Sexual Assault in the Military on the Rise

Rebecca Sufrin

Writing Intern

Unwanted sexual contact, as defined by Senator Claire McCaskill, is, “everything from somebody looking at you sideways when they shouldn’t to someone pushing you up against the wall and brutally raping you.”

According to study results released this past May by the U.S. Defense Department, unwanted sexual assault cases in the military that range from, “groping to rape,” have risen by 37 percent in 2012 to approximately 26,000 cases from 19,000 cases in 2011.

These results imply very serious circumstances: assaults are occurring more frequently, people are becoming more empowered to report them, or both. There is also an equally shocking issue in regards to how top-brass military chiefs respond to reports of sexual assault.

In a full-panel hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee and various military personnel, multiple commanders, “admitted they had lost focus on the problem of sexual assault during 12 years of war.”

Despite various commanders’ rejections of new policies, lawmakers and politicians are seeking to create legislation, specifically targeted at commanders themselves, that could positively change these disappointing circumstances.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed that commanders would lose, “their ability to alter verdicts in courts-martial for major crimes like murder or sexual assault.” Additionally, sexual assault cases would be handled by special prosecutors in order to ensure the fair and just treatment of such cases.

Moreover, not only have commanders “lost focus” regarding this issue, many do not acknowledge that there is even a problem, at all.

General Ray Odierno, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, has pinpointed a root of this issue that is far too common. He is quoted as saying, “that when he travels to different bases and speaks to smaller units, he finds too many sergeants, lieutenants, and captains who say they do not have a sex assault problem.”

As many military women will tell you, this is simply not true. And today, more and more men, even those from the Vietnam War, are coming forward to tell their stories.

Of the 26,000 reported sexual assaults in 2012, the Pentagon says that, “53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.” This likely comes as a shock to the general American public as most would assume it is women who are more likely to be sexually assaulted.

Dr. Carol O’Brien, the chief of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) programs at the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Florida, has raised important points in this discussion.

“Men don’t acknowledge being victims of sexual assault. [They] tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment, and fear that others will respond negatively.”

Though these reactions are also very much applicable to females in similar circumstances, it is important to note how much they highlight the gender and sexual preference disparities that exist in the country today.

It is possible that men do not feel as comfortable reporting their personal incidents partly for fear that others will think they are homosexual or have experienced sodomy in any way. This implies the remaining fear of homosexuality that is entrenched in American society and, more specifically, the military.

Still, new policies and the undeniable support and advocacy by General Odierno and other leaders, will not remove the issue at hand. This is a foundational, educational and mental health issue that can only be solved by changing the mindsets of soldiers and commanders and strictly reiterating that sexual assault of any kind is unacceptable.

A somber General Odierno says, “We have not been successful in solving this problem. We have a huge issue. And the main thing I want everybody to understand is that this is not just a passing issue. For whatever reason, this is one that we’ve had for a very long time. And we have not been able to defeat it.”