Wednesday, June 05, 2013

On Sexual Assaults in the US Military

A topic on which Powerful People (US Senators) are pontificating right now:

Sometimes one picture really does tell more than a thousand words (unless they are my words, natch.)

I have followed the events, including the worrisome news that the men responsible for programs aimed at reducing sexual assaults  themselves got caught acting like foxes in charge of the chicken coop:

Last week, the Pentagon said the U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three football team members sexually assaulted a female midshipman at an off-campus house more than a year ago. A lawyer for the woman says she was "ostracized" on campus after she reported it.
In recent weeks, a soldier at the U.S. Military Academy was charged with secretly photographing women, including in a bathroom. The Air Force officer who led the service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit was arrested on charges of groping a woman. And the manager of the Army's sexual assault response program at Fort Campbell, Ky., was relieved of his post after his arrest in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife.

I have also heard that the Senators are not going to hear from many (any?) female victims of sexual assault at these hearings, though that could be incorrect.

The reason I haven't written more about the case is that to say something worthwhile requires the kind of data I can't access. 

A few examples:  The reported cases of sexual assault have gone up:
The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel. While the number of sexual assaults that members of the military actually reported rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012, thousands of victims were still unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs aimed at curbing the crimes, the report said.
Do we know how much of this increase may be because there's more encouragement to report than in the past and how much is due to an actual increase in the number of sexual assaults?

Then there's the question about who should have the authority to investigate and decide on sexual assaults.  Right now that authority is vested in the complaint-maker's superior officers.  There are several reasons why that is not a good idea, and perhaps some reasons why it might be a good idea:

Dempsey and the service chiefs warned against making the dramatic changes called for in Gillibrand's legislation. Removing commanders from the military justice process, Dempsey said, would undercut their ability to preserve good order and discipline in their units.
"We cannot simply legislate our way out of this problem," said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff. "Without equivocation, I believe maintaining the central role of commander in our military justice system is absolutely critical to any solution."
But Gillibrand defended her proposal, which has garnered 18 co-sponsors in two weeks. She said victims of sexual assault are reluctant to report the crimes to their commanders because they fear their allegations will be dismissed and they might face retaliation. Aggressive reforms in the military's legal code are needed to force cultural changes, she said.
"You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you," Gillibrand said. "They're afraid to report. They think their careers will be over. They fear retaliation. They fear being blamed. That is our biggest challenge right there."

To judge this would really benefit from finding out how often those who commit sexual assaults are in a superior organizational position to those who become the objects of the assault.  If that is frequently the case, then giving all the powers to the superior officer pretty much guarantees that no complaint will be taken seriously.

Let's finish this post with some hilarity.  Well, the healthiest take on this is that it is ludicrous:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on Tuesday suggested that the “hormone level created by nature” was to blame for rapes in the military and that all pregnant servicewomen should be investigated to make sure their condition was the result of consensual sex.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assaults within the military, Chambliss opined that the Pentagon’s decision to allow women in combat roles was only going to make the problem worse.
The Georgia Republican recalled that “several years ago when we had the first females go out on an aircraft carrier, when they returned to port, a significant percentage of those females were pregnant.”

It's a wonderful tangled knot of both victim blaming (though men, too, are among the victims of sexual assault in the military) and of excusing assaults as just-hormones-gone-wild. I love it when a wingnut remains consistently illogical.