The study, released by the Pentagon, extrapolated data based on surveys administered to active-duty men and women. Only 0.2% of service members made formal reports of sexual assault, but since many service members are dissuaded from making formal reports due to the current policy around addressing these charges, this is understood to be a gross underestimate. It is important to note that because the military is 85% male, men are victims more often than women, however, proportionally, women are mistreated at a more common rate. Based on the Pentagon’s extrapolations, 26,000 military personnel were sexually assaulted in 2012 resulting in a record high cost of $3.6 billion dollars worth of medical expenses, medical leaves, legal fees, among other costs.
Let that sink in a little: $3.6 billion dollars. Maybe that is just a tiny fraction of the gargantuan military budget, but it’s actually significantly less than the FBI counter-terrorism sector’s 2012 budget. It’s also more money than the entire military paid for military family homes in 2010. My point is this: Money may not be able to show the damage or the hurt these soldiers incurred during their service, but it does show the extent of this problem and its place on our priority totem pole. $3.6 billion dollars is a great deal of money that we are essentially wasting because US soldiers are raping fellow US soldiers (not to mention the military budget).
Policy needs to change first. Article 32 has garnered a lot of attention recently from legislatures, urging the president to modify the procedure for sexual assault victims. The ‘hot topic’ article is the process by which the military decides if a case should be passed on to a court martial or not. It is a hearing at which the victim is cross-examined in an unorthodox manner, often being asked inappropriate questions. Nancy Parish, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, speaks to the origin of Article 32 hearings:
“[They] were originally created to function as a probable cause hearing, but have essentially become an opportunity for the defense to try the case twice,” Parish said. “Article 32 hearings are not supposed to be trials or even mini-trials, but for sexual assault cases they often end up that way.”
To put it simply, many of these victims have to face the courts twice; the first occasion taking place in front of their peers for little to no resolution. In a court-like session where inquiries about bra size, oral sex, and past sexual encounters are considered within the limits, is it really any wonder that many men and women do not step forward to press charges against their higher-ups? Thankfully, female politicians like Senator Gilibrand (R-N.Y.) and Senator Patty Murracy (D-Wash.) are introducing bills to empower victims. Gilibrand’s bill would give military prosecutors, rather than commanding officers, the discretion to prosecute sexual offenders. Murray’s bill would give victims a military lawyer to assist in the confusing process and would also have the Department of Defense maintain better reports of sexual assault charges. These bills aren’t revolutionary; in fact, they’re small policy changes that seem too minute to make any real, lasting impression. However, I have hope that by starting with small, seemingly insignificant policy shifts, we will progress to the military we deserve.
In a traditionally male subculture such as the military, how do we include women? The reality is that women will continue to join the military. As a military-centric country, we should feel proud to have them. No person should question her service enrollment out of fear of rape; and yet, the numbers show that the fear is rooted in reality. When policy changes to encourage victims to step forward, we may finally be able to fully capture the number afflicted by sexual assault in the military. Only then, can we work to affect the culture of the military to better reflect the social progress this country has made.