Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Women in arms

It's interesting that this issue should crop up so soon after my post about Civil War reenacting and the women who actually dressed as men so they could fight that war. Over at dad29's blog, he's posted a piece that's raised a lot of hackles and interesting issues. Specifically, it would seem that the post appears to link the high rate of sexual assault of women serving in the military with the idea that they shouldn't be there in the first place.

Talk about a can of worms.

Reading the ensuing comments has been fascinating. There are many opinions on the matter, of course. It's a complicated issue, and one that we as a country have been dealing with for, well, since we first became a country.

First, here are some statistics:

  • According to a report by the Department of Defense, there were 2,688 sexual assaults reported in (fiscal year) 2007 that involved Military Service Members. (links to previous years' reports)
  • The Military Services completed a total of 1,955 criminal investigations on reports made during and prior to FY07. There were 759 (28%) pending investigations that will be reported on in FY08. The following is a breakdown of the total investigations that were referred to the commander for action in FY07 and the status:
    • 1,172 subjects were referred for commander action.
    • Commanders took action on 600 (51%) subjects, which included 181 (30%) courts-martial.
    • There were 572 (49%) subjects pending disposition as of September 30, 2007.
  • According to the 2006 Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members, 6.8% of women and 1.8% of men report unwanted sexual contact.
  • In the general population of the United States, 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
It's fair to say, too, that a great many cases of sexual assault/rape go unreported, especially so in the military where it may be more difficult to confront the command structure, and fears of repercussions may be greater. And from the looks of it, seeking punishment for the perpetrators can be difficult, at best.

According to a recent article in the Las Angeles Times:

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of "insufficient evidence."

This is in stark contrast to the civilian trend of prosecuting sexual assault. In California, for example, 44% of reported rapes result in arrests, and 64% of those who are arrested are prosecuted, according to the California Department of Justice.

Sexual assault and rape, whoever it targets, should never be acceptable. Neither should the attitude of blaming the victim, as seems to be the insinuation when people start suggesting that a woman's mere presence in the military will lead to assault, and we shouldn't be surprised by that. It does a disservice to both women and men to assume that people, men especially, can't be expected to contain themselves.

The military holds its members to high standards of discipline and skill, and doles out fairly severe punishments in the case of various derelictions of duty. I see no reason why this shouldn't be the case for sexual assault.

No woman (or man) serving in the armed forces should have to fear their own comrades more than the enemy they may be sent to fight. But this doesn't seem to be the case: women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

That is, simply put, unacceptable. Period. Proper, thorough training should be required for all service members, both in preventing and punishing cases of sexual assault and rape.

The DoD has taken some laudable steps to fight this problem: "The Defense Department has made some efforts to manage this epidemic -- most notably in 2005, after the media received anonymous e-mail messages about sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy. The media scrutiny and congressional attention that followed led the DOD to create the Sexual Assault and Response Office. Since its inception, the office has initiated education and training programs, which have improved the reporting of cases of rapes and other sexual assaults."

But there remains a great deal more work to do.

Part of the problem may be the continued resistance by some members of the public and the military to women being allowed to serve outside of clerical and administrative duties (or at all). First of all, I don't believe the issue of sexual assault has much of anything to do with where and how women serve. It's wrong and should be treated as such wherever and for whatever reason it occurs. The debate about women's place in the military should be separate from this, even though some people insist on conflating them.

That said, I feel compelled (I know, you're shocked) to say that I believe women absolutely should be allowed to serve in all parts of the military, dependent on two factors: they want to, and they qualify, fair and square, to do so.

I understand that in certain branches/jobs of the military, there are physical requirements that are necessary for the safe and effective execution of said job. Women wishing to enter these positions should be made to pass the same tests as men, but they shouldn't be barred outright from even trying.

Women have proved themselves over and over again--in various times and places. Not all women are cut out to serve in the military, but neither are all men. It doesn't matter if the percentage of women to men serving is different. What matters is allowing qualified people to do the jobs they want to do.

If women can lead the life of a soldier and all the hardships that entails, all while either maintaining a convincing facade of being a man, fighting against rampant harassment and discrimination, and/or against any number of other harsh odds--and they can--I don't think a person arguing against women's military service has a leg to stand on.


(h/t folkbum)

11 comments:

Al said...

If you think Dad29's post was bad, check out the place he got the idea from.

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/04/so-kick-them-out-already.html

And then, if you think that post is bad, check out the comments.

How this is any different or more justifiable than fragging, or killing commanding officers one does not like (which happened in Vietnam), I am not sure. If anyone can think of any logic that would justify rape that wouldn't also justify fragging (aside from sheer hatred of women), I'd be interested to hear it.

Dad29 said...

Neither should the attitude of blaming the victim, as seems to be the insinuation when people start suggesting that a woman's mere presence in the military will lead to assault, and we shouldn't be surprised by that

Specific blame should be placed on the Clinton Administration, which implemented the changes (which are apparently) responsible for these numbers.

