Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Okay. It finally happened. Our colleague Tamara Tabo finally wrote something that required a response from one of your faithful regular editors.

Tamara makes some excellent points about the incidence of rape not necessarily being higher in the military than in civilian institutions (at least as reported).

Fine.

But the problem is not so much what she says, but why? What’s to be gained by taking to the pulpit and saying that the incidence of military rape is on par with civilian rape and that the concern of policymakers is misplaced?

The only answer is to suggest that military rape is not a problem because it’s in line with the rest of society. And that’s not a good argument.

But not as bad as the argument that drunk women are the real problem in rape cases…

Tamara notes:

Legislation like Gillibrand’s treats as unique a problem that is not. Relevant statistics suggest that young women may be at no greater risk of being sexually assaulted in the military than being sexually assaulted on a college or university campus. Why propagate a message of fear that sending our daughters (or ourselves) into the service amounts to handing them over to an unpatrolled, unrepentant rape culture, but shipping off young women to college is relatively safe? Why send the message that our women are more likely to be raped by a fellow Marine than by a frat brother from Sigma Chi?

Putting aside the argument that the rigid hierarchy of the military might exert more negative pressure on reporting and receiving redress for sexual assault in the military than on a college campus, I’m one of those, “let’s just say they’re both bad” kind of people. I don’t really need to question those that take the stage to decry one or the other. The difference is that Tamara uses this venue to do so, criticizing Senators Gillibrand, Cruz, and Paul — who really do represent the gamut from left to right to bats**t nutty, and yet they all agree that this is a problem.

By the way, one reason for the cross-philosophical agreement on this issue might be the fact that managing the military is one thing everyone can agree is a federal task. Considering the amount of rage conservatives exert over the federal government overstepping its bounds, you’d think there’d be a moment of respite when the feds went after something within their indisputable purview.

Moreover, the interest the Senators take in this issue reflects the important historical role that the military has played in redressing societal ills. It is not a leap to say that the military integrated America after President Truman forced the still-conscripted military to live side-by-side, teaching a generation of impressionable young adults that maybe African-Americans weren’t so bad. Yet we can’t hold the armed forces to the same aspirational standard to stop rape? I’d like to think better of us.

As someone with a number of former students, male and female, serving in the military right now (and more joining in the coming years), I’d certainly hope we’re better than that.

First of all, chain of command is an integral, nearly sacrosanct principle in the armed forces. Circumventing that hierarchy comes with wide-reaching consequences. Civilians, including members of Congress, should not underestimate the practical effects of this move, since so much of how the armed forces organize themselves relies on this operating procedure.

See above re: integration. Been there, done that, it worked because the military are ultimately professionals in the service of civilian leadership. Next argument.

Moreover, it is unclear that having service members report sexual misconduct to military prosecutors, instead of commanding officers, will actually encourage more victims to come forward.

Senate testimony has raised some good points about the importance of holding commanders responsible rather than removing them from the process. That said, General of the Army Omar Bradley counseled against integrating the armed forces and was proven wrong too. We know the status quo is not living up to what we’d want, and despite the anecdotes cited by the McClatchy review of a handful of cases, we’ve known since Tailhook and the Air Force Academy scandal that a cultural problem exists that could benefit from quasi-independent oversight. The suggestion that adding an alternate route for complaint would demoralize the military by taking the chain of command out of the equation is misplaced. Internal Affairs subverts the chain of command in police forces without triggering the apocalypse, and human resources and the EEOC subvert bosses abusing their secretaries without destroying business (at least before Vance and Nassar).

Not to be glib, but Col. Nathan Jessup didn’t call JAG by himself because HE WAS THE BAD GUY.

Let’s be candid about the role that drinking plays in many sexual assault cases, both on campus and on base. When men and women drink heavily, judgment (if not vision) blurs. Women, who may be more intoxicated than their male counterparts if they have been matching drink-for-drink throughout the night, may allow themselves to fall into unsafe circumstances. Men, who may become more aggressive and less sensitive to social cues as they over-imbibe, may push sexual contact when consent from their partners is ambiguous at best.

Both sexes need to take responsibility. Young men need to be reminded that drunkenness vitiates consent. Young women need to acknowledge that staying (at least more) sober keeps them safer from certain types of crimes.

As a drunk, I’m offended.

Kidding aside, my position is simple: drinking a lot of alcohol might make someone prone to attack, but that doesn’t mean anyone should go ahead and attack them. There is a world of difference between cautioning women to “be careful” and saying, “it’s wrong that the government is cracking down on rape because women should just ‘be careful.’” The latter implies blame while the the former empowers proactive behavior. This whole line of argument reminds me of Geraldo Rivera’s admonition that Trayvon Martin was dead because he wore a hoodie. Even granting that wearing a hoodie increased the odds that Trayvon would be profiled (presumably as something other than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company), that’s not a reason to suggest that the hoodie killed him, just as drinking alcohol (as is one’s right) should not be held out as a cause for rape.

The alcohol-fueled “date rape” that accounts for the majority of college and military sexual assaults is a serious crime. At the same time, if sex was never consensual if any alcohol was involved, a lot of people wouldn’t have consensual sex until somewhere around their second year of marriage.

I don’t know what’s weirder, the use of air quotes on something called a serious crime within the same sentence, or suggesting that people need to be married, drunk, and cradling a cotton gift to f**k.

We don’t help anyone by treating these cases as though they are always and exactly identical to forcible rape by a stranger. We also don’t help address the problem of sexual assault in the armed forces by treating it as though what happens between men and women in the military is that different than what happens between men and women in college or elsewhere.

And we don’t hurt anyone either, but I digress. The reason to highlight rape in the armed forces is twofold: (1) it might happen more than reported because of chain of command issues; and, (2) regardless, it is actually something that only the federal government can do something about. The only alternative to dealing with it specifically is avoiding it entirely.

Let’s not do that.

Earlier: Marine Barracks or College Dorm: Senate Bill Raises False Alarm Over Where Women Are Most Likely to Be Raped


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