26,000: Why is Sexual Assault So Prevalent in the Military?

In early 2013, an anonymous survey revealed that 26,000 people in the military had experience some kind of sexual assault or harassment. That number is staggering. When I first heard the report that presented that number, I had to sit down. It didn’t seem real to me. 26,000. How? Why? Why?

To give you some context, I live by the largest military base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk; military is just a part of life here. Most of the people and families I know are either in the military, or used to be.  A lot of people I went to high school with either tried or did join the military after graduation. That made this report all the more real to me.

When I heard this report, I was angry and I wanted answers. Why were the numbers so high? Why, in a job where following orders and rules is so highly valued, was this happening? I just couldn’t comprehend it. I made a phone call to someone who I knew could give me some answers; someone who could tell me why this was happening at such an appalling rate, at all even.

I decided to interview on of the deacons from my church who has recently retired from the Navy. While in the Navy, he was what was called a Command Managed Equal Opportunity Advisor (CMEO). It was his job to address the problem when assault or harassment was reported. Half the problem of course, was that a lot of harassment or assault was never reported.  I had to try and get some answers as to why the rate of assault was so high in the military.

Billieanne:  What was the procedure for when a sexual assault is reported?

CMEO:  When a case of true harassment exists there are procedures, and this is where most problems occur. You see improperly trained individuals in positions as advisors and outdated command instructions are where you see this most. When a commander is advised on the correct Navy instruction and proper procedures they know what their requirements are, and things tend to have the proper outcome but when the individual who is advising does not know the proper procedure thoughts and ideas creep in. It is the old rule if you know the rules and someone calls you out on them you tend to follow the rules, but if you both don’t know the rules you are both lost and make it up as you go along, this is where problems occur.

B: What is done when someone reports sexual assault?

CMEO:  If a true case of assault exists, the two individuals are separated. This can be problematic and is where I would also change something. One of the individuals stays at the command and the other goes to work someone else unless there is clear-cut evidence to lock the individual up. The problem usually comes in the form of the outside individuals at the command. When someone is removed, people ask questions and pick sides this is human nature. If the person removed is well liked then people start asking why and making up their own stories and it always gets back to the individual who is left at the command. Although some say it is unfair to remove the person who has done nothing wrong. I say for the good of the individuals, the command, and the Navy it is best to remove both until the problem is resolved and go from there.

B:  How often was it a superior who was the aggressor?

CMEO:  Less often than you think, these are the ones that make the news, but most are Sailors who were the same rank and one is promoted and they are still in a relationship and something goes wrong, causes tension and will have to be addressed.

When it is a superior they often think there power will protect them and they may try to use it, it may insulate them for a while but they will eventually be found out. One thing to understand about the military is that it is a microcosm, a group of individuals with a shared experience. Anything that happens in society is amplified in the military because this microcosm is held under a microscope. The same incidents happen in the civilian sector and with greater frequency than the military, but because the military is held to a higher standard (as they should) it is more amplified. You see the same thing happen with Politicians and CEOs. If you remember the old adage “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” David in the Bible or U.S. General Anthony Petraeus you will be found out.

B: What do you think contributes or causes the culture in the military that makes people think they can get away with harassing or assaulting women?

CMEO: Society, lack of training, human nature. Like I said the military is just a microcosm of the greater society, we just hold military members to a higher standard. If you think about the military’s problems as five percent of the population and you were to truly examine society you would see the problems are much greater than are being reported.

B: How can the military fix this problem?

CMEO: Training and assigning people in positions who are trained and make it their job and not a collateral duty (part time job) with collateral duty jobs you get real collateral damage. People who know what the speed limit tend to obey it, Does it mean they will always, no but they know the outcome if they do and tend to regulate themselves.

B:  How do you think the military could try to change the culture to attempt to prevent assaults/harassment from happening?

CMEO: Individuals need proper training, and properly trained, and staffed positions. The culture is a just a subsection of society and societal norms in media and customs would have to be changed to fix that.

B: Do you think it can be stopped or reduced at all or is it irreversible?

CMEO: The question to ask is can it be eliminated from society, I am sure the answer would be no, but it can be reduced. Every effort should be done to make this happen, but when we have media sources pushing it on us, and parts of society see it as acceptable, is it any wonder that the military will have the same problems?