The question is not "ability" nor "desire" of women to serve in the military.

The question, rather, is whether it is PRUDENT to place women in positions where they are more threatened.

I maintain (you won't agree) that such placement is contrary to nature and I pointed to the results as an indicator of same.

It's disappointing to note your comment that I "blame the victims." That sort of invective is usually reserved to less civilized people--like those who commit sexual assault.

Jay Bullock said...

Wow, thanks for doing all the work I didn't do when I opted for droll outrage. You're an awesome blogger and a helluva singer. When you gonna come down here so we can jam?

Emily said...

AL - Let me know what you hear back. Though I doubt you will.

DAD - It's disappointing to note your comment that I "blame the victims." That sort of invective is usually reserved to less civilized people--like those who commit sexual assault.

Interesting tactic. I'm not sure how you justify taking offense to my alleged reading of your post as "blaming the victim", but then see fit to compare that analysis to people who commit sexual assault. I'm not going to take offense, because I'm reading it for what it is: bait.

You've misread me, though. Nowhere do I say that you were blaming the victim. Were you? Maybe, but seeing as your post was mostly a quote from somewhere else and only a sentence or two from you, a person can only read so much into it. What I'm taking issue with here, more than anything, is your assertion that women shouldn't be allowed to serve, and the connection that you draw between that opinion and the sexual assault statistics. Clear now?

Oh and, if you want me to take you seriously, stop dismissing everything I say as "irrational". You'd do well to be less condescending toward everyone who disagrees with you.

JAY - Thanks much! If I'm ever in your neck of the woods, we'll definitely have to arrange a jam session. :)

George H. said...

"I believe women absolutely should be allowed to serve in all parts of the military, dependent on two factors: they want to, and they qualify, fair and square, to do so."

That is a perfect job description.

illusory tenant said...

lol@vox day

Fair Play said...

Great post...

I would like to add that the military is recruiting more criminals than they used to, which is another reason why women aren't safe around their fellow soldiers.

I remember when I enlisted my girlfriend who also wanted to enlist couldn't, because she admitted to the recruiter that at one point in her teen years she smoked pot. Not that she still smoked pot, but that she tried it when she was younger. That little bit of honesty got her rejected.

Now, the military is allowing people to enlist with serious criminal records. They are luring them in with huge enlistment bonuses. Unfortunately, many of these new recruits are gang members. We can see the havoc gang activity causes in our society, so it's not surprising to me that the military is experiencing the same kind of problems. I think the reason why sexual assault and other crimes are on the rise in the military is a direct result of who the military is allowing to enlist.

Of course, I shouldn't even need to say this, but I will, considering...

The rise of sexual assault in the military has nothing to do with women being in the military, but rather it has to do with the criminals who are allowed (and paid) to enlist and live among the women who are honorably serving their country.

The fact that the military isn't charging and prosecuting these rapist/criminals is another topic....argh!

ΕΡΜΕΣ said...

"women absolutely should be allowed to serve in all parts of the military, dependent on two factors: they want to, and they qualify, fair and square, to do so."

as a feminist, I agree.

but as a humanist pacifist, I have to say that ANYone who joins the military implicitly says that it's ok to murder people. which I think feminism is generally opposed to.

krshorewood said...

Maybe Dad could launch a new campaign to get women into the military.

"Hey gals, join the Army.

Because you know you want it."

Emily said...

but as a humanist pacifist, I have to say that ANYone who joins the military implicitly says that it's ok to murder people. which I think feminism is generally opposed to.

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. You're right in that feminism is certainly, in general, opposed to murder. And it's true that, in many situations, the military is sent on missions that involve killing/murder (the semantics of those two words is a whole different debate, btw).

But I really think it's a disservice and disingenuous to say that all people who join the military are implicitly saying that it's "OK to murder people." People join the services for every reason under the sun, and I have a suspicion that very few of those reasons involve a desire to or even tacit approval of murder. Plus, not all branches of the military involve deadly force. And not everyone who serves, in fact I'd argue many of those who serve, have any desire whatsoever to kill anyone else.

Personally, I don't like or approve of many of the uses that our "leaders" put our military to. But I do think having a military is necessary--I just think they should be used for defense (not preemptively, mind you) and peacekeeping.

Milwaukee Social Worker said...

Emily- great post. I was feeling many of the same sentiments but could not put them together without hostility. As I was discussing this issue with a few men (who are conservative), it seemed that Dad29 and Vox's opinions are pretty common. While they say that they are not condoning rape or blaming the victim, asking for the removal of women from the military penalizes one who is without fault. As you said, if a woman can and wishes to do the job, they should be able to. Assumptions of what is "prudent" for a woman or how much harm she should be exposed to are for her to make- not the institution.

Dad29 and others probably feel like they are doing woman a great service by trying to protect us and "free" us from military service. Maybe we can help them think of a different cause to champion- perhaps date rape or the glass ceiling? :)

The Lost Albatross