Gender in Security Roundup

Sexual Harassment in the US Military

Last Wednesday, the US Department of Defense released its first annual sexual harassment report (PDF with my annotations). Understanding sexual harassment is critical to preventing sexual assault because the two behaviors, though distinct, are intimately connected. A 2012 DoD study found that 30 percent of women and 19 percent of men who were sexually assaulted reported that their attacker sexually harassed them before or after the assault (PDF). In the sexual harassment report, repeat offenders account for 11% of complaints. Upon investigation, sufficient evidence was found to substantiate 72% of these repeat offenses.

The most striking finding is that the report overwhelmingly implicates male non-commissioned officers and senior non-commissioned officers in sexual harassment of female junior enlisted servicemembers. In formal complaints, 95.5% of offenders were male and 52.5% were in paygrades E-5 to E-9 (equivalent to sergeant to sergeant major in the Marine Corps). Paygrades E-1 to E-4 (private to corporal in the Marine Corps) clocked in a distant second at 23.2% of offenders. In contrast, 87% of complainants were female and 62.7% were in paygrades E-1 to E-4. This is what institutionalized sexism looks like.

My only other remark on the report is that the four military branches have been allowed to retain their own reporting and categorization systems for sexual harassment. DoD claims that the report is a baseline for comparing sexual harassment rates in future years but without a standardized DoD-wide reporting policy, this report provides us with an extremely flawed baseline that doesn’t allow for valid interservice or cross-year comparisons.

Canadian Armed Forces

I recently wrote a guest blog for Carrying the Gun on the Canadian Armed Forces (CF)’ remarkably sophisticated gender-neutral occupational standards. These standards were devised following a judgment of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that the CF must integrate women into their combat arms while ensuring that all military occupational standards are based on bona fide occupational requirements.

In accordance with the Employment Equity Act, the CF are required to meet quotas for minority representation in the force. These quotas are quite ambitious: 25.1 per cent of full-time military personnel and reservists should be female; 11.7 per cent should be “visible minorities,” and 3.3 per cent should be Aboriginal Peoples  (i.e., native Canadians). However, despite concerted recruiting efforts, women comprise just 15% of the CF. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the CF are mulling their options in light of their persistent failure to meet the quota.

The Canadian Defence Department, pointing to internal studies, is reportedly considering whether to request reduced quotas of 17.6 per cent for women, 8.2 per cent for visible minorities, and 2.6 per cent for Aboriginal Peoples. Since there appears to be considerable political opposition to such a reduction, CF leaders have little choice but to double down on outreach and recruiting. Writing to his subordinate commanders, Canadian Chief of Military Personnel Maj-Gen David Millar warns of the consequences: 

“If reasonable progress towards these goals is not deemed to have been made, the (Canadian Human Rights Commission) auditors can potentially impose conditions upon the (Canadian Forces) to comply with recruitment of (women, visible minorities and aboriginals) over a timeline and in a manner which would unduly stress our organization.”

This ominous-sounding note suggests to me that Maj-Gen Millar feels the heavy hand of true human rights oversight, so yay for the Canadian government.

Kansas University’s First Female Ground Combat Officer

Female ROTC cadet Madeline Wilcox is set to graduate from Kansas University and enter the US Army as a field artillery officer. Since the Army recently opened virtually all field artillery positions to women, Madeline will be KU’s first female ROTC graduate who can serve in a unit that directly engages in ground combat. Congrats to her.

Hooters Announces Its Intention to Profit from National Observation of Our War Dead by Objectifying Women and The Military in General

We’re supposed to take this for a news article but it’s obviously sponsored content from Hooters of America.

Veterans Day, Hooters. That’s the day when it’s logical to objectify women and the military for profit. Still a blight on our cultural landscape, but at least not profiting from death itself.

