Not long ago I read an article headlined “Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped.” Victim blaming and offensive, it set up the equation ass backwards. If we make women responsible for not getting raped, must we then think they’re responsible for getting raped?
It is high time we focus efforts on young men and boys, teaching respect of others and holding men accountable for their actions.
The next night NBC Nightly News reported on a press conference by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on rape in the military. According to the story there were 3,191 reported cases of sexual assault in the military last year. Of those, only eight percent were prosecuted and two percent resulted in convictions. Based on their own studies they believe the number of sexual assaults in the military last year was closer to 19,000—more than 15,000 more!
The numbers suggest a woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than attacked by the enemy. It makes me wonder who the real enemy is. Secretary Panetta said he finds the situation unacceptable, and says he has a moral duty to keep people safe from attack by their fellow soldiers. What is his solution to alleviate the situation? A new policy, outlined below:
• The military will allow the victim to transfer to another location
• Appropriate officials will report the cases to civilian law enforcement
• The military will train investigators and prosecutors to achieve the same level of awareness as civilians working in the field
Ain’t that grand? They will allow the victim to leave her friends and home and move away to a new place to keep her safe? Excuse me, but WTF! You’re the victim of a brutal attack that will impact you the rest of your life and you’re supposed to move and let the attacker, uh, perpetrator—the rapist stay home and continue his life as though nothing happened? (Unless of course he happens to be the one-tenth of one percent actually charged with the crime.) What Kool Aid was the Secretary of Defense drinking?
Although billed as a press conference to address sexual assault— a raging crisis within the military—rather than maintaining his focus on rape within the armed forces, Secretary Panetta chose to respond to five questions about our military posturing in the Middle East! If that is any indication of how serious the military—and the mainstream media—are taking the rape of women and children, we’ve got a long way to go to bring about a substantive change in a chilling aspect of military culture.
Not to be cynical but the timing of Secretary Panetta’s announcement came just two days before the new documentary The Invisible War premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (see accompanying story). This powerful film exposes how widespread rape in the military is, exposing the shocking ignorance of those in command. The military women who are raped suffer the same effects as survivors of child sexual abuse: PTSD, shame, poor self-esteem, attempted suicides, difficulty with trust in relationships, alcohol and drug abuse and eating disorders—the latter efforts to either hide or fill the void in their lives left in the wake of this heinous crime.
To be fair, the situation in the military is no different than elsewhere in society. Churches, schools, colleges, athletic programs, scouts, anywhere you find women or boys or girls it’s likely you’ll also find predators, often with a quick smile and a ready handshake hoping to get them alone.
Despite the growing level of awareness about sexual assault, how long will we continue to do no more than give lip service? Isn’t it time for all potential victims—including non-predatory men—to come together to stop this madness? It’s simple: Either stand up against sexual violence or be an accomplice to it. This is war. Choose your side.
Randy Ellison is a victim’s advocate, agitating for change in the area of child sexual abuse. He is author of Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse (Morgan-Jones, 2012). See his interview earlier in this issue). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.