A reader writes:
As a Dishhead and an officer in the National Guard, I feel I should chime in on this issue. It’s been a disgraceful year, and the reforms called for by Sen. Gillibrand are badly needed. Frankly, the UCMJ needs to be completely overhauled and brought into the modern era. Sodomy shouldn’t still be codified, for instance. Commanders with no legal experience have way too much power over their troops, and as was seen with the Air Force officer who overturned a sexual assault court martial finding of guilt, it’s prone to secrecy and misuse.
But culture needs to change too. Have a stop over at the military subreddits and read the comments on any story dealing with anything regarding rape, sexual assault, gender issues, or sexual harassment. It’s endless choruses of “False accusations are the norm! Female soldier/Marine/airman/sailor was asking for it! You can never trust women when left alone!” with only the occasional sane person chiming in. Unfortunately, it’s an accurate reflection of the private talk that goes on in barracks, company areas, and motor pools.
That’s how you get SHARP coordinators charged with sexual abuse. That’s how you get the Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention charged with sexual assault. That’s how you get the most lauded military officer in recent history embroiled in an adultery scandal with another military officer.
As someone (female) who served for six years in the enlisted side of the Navy, and was subject to quite a bit of “programming” on a myriad of subjects, I call bullshit on this reader. One-hour powerpoints once a quarter is not taking anything seriously. Allowing C.O.s to judge cases that might effect their manning in a negative way is not taking rape seriously.
To address the reader’s point directly, this is not an amorphous societal issue that one can hand wave away as something that will eventually fade with the cultural tides. This is a very specific issue of women having been poorly integrated into some parts of the military, seen as interlopers, and therefore deserving of any ill-treatment they might get. With a terribly bitter culture that says anything a military woman gets was ill-gotten, that a woman isn’t a real soldier or sailor, that any improvements in her standard of living must have come at the expense of a man, it’s very easy for the majority that would never do these things to look the other way.
I don’t know what would help the issue, but I know what doesn’t. Stop the “programming”. It’s designed principally to legally insulate the commander, and it implies that rape is an issue of enlisted who are dumb animals that don’t know any better. It does nothing to address male victims (I saw some appalling statistics on male rape at the 32nd St base in San Diego), and ignores officers who think that droit de signeur is still a thing. Do a better job integrating women into the professional culture, and bring more women into the service overall.
I can’t believe this is the issue that prompted me to write after eight years of reading. Thank you for raising contentious issues.