Why is Rape Common in War? Ctd

Kim Murphy considers the notion that Victorian gender norms prevented rape in the US Civil War:

Historians, Murphy says, largely had the idea that the Victorian era was characterized by restraint, and therefore there was little rape. For example, she mentions a passage from Reid Mitchell’s book, The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home, which reads:

“Few northern soldiers raped…True manhood was characterized by sexual restraint not sexual assertion; even mutually agreeable intercourse would have threatened masculine identity. Letting anger toward women break out in unsanctioned violence against women would have been unmanly.”

“There were 109,397 cases of gonorrhea, and 73,382 cases of syphilis—and that’s just among the U.S. white troops; we don’t have the records for the Confederacy,” Murphy says. “Quite frankly, that doesn’t suggest restraint.”

Murphy thinks the Civil War rapes were largely crimes of opportunity:

[Read more…]

Why Is Rape Common in War?

Chapter six of Josh Goldstein’s War and Gender contains a large section on rape in war, which got me thinking about my tours in Iraq.

The US occupation of Iraq saw its share of war crimes. However, as far as I can tell, rape as a war crime seemed to be virtually absent. (This case of premeditated rape and murder in Mahmudiyah seems to be an exception).

That’s interesting in its own right. But what really sparked my curiosity was the emphasis on rape as a weapon of war in my human rights and humanitarian affairs classes in grad school. More than one instructor or guest speaker treated the prevalence of rape in war as a given. This struck me as odd: I didn’t see the military utility in rape–after all, the military goal is victory over one’s enemy, which is best achieved by killing or threatening to kill the opposing armed force. One instructor seemed quite put off when I asked her to explain why rape was so common in contemporary conflicts.

War objectives seem to be the bulk of the answer. Systematic rape makes more sense as a method of ethnic cleansing (either by breeding out an unwanted ethnicity or by destroying a society’s will to remain in its rightful home) than it does as a method of defeating an enemy army.

But even this fails to explain why there weren’t more rapes of opportunity (that I was aware of) in Iraq. This probably had to do with the relative discipline of the US military, the omnipresence of command supervision, and the lack of safe havens outside of US military compounds. Servicemembers would rarely have had the opportunity outside the wire to rape locals unless their unit was in complicity.

Then it occurred to me that, given the lack of opportunity outside the wire, it was far easier to rape inside the wire–against fellow servicemembers. I lacked the frame of reference to pick up on this right away because as a man in the military, rape wasn’t a daily consideration for me (although most sexual assault victims in the US military are male, women are disproportionally targeted).

On an unrelated note, I’m more than halfway through Judith Hand’s Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. Although Hand is a Ph.D. in biology from UCLA in animal behavior and primatology, the first half of her book doesn’t take a very rigorous scientific approach to the biology of war. But I’ll reserve my final judgment until I read the second half.

Senate Debating Military Sexual Assault Bill

There’s a pretty impressive debate going on over Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) on the Senate Floor right now. Here’s the link to the video feed (why C-SPAN doesn’t provide the video embed code is beyond me, but…). For those just catching up, the MJIA would remove from commanding officers the authority to prosecute a sexual assault case and place that authority in the hands of a special prosecutor. The Service Women’s Action Network has more on the reasons for this change. The essential point is that US military culture makes it impossible for commanders to arbit such cases objectively. My experience supports this assertion.

Senator Gillibrand is in somewhat of an epic battle with Senator Claire McCaskill for votes on competing bills. Senator McCaskill opposes the decision to remove prosecutorial discretion from commanding officers. About an hour ago, the two senators went back and forth over the particulars of the changes to the legal process included in the MJIA. Supporters of Senator Gillibrand argue that Senator McCaskill is repeating long-debunked DOD talking points on the MJIA. Senator Gillibrand noted that several of Senator McCaskill’s concerns were addressed in previous revisions of the MJIA.

Still, opposers of the MJIA are really stepping up their argumentative game today. Senator Jack Reed is laying out everything he’s got against MJIA as I write this. They really want to see this bill go down. There may be an element of desperation here because senators have been gradually signing on to the MJIA in the past few days. Even today in the midst of the floor debate, Senator Gillibrand announced on Twitter that Chris Murphy, a liberal freshman Democrat from Connecticut and one of the last holdouts to announce a position, finally took a side in support of the MJIA. Senator Murphy’s support tilts the Senate to majority support of the bill, so it’s a pretty gripping Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment right now.

