When young service members enlist in the military, they recognize they may be put in harm’s way. However, many of our service members are under attack from within. The danger that too many of our service members face inside the military’s ranks won’t earn them any medals or awards for heroism, but the emotional scars and trauma are real and raw. Sexual assault is harmful anywhere; however, it remains a disproportionate problem across the DoD and it has been on the rise since 2016. The most recent prevalence study of sexual assault in the DoD has shown an increase among female victims and unchanged rates among males. The DoD Annual Report on Sexual Assault estimated 20,500 incidences of unwanted sexual contact in the 2018 fiscal year.
Rampant sexual assault in the armed forces presents a challenge to service members who are already tasked with a high-stress job. A 2019 study conducted at the University of Michigan shows the relationship between sexual assault across the DoD and reduced levels of trust of leadership among service members. The military relies on good order and discipline, built on the trust of leadership, in order to remain ready to defend our nation.
While reports of sexual assault in the military are on the rise, the prosecution of sexual assault in the military has decreased. Part of the problem is that commanders of the accused serve as the convening authority. As trust in leadership diminishes, the likelihood of victims reporting sexual assaults goes down.
The troubling reality we’re faced with is the fact that there is a destructive culture that has been and is being allowed to fester across the armed forces. External measures are needed to address this crisis. Responsibility for the problem starts at the highest levels and, since military leadership has proven unwilling to deal appropriately with the problem, it is no surprise that rates of sexual assault have continued to increase.
The use of pornography is prevalent across all branches of the armed services. Strip clubs intentionally position themselves to surround military installations and are patronized by junior and senior service members alike. As Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel for the NCOSE Law Center, has put it, “it is naive of the Department of Defense to allow an atmosphere where servicemen may treat women as sex objects in some contexts and then expect them to be respectful and unified with their sisters in arms.” The provisions in the laws already exist; those in charge must finally face accountability, take responsibility, and be made to deal with the problem. As retired JAG Dan O’Bryant has said, “the military culture of ‘boys will be boys’ has got to become part of our past.”
There are several steps that need to be implemented in order to reduce the rates of sexual assault across the DoD and help protect those who protect us:
- Enforce rules on pornography and conduct searches on government computers
- Enforce bans on pornography and explicit material in base exchange stores
- Bar service members from going to strip clubs
- Include training on the harms of pornography in annual training
- Remove commanders from the role of convening authority in sexual assault cases