Christopher Lee

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More Women In US Military Being Sexually Assaulted – That’s Just Not A Problem In The Pentagon

6th May 2013

The Pentagon says there’s more sexual assault than ever in the United States military.  Worse, many victims are too frightened to tell. The President says for him, military bullying is a zero tolerance situation. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on the case. He’s stepping up the anti-sex assault “game exponentially”.  So what’s going wrong with the Mission Accomplished military with record of having fought on every continent in the world and still hanging in there as the last of the dinosaurs, aka superpower?

No one is hiding the files on this news. Over the Potomac and out at Arlington there is a sense that something is very wrong in the US military. And to get what’s going on in the higher command mind that senses it has no control of beasting and bullying of the worst kind, you best start by understanding the heartbeat of the military out at that place. Arlington is military country but not the gritty side of the deal. Arlington, Virginia’s a comfortable place.  

Even, the names are comfortable and tell you the deeper thought of Old America that still runs the military.  

Even the noisy main road, the Jefferson Davis Highway has a history that dwells on a traumatic past turned into the victory that only memory keeps going. It was conceived by one of the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a 1913 Chattanooga Confederate Reunion reunion . The coast to coast Lincoln Highway scheme had just been announced and the Daughters of the Confederacy were not going to be left out.  They wanted a transcontinental highway of their own – inevitably north versus south. The result was the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway to honour the “President of the Confederate States. Arlington is that sort of country. There’s the Army & Navy Country Club. The George Washington Memorial Parkway along the river. Fort Myer. And of course, the Arlington National Cemetery where the nation’s heroes are honoured and the Pentagon with its continuing corridors of command and control.

Every so often the sense of being in command and controlling events wobbles.  This week is one of those occasions.

In 2010 19,000 people in the armed services were sexually assaulted.  Last year the figure was 26,000. And here’s a thing: the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention in the US Air Force has just been arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks.  Where?  In an Arlington parking lot.

Considering the events, it was maybe unfortunate phrasing when President Obama announced that the bottom line, yes, the bottom line is that he has no tolerance. He then made it very clear: “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonourably discharged period.”

Good stuff Mr President but let us start with the first bit: “if we find out”.  Part of the problem is that although more than six percent of women and more than one percent of men in the military have said they have suffered sexual abuse, anecdotal evidence suggests these numbers could easily be doubled. The military learn to live with extremes.  Sexual codes are not the sort of thing that shows a woman or a man is one tough hombre ready for duty.  

The increased numbers of women put into fighting situations in, for example, Afghanistan have made this ready for duty profile even more likely to suppress assaults. But the civilian figures for the same periods are telling.  While 6.1 of women in military reported being assaulted, only 0.2 percent in civilian life had the same experience.  But again, it’s all down to the numbers reported, so the President is perhaps unconsciously reflecting this when he says “if we find out”.

But it does not answer the next question: how come this has taken so long to get to? Maybe it’s n different to other military.  It’s a beast of a profession. It is a profession of physical extremes that train and then discard the ultimate moralities.

There’s another serious flaw in the system.  If someone in the military is accused of sexual abuse, then the military deals with the matter.  It does not go to a civilian investigation and then if warranted to a civilian court. It is pretty well known that generals, most notably one in the air force, have reversed guilty verdicts with little or no explanation.

The President may shout, Hagel may be on the case, but the truth is that the US senior military do things their way, just as in the days of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate America. Arlington is a comfortable place that lives comfortably with the way things are and Obama has more chance of fixing the economy than fixing the military.

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