By A Marine Infantry Officer
Note: The opinions stated are my own and in no way represent the policy or opinion of the United States Marine Corps or the Armed Forces of the United States.
As our military moves into its second decade of fighting overseas, some in the media and on Capitol Hill have shamefully managed to both cover up an actual scandal over the death of four Americans in Benghazi and at the same time manufacture a scandal through their outrage over reports of sexual assault in the military. With barely contained vitriol, editorials, news articles, and political speeches have recently described these reports as an “epidemic.” Top military leaders have been berated and slandered for “failing to understand the problem” and for creating a culture of rape by getting “their buddies” off the hook as a matter of policy. American servicemen have even been outrageously and insultingly labeled more dangerous to their fellow women-in-arms than the enemy in combat.
Do sexual assaults occur in the uniformed services? Absolutely. Just like they do in every other sphere of the civilian world. Do they happen in higher proportion? Absolutely not. In fact, the numbers prove the opposite. Yet with no understanding of military life and culture, Washington politicians and journalists have condemned American servicemen as savages and sexual predators without digging into the facts.
The current controversy over sexual assaults began on May 5, 2013, after an Air Force lieutenant colonel, who happened to be in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, was charged with groping a woman in a parking lot while drunk. Two days later, the Pentagon released the results of a survey, which estimated that 26,000 service members had experienced “unwanted sexual contact,” a 30-percent increase over the 2010 estimate of 19,600.
Let’s start with the Air Force lt. colonel. First, his behavior, if proven true, was reprehensible and unbecoming of an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. He should be court-martialed and discharged from the military immediately. However, his conduct did not occur in uniform or in the line of duty. He was drunk in a parking lot in Arlington, not on a base or deployed in a combat zone. So while horrible, it is no different from any other civilian sexual assault and unrelated to the statistics of sexual assault in the military. Yes, he was the leader of the Air Force’s SAPR office. Bill Clinton was the head of the Democratic Party, yet the sexual assault accusations against him were not reflective of the Democratic Party as a whole. Neither were Anthony Weiner’s or Eliot Spitzer’s sexually deviant behaviors.
With regard to the Pentagon’s recent sexual assault survey, there is and should be zero tolerance for sexual assaults in the military, and we must strive to eliminate the crime from the ranks. But before we condemn the military as a whole, let’s put the numbers in perspective. The survey estimates that 26,000 service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” Currently, there are 1.4 million active-duty service members in the United States Military, which means that the survey’s estimate of 26,000 equals roughly 2 percent of the United States Military. The survey further clarifies that of the 26,000 service members, 12,100 were women and 13,900 were men, which means that 6.1 percent of women (out of 200,000 female service members) and 1.2 percent of men (out of 1.2 million) on active duty experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” Compare this number to an estimate by the New York State Coalition against Sexual Assault that 1 out of every 4 women in college has been sexually assaulted. Where is the outrage and similar condemnation of universities?
Again, this is not meant to minimize the seriousness of the sexual assaults that do occur in the military or the justice that must be brought against perpetrators. The question is, why has the Washington establishment been so quick to condemn our servicemen despite its complete lack of understanding of life in the military or in a combat zone? More importantly, why has every senator, congressman and journalist who has commented on this topic ignored the evidence in the Pentagon’s study — which is clear as day — that shows that the rate of military sexual assaults is lower than in society generally? Is it through willful omission, or is it simply overlooked through selection bias?