‘Collateral Damage’

Rachel Natelson, former Legal Director of the Servicewomen’s Action Network, argues in Roll Call that the fear of punishment for “collateral misconduct” prevents many servicemembers from reporting sexual assault:

As an advocate, I’ve witnessed repeatedly the unique vulnerability of military victims to self-incrimination: the woman who was prosecuted for unauthorized possession of a prescription drug after reporting an assault and ultimately jailed alongside her perpetrator; the soldier charged with fraternization, or improper relations between an officer and enlisted member, while her assailant went free; the member warned that if she filed a report, she would be charged with dereliction of duty for walking 10 feet away from her guard post to smoke a cigarette.

Natelson implies (credibly, in my view) that such collateral punishment is often purposely meant to deter reporting:

It is this dual identity as victim and defendant that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., overlooks in asserting that because our allies changed their military justice systems to protect defendants, such reforms couldn’t work to the advantage of victims. Like those accused of committing sex crimes, victims charged with collateral misconduct are best served by a system that prioritizes legal merit over personal and professional allegiance. After all, for every example of clemency toward “good soldiers,” there are just as many instances of unjust penalization of service members perceived to undermine morale or disrupt group cohesion.

I found it rather amazing that Senators Levin and McCaskill, et. al. so readily adopted the military chiefs’ argument in the wake of the recent hearing on military sexual assault.

It’s one thing to trot nine sixteen military officers in front of the Armed Services Committee and listen to them repeat the same six buzzwords that were obviously coordinated beforehand, but it’s quite another to take those statements at face value. Why even bother going to college if that’s how you’re going to handle the evaluation of sources?

One wonders about the role of political maneuvering behind the scenes. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine that the military chiefs’ position dominates all other perspectives to which the senators are exposed. The chiefs are riding over two hundred years of perceived military credibility while victim advocate organizations like SWAN and Protect Our Defenders struggle for recognition. Some degree of asymmetry is to be expected. Still, it’s disappointing to witness the facility with which intelligent senators accept the chiefs’ tortured logic.

Tomorrow’s Senate ASC Hearing on Military Sexual Assault

Tomorrow morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on possible solutions to the military sexual assault crisis. I just called the Chairman and Ranking Member encouraging them to support S. 967, which is a necessary first step in providing victims of this specialized form of violent crime with access to the justice system. According to Roll Call, the Capitol Hill news site, S. 967 “removes the prosecution of all crimes punishable by one year or more in jail from the chain of command, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature. [S. 967 also] bars commanders from overturning convictions.”

The Invisible War, an outstanding documentary on military sexual assault, makes clear why removing these powers from commanders is so necessary: Commanders are entangled in a web of pressures that makes it virtually impossible to separate their duty to maintain military discipline (and, less honorably, the reputation of their unit) from the independent judicial responsibilities of a criminal prosecutor. In fact, many military “leaders” are implicated in such assaults. 25% of female servicemembers who fail to report rapes to their chain of command do so because the person in the chain to who they are supposed to report is the rapist.

Please consider calling the Senators with the following message (copied from a SWAN email):

“Thank you for holding this historic hearing on military sexual assault. We need you to reform the military justice system. The authority to prosecute violent crimes like sexual assault should rest with legal professionals. Please support Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill, S. 967.”

Senator Carl Levin, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
(202) 224-6221
Senator James Inhofe, Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee
(202) 224-4721

I’m showing up bright and early tomorrow morning to sit in on the hearing, which begins at 9:30am. The list of testifiers includes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of all five armed services, top legal representatives from all five armed services, and members of civil society including Anu Baghwati of the Service Women’s Action Network.

I’m going to try my hand at simultaneously liveblogging (here) and live-tweeting at @jaylemeux. We’ll see how that goes.

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