Male Servicemembers Are Afraid of Prison, Not Accusations

Army veteran and author Kayla Williams posted a thoughtful piece about the possible unintended consequences of efforts to prevent military sexual trauma (MST). The crux of her piece is that male servicemembers are shunning contact with female servicemembers for fear of accusations of rape or assault. This is especially problematic for a military institution because camaraderie greatly increases organizational efficiency during the stress of combat:

As women are integrated into those currently closed combat arms jobs and units, this exclusionary behavior raises the extremely troubling possibility of a pattern of exclusion from mentoring and other relationships that are vital for both true unit cohesion and long-term individual success. Informal relationships – friendships, telling jokes, proffering advice, mentoring, correcting, and offering casual encouragement – are an important part of bonding. Troops who go to war together and must work closely in austere and dangerous environments have astonishingly intimate relationships and rely upon one another for survival. Consciously preventing women from becoming part of that network could be hugely detrimental to not only women but also units.

Williams then provides a list of assurances that MST campaigners should reiterate to prevent these negative second-order consequences:

  • False accusations are rare. The rates of false accusations of rape are similar to those of other crimes.

  • Underreporting is the real problem. Military statistics show 85% of sexual assaults are not reported.

  • Unproven does not mean false. Just because there is no evidence does not mean a victim is lying.

  • Genuine false accusations will be punished. If someone is proven to have lied about sexual assault, they will suffer consequences.

As I said, it’s a thoughtful piece. I do wish, though, to offer a slightly different interpretation of the concern Williams raises: Male servicemembers are not afraid of a false rape accusation per se. They are more afraid that a false accusation will obtain traction.

The prevailing narrative is that the court system is inherently sympathetic to female accusers. In one of my post-deployment transition briefings, military police officers warned us not to force our way past angry wives who were blocking the front door in an argument because “picking her up and setting her out of the way ever so gently” is legally considered assault. There was no corollary encouragement to call the police for wrongful imprisonment. This line of thought also draws steam from the conventional wisdom that women’s victory is a foregone conclusion in child custody/alimony cases.

So if I may, I suggest that MST campaigners and military leaders seeking to reassure the males spend less time emphasizing that false accusations are rare and more time emphasizing (which, it must be noted, is only effective to the extent that such emphasis is empirically accurate) that false accusations will not get anywhere in the court system. Obviously, they should also take care not to discourage the majority of rape/assault reporters who are telling the truth.

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