The Washington Post published an investigative report on Oct 19 titled, “In the military, trusted officers have become alleged assailants in sex crimes.” It detailed a terrifying trend of the very people appointed to tackle the problem of sexual assault also being offenders — in one example, a soldier was accused of raping a woman in his hotel room while he was attending a conference about sexual assault prevention.
In the wake of these recent revelations, ConnectingVets asked advocates for victims of military sexual assault what their reaction is to the news report.
Col. Don Christensen, a retired former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, was not surprised by the findings in the article.
“I was in the Air Force for 23 years and were working the sexual assault issues for 26 years, so it did not,” he said.
The military has a problem with finding the right people for these positions, he said, because they try to use the same model of placing people in these positions as every other military job.
“And the problem of that is that you may be the best soldier in the world but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at being a SARC (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator) or be good at running a shop that’s designed to help stop sexual assault.”
Civilians, not necessarily someone in uniform, Christensen suggested, may be better at the job of helping survivors of sexual assault.
Additionally, when those who are selected in those positions fail, “they rehire them into another position,” he said.
Such as the case of an Air Force pilot who, after being investigated for sexist remarks, was hired as a technical specialist on aviation issues at the Pentagon, according to the Washington Post article.
“It says to the force that the Air Force is more concerned about protecting one of their own, a pilot in this case than they are about stopping this problem,” Christensen said.
It will take a culture and accountability change, he said, to fix the problem.
“You’re not going to PowerPoint your way out of this. It takes more than just being able to go to Congress and saying we trained 99.99 percent of the force not to rape your fellow soldier, sailors, airmen, and marines,” he said.
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) released a written statement to ConnectingVets in response to the article:
“Unfortunately the Washington Post’s latest report—that several Army servicemembers and officials entrusted with preventing sexual assault and protecting victims have themselves been accused of rape or sexual assault—comes as no surprise.
Military culture is entrenched in gender bias, victim-blaming, retaliation and a “boys will be boys” attitude towards sexual violence. The most recent SAPRO report by DoD shows that only about 9% of sexual assault cases end in conviction, and to date only one servicemember has faced court-martial as a result of the Marines United scandal. These facts belie repeated assurances by military leaders of “zero tolerance” and “accountability” towards sexual assault in the ranks.
Only systemic cultural change in the military, from reforming the military justice system to confronting entrenched gender bias and rape culture within the ranks, will ensure that servicemembers who commit sexual assault are held accountable for their crimes and that victims receive justice.”
If you’re in the military and have been sexually assaulted, click here.