 women in the military report being sexually assaulted. And to make it even more despicable, they report that 1 in 3 perpetrators convicted of sexual assault remain in the military!
Obviously, sexual harassment and assault in the military is nothing new. But like scandals in the Catholic Church and Penn State, some military brass looked the other way. Boys will be boys, right? Finally, in recent years, the Pentagon is trying to get a handle on the problem and hold perpetrators accountable, while making it easier for victims to come forward. But if you think this is just a women’s issue, think again. Fourteen percent of those reporting sexual assault were men.
The military led the nation when it came to racially integrating the armed forces. The military has the ability to address issues and change its culture more rapidly than society at large because of their ability to enforce rules and discipline. Consensus isn’t necessarily required in the top down military structure. But even so, changing the culture on this issue isn’t like turning a sports car, but turning an aircraft carrier.
The thought of my granddaughter walking into that environment today worries me. I should be worried about her being deployed in some ill-defined, ill-equipped overseas debacle, but no, I wonder if she’ll be safe taking a shower.
At the same time, I have to ask myself, is college any safer? I’m not going to repeat the oft quoted number of college women who are sexually assaulted because it’s based on a web-based survey of only two colleges. But common sense tells us that an environment of parties, alcohol, drugs and young men coupled with college administrations that don’t always turn over assault information to the police, provides a inviting atmosphere for sexual assault.
This isn’t a theoretical exercise. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating 55 colleges for the way they handle sex crime allegations.
But the military isn’t college. The military is supposed to be about honor and discipline. We’re used to going gaga with praise for soldiers due in large part to the horrendous way many returning soldiers were treated during the Vietnam War. You see bumper stickers and yellow ribbons on cars, flags flying freely, social media overflowing with praise on Memorial and Veterans Day and people routinely thanking military men and women for their service. It’s the least we can do for those offering to sacrifice their lives so that we can maintain our way of life.
But those individuals who dishonor their code and assault other members or use their position of authority to sexually abuse those beneath them are only worth our contempt and scorn. Equally, officials who would ignore allegations of sexual assault and look the other way don’t deserve to wear the uniform. In fact, if you looked the other way, you should be prosecuted as an accessory.
If my granddaughter does decide to go into the military, I will support her, but her parents and grandparents are going to make sure she’s ready to raise hell if anyone ever lays a hand on her.
It’s sad and infuriating that someone who pledges to defend our country and is deployed into a hostile environment like Afghanistan has to fight the enemy in front of them and the one next to them.