Why Aren't We Still Talking About Sexual Assault in the Armed Services?

It Hasn’t Gotten Better.

Annie Spratt / Unsplash

I believe that maladaptive, morally indefensible but culturally and structurally embedded behaviors do not simply go away when new polices are implemented and leaders say to stop.

Rather they are driven further underground.

It also ruins lives, tears families apart and permanently damages people who have volunteered to serve.

Who among us wants to send a child into this mess?

Senior leaders want to fix the problems — really — but fail to give it the attention it warrants and utterly lack the tools and understanding necessary to effect the structural changes necessary to do so.

Here are some additional observations based on my experience:

1. Structural Change is Essential.

There needs to be fundamental reform and structural change to idea of military good order and discipline as put forth in the dated Uniform Code of Military Justice. A system designed and implemented almost exclusively by white men will implicitly AND explicitly benefit white men and implicitly miss the mark on all others — as the designers have no idea what rules work for all and what rules work for some.

2. Cultural Change is also Essential.

We cannot allow rampant ego, misogyny, and patriarchy to maintain its primacy in the military. I will be the first to acknowledge that some improvements have occurred during the last several decades — but the services still retain a culture more akin to 1955 than 2021.

3. More women, transgender and people of color must be elevated to senior leadership positions.

4. Revisit military regulations, rules and mores that are both outdated and unhelpful such as the prohibition on fraternization.

Enlisted members and officers are prohibited from engaging in intimate relationships which drives the relationships that do occur (and they do) underground — not necessarily a direct contributor to the problem, but certainly an example of how outdated many of regulations governing the services have become.

5. Accountability — stop victimizing victims. “Alcohol Incidents” are treated harshly in the military.

A crime (DUI, sexual assault, etc) committed while one or both (to include the victim) of the parties has consumed alcohol can end a career. Does this inhibit reporting? Yes.

4. Military Leaders must give the problem more attention and not simply delegate it to a new directorate created to deal with the problem.

5. The public and public servants must put consistent and relentless pressure on military leaders to acknowledge and deal with the problem.

6. Perpetrators — particularly those who abuse positions of power — must consistently suffer real consequences — removal from the service, bad conduct discharges and criminal prosecution.

7. Retaliation must end. Period. This is a leadership issue. Leaders who retaliate — even if not the perpetrator of violence — must be removed from their positions if not the service too.

This is my military and your military. Let’s pressure service leaders to step up and be relentless about it.

A 25 year Coast Guard officer — and currently a full-time Airstream nomad.

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