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Can you believe that there were about 26,000 incidents of sexual assault in the military last year? That’s an astounding average of more than 70 per day.
That Pentagon estimate is based on anonymous surveys and sampling research. I’m sputtering with outrage over these numbers.
Last week, President Obama addressed the issue bluntly. “The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” he said. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Well, it’s not happening. And the main reason is that sexual assault is part of the military culture.
Since the president made that statement, I would have expected to see thousands of service members accused and put on notice of potential firings and courts-martial. Instead, we keep finding out about one incident after another from media reports.
I come from a military family. I understand the principle of following orders. When your commander in chief tells you to do something, you do it. But no tolerance seems to mean nothing to these sexual predators. Where are the thousands of people who are perpetrating these acts? Why are they still in the military? Why aren’t a lot of them in jail?
It seems that the military thinks it does not have to be held to the same standards as civilians when it comes to sexual assault. The Catholic Church, with its lineup of sexual-predator priests, has the same view. How many priests have been jailed?
Last week we learned that the head of the Air Force assault prevention program, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was accused of groping a woman. Were there no hints about this guy? Now we learn that a sergeant first class whose job it is to handle sexual assault cases at Fort Hood in Texas is under criminal investigation. The complaint? That he abused women and possibly set one up for prostitution. This would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is rapidly becoming a heroine for her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is the first senator to hold hearings on the subject of sexual assault in 10 years, is also beyond outraged. She took on a group of generals in a hearing last week, nearly gasping with fury at their attitude on the subject.
The most appalling statement came from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “Roughly 20 percent of the young women who come into the Department of Defense and Air Force report they were sexually assaulted in some way before they came into the military,” he said. “So they come in from a society where this occurs. SOME OF IT IS THE HOOK-UP MENTALITY OF JUNIOR HIGH, EVEN, AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS NOW, WHICH MY CHILDREN CAN TELL YOU ABOUT FROM WATCHING THEIR FRIENDS AND BEING FRUSTRATED BY IT.” (Capitalization added by Gillibrand’s office in an e-mail sent to me.)
“The same demographic group moves into the military,” Welsh said. “We have got to change the culture once they arrive. The way they behave, the way they treat each other, cannot be outside the bounds of what is, we consider, inclusive and respectful.”
Let’s see if I understand this correctly: The military, which has an estimated 26,000 cases of abuse each year, is blaming high school kids it has recruited for the sexual assault culture?
Maybe that’s why only about 3,000 cases are reported each year. People are terrified that they will lose their jobs, be demoted, marginalized or killed if they report assault or rape. Gillibrand introduced a bill Thursday that would allow service members to report cases to a trained prosecutor and not their commanding officers, who could, in fact, be guilty of sexual assault themselves or could be protecting others who have committed it.
“The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new,” Gillibrand said. “And it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long. Due to a number of hard-to-fathom events, this issue has been raised to the national consciousness. We must seize the opportunity and act so we can get closer to a true zero-tolerance reality in the armed forces.”
That is not going to be a cakewalk. Take the Cadets for Christ, a religious group at the Air Force Academy. According to Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, it espouses the idea of “the shepherding movement for female cadets. [The women] must be shepherded by males, even lower-ranking males. They are told that their value is that they have eggs. They are asked, ‘What are you doing here? This is not want Jesus wants.’ ”
Weinstein has letters from parents of female cadets testifying to these accounts. Years ago, even Pat Robertson denounced this group’s tactics.
If this is a tolerated group at the Air Force Academy (and the other military academies are not much better), how can anybody, even the president, demand zero tolerance overnight? The fact is, he can try. But nobody is going to pay attention. Not until people start going to jail.
So what’s the answer? A court-martial in every case, and more people in power — including the president and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — not just sputtering with outrage, but acting out of outrage.