The Department of Defense (DOD) has released a report on sexual assaults in the military and the numbers are sickening.
The Los Angeles Times and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) reported that in 2006 there were 2,947 reported sexual assaults. That figure is 73 percent more than the figures from 2004. The latest DOD reports reveal that 2,688 cases were reported in 2007, “but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult,” Harman said.
In addition to the staggering increase, only 181 out of 2,212 military cases of sexual assault in 2007 resulted in courts-martial. Included in this figure were 1,259 reports of rape, and 218 of all of the sexual assault cases resulted in “nonpunitive administrative action or discharge.” Another 201 cases resulted in extra duties, confinement to quarters, or similar consequences – the kind of discipline one might expect to see in a classroom of kindergarten students who were caught talking during quiet time.
Doctors at the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center report that 41 percent of the female veterans treated there said they were victims of sexual assault, with 29 percent saying their abuse went as far as rape.
These statistics show that a woman in the military is more likely to be raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by her fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire in the war on terror.
The DOD created the Sexual Assault and Response Office following scrutiny from media outlets after they received anonymous reports of sexual assault in the Air Force Academy.
“Since its inception, the office has initiated education and training programs, which have improved the reporting of cases of rape and other sexual assaults,” the Times reports.
However, creating this office does not fix the systemic shortcomings present in the structures of the military. For example, in about half of the cases reported in the military, the chain of command did nothing and cited “insufficient evidence” in one-third of the cases. Better methods of investigation are needed, as well as better access to – or more – resources such as victim counseling, hotlines for anonymous tipping or ways to monitor what goes on in health clinics, barracks and quarters. This is necessary to make further progress on this issue.
These pseudo-solutions are a nice gesture, and do help, but fail to address the central issue: a violent and sexist culture.
American culture readily accepts aggressive violence as a solution to problems and views women as sexual objects. Subliminal and blatantly sexist and violent images in advertising and entertainment cannot be ignored as sources of this cultural mindset.
From a very young age, especially in such a high-tech society, children are exposed to being women portrayed as the sexual objects of men and the keepers of the laundry room and kitchen. Other roles filled by women include that of the baby factory, the damsel in distress who needs a man to save her from her troubles, and the “crazy b—-” who is not in control of her emotions.
Even when a woman is portrayed as successful, she has to answer to a man positioned above her in terms of power, or is portrayed as “b—-y” or “moody” and having problems centered around finding a man or controlling her emotions.
Men in advertising, when pictured with women, are most often in positions of dominance or as a figure to be worshipped, whereas women are portrayed as a toy to be enjoyed in the bedroom or a helpless victim of her own emotions. Men are also pictured as taking up as much space as possible, while women are shown taking up as little space as possible, another subliminal message of male dominance. Men are expected to be dominant, while women are expected to be passive.
When you combine male dominance with the glorification of violence, shows of force and aggressive behaviors, one should expect to see a culture where sexual assault, especially against women – who are overwhelmingly the victims of such violence – is not met with the shock with which it should be met.
This system of patriarchy is the true source of such atrocity, and until the cycles of sexism and violence are broken, women will continue to be grossly overrepresented among victims of sexual violence. This is particularly important during a war, where violence and domination are the primary assignments.
Jose Ferrer is a sophomore majoring in sociology.