Top General's Unbelievably Idiotic Comment About Rape in the Middle of Military Rape Epidemic
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This has not been a great PR week for the military. On Sunday a serviceman was arrested for sexual assault. And in what sounds like an Onion headline, the sexual assaulter really was the chief of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention unit. Tuesday, a Pentagon report revealed that sexual assault had jumped from 19,000 cases in 2010 to 26,000 in 2012. That's an increase of 35%! Another highlight of Tuesday was testimony from the Air Force's top commander, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Welsh managed to trivialize sexual assault both by emphasizing how common it was in society outside of the military and comparing it to consensual sexual interactions. Welsh noted that 20% of women report they had been sexually assaulted,
“before they came into the military…. So they come in from a society where this occurs…. Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it.”
Wow. Welsh is a true renaissance man. A general and a social scientist who studies sexual behavior. Somehow, however, he fails to grasp that really subtle distinction between sex between consenting adults and rape. In all fairness, he's doing a great job representing the military, which is unable to recognize or respond to sexual assault and rape.
Sexual assault in the military is systemic and rampant, not an isolated incident. In fact, a woman serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than to be killed in the line of fire. Since 2006, more than 95,000 service members have been sexually assaulted in the U.S. military. More than 86% of service members do not report their assault. Less than five percent of all sexual assaults are prosecuted, and less than a third of those cases result in imprisonment. There are an estimated 13,000 homeless female veterans in the U.S. and 40% of them reported experiencing sexual assault. An Air force brochure on sexual assault advises women how to respond to rape: “It may be advisable to submit [rather] than resist,” As Spencer Ackerman writes, "it does not offer instruction to servicemembers on not committing sexual assault. Prevention is treated as the responsibility of potential victims."
Instead of shifting the blame and responsibility onto victims, attributing the epidemic to the prevalence of sexual assault outside the military, or to so-called "hook up" mentality, the military needs to take responsibility and enact policy changes.