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Military sexual assault should be addressed through accountability

Joel Goode, Opinion Editor

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Earlier this month, the Naval Criminal investigative Service reported that hundreds of non-consensually taken nude photographs of female Marines were circulated on social media by a group of servicemen calling themselves “Marines United.” The revelation is the latest in a series of sexual assault cases in the military that have been exposed to the media in recent years.  

In 2012, the seminal advocacy documentary film “The Invisible War” brought light to the overwhelming problem of rape in the military and inspired a series of bills that began appearing in Congress meant to address an issue that many politicians had become conscious of for the first time. A system of corruption was exposed that saw victims ignored or otherwise outright punished for coming forward.

One victim who appeared in the documentary, Jessica Hinves, who had been honorably discharged for PTSD caused by her assault in 2011, had her disability benefits downgraded by the Air Force immediately after the release of the film, according to a PBS article.

The article states that 62 percent of service members who report sexual assault also report some form of retaliation, from physical threats and actual violence to judicial reprimands and discharges.

In May 2013, Donald Trump tweeted, “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”

Last year, Trump stood by his opinion during a debate with Hillary Clinton: “Well, it’s happening,” said Trump. “And, by the way, since then, it’s gotten worse.”

The president’s attitude reflects a frustrating social trend that assumes men and women inhabiting the same environment together is a recipe for unwanted sexual contact. One has to wonder whether the issue of sexual assault in the military will intensify given the current administration opinion on the underlying reason for sexual assault.

According to data gathered by the Pentagon, more than 70 percent of sexual assaults in the military have male victims, which immediately dispels Trump’s claim that the issue comes from the close interaction of male and female service members.

At the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 20 percent of female service members have been sexually assaulted, while over 80 percent of female service members report sexual harassment.

While only 1 percent of male service members are victims of sexual assault, according to the DoD data, the fact that women are an overwhelming minority means that numerically more men have actually been raped.

Nevertheless, with society at large, the disproportionate victimization of women reveals the prevalence of misogyny in military rape culture.

There were 6,083 reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2015 alone according to the DoD, a number which grows exponentially higher when one factors in the amount of unreported assaults, which the DoD once calculated could be as high as 80 percent. 15 percent of recruits attempted to commit rape before joining the military, which is “twice the percentage of the equivalent civilian population” according to the film.

Women who have been raped in the military have a PTSD rate higher than service members who have been in combat, according to the Dod. The organization also found than half of the service members who reported sexual assault have experienced social retaliation.

When it comes to addressing these issues, institutions of all stripes, from the military, to academies, to offices, have a track record of being misguided and condescending in their approach. Most of these misplaced efforts reflect Trump’s attitude of not understanding the actual source of the problem.

In “The Invisible War”, Executive Director of the Service Women’s Action Network Anu Bhagwati puts it best when she said: “You cannot prevent sexual assault with a series of pretty posters.”

“These are violent people,” said Bhagwati. “All of the military’s risk prevention money is spent on advertising, which traffics heavily in victim blaming.”

The only way for the military, and public institutions in general, to function healthily is to hold the rapists within their ranks fully accountable by prosecutorial experts who specialize in sexual assault cases. The most recent bill to address the effort, the Military Justice Improvement Act sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, was shot down by the Senate, according to NPR.

Trump believes that somehow segregating men from women will destroy the underlying sadism and entitlement that enables sexual assault, when in reality service members will continue to be raped no matter how the genders are organized if the actual cultural and institutional problems remain unaddressed.

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The student news site of The University of South Alabama
Military sexual assault should be addressed through accountability