The rampant numbers of sexual assault cases, reported and unreported, in the military is due to the prevalence of sexual violence in our society as a whole . To end sexual violence, we must change our culture. We must make it unacceptable. So how do we do that? It doesn’t start at a national level, or with congressional hearings. It starts at home. It starts in neighborhoods and schools and colleges. It starts with individual people who decide that they are not going to just look the other way anymore. It starts with people like you, taking a stand. I wrote another article about that, you can go check that out here.

So my question for you dear reader is, how will you end sexual violence? How will you make an impact on changing our culture?

Tomorrow we will be releasing our first meme for our April Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign! Be on the lookout!



Trigger Warning: Rape

10 months ago from today, I was raped.

10 months ago from today, I also flew to Greensboro, North Carolina to meet (and yes, have sex with) my best friend.

It did not turn out as I expected it would.

When he and I checked into the hotel room we’d be sharing for 4 days, I…

3 Ways to Help End Sexual Violence

Sexual violence feels like an inescapable part of our culture. We see it on the news all the time, we hear about it from our friends and family. Sexual violence is such a widespread epidemic, that it honestly feels like there is nothing we can do to stop it. There is a way though, and it starts with you.

In order to put a stop to such an epidemic the size of sexual violence, we need to start locally. That’s where you, dear reader, come in. Here are three ways in which you can help to end sexual violence in your area.

1) Call out people who make rape jokes and threats

I’m looking at you Daniel Tosh. About a year ago Tosh was doing a show at a comedy club and started making jokes about how he thinks rape jokes are always funny. A female audience member shouted “Actually, rape jokes are never funny”.  Tosh responded with, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her”. The female audience member and her friend then left the club because of how uncomfortable and unsafe she felt after that “joke”.

Jokes about rape and sexual assault are not okay. The fact that these kinds of jokes are acceptable, says a lot about how we as a society view rape. When someone like Tosh (or anyone for that matter) makes jokes about rape, it trivializes the experiences of victims and normalizes perpetrators. It shows how our society as a whole does not view rape as the truly horrific crime that it is.

If you hear anyone making rape or assault into a joke, call them out. Make it so that making jokes about it are so socially unacceptable that no one does it anymore. If a comedian thinks rape jokes are funny, stop going to their shows. Stop viewing their videos and watching their TV shows, call into the tv network or comedy club and tell them that what this comedian is saying and doing is not okay. Even though your actions might seem insignificant, if enough people do this, then the network/comedy club might not book them again, and maybe that comedian will get the message.

We as a society have to make it abundantly clear to those in the media and those around us that rape is not a joke.

2) Stand by victims

If a person says they were raped or sexually assaulted, believe them.  Why? Because a lot of people likely will not. There’s this myth that false rape accusations are prevalent, when in fact only about 2% of accusations are false. It’s important that we don’t automatically disbelieve survivors coming forward because of this; just by looking at statistics, we know they probably aren’t lying.

It takes a lot of courage to come forward as a survivor. Survivors don’t need the general public doubting them or mourning for the perpetrators future. If someone you know tells you that they were raped or assaulted, never try and justify it.  It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, it is never the victims fault.

If you see or hear someone questioning the validity of a victim’s accusation, question their assumptions. Every year, countless rapists get off because our society blames victims first. It needs to stop. If we want to make any progress on ending sexual violence, we have to start by standing in solidarity with victims. We can all take a stand. 

3) Intervene.

Let’s say you see some guy trying to drug a woman’s drink, what should you do? Tell her.
Let’s say you see a guy trying to get a girl who is so clearly drunk that she doesn’t know what’s going on to come home with him, call her a cab and don’t let him take her.
Let’s say you see a girl being harassed on the street, tell the guy to back off.
It’s so easy to think “it’s not my problem”, or “I don’t want to get involved”. 

Yes, it is your problem. It’s my problem too.

Too many times, rapists have gotten away with their crimes because too many people looked the other way. They assumed that someone else would call the police; they decided it wasn’t their problem. We cannot keep doing this if we want to end sexual violence.

You might not think intervening is important, but let me tell you a personal story that might change your mind.  I was at a bus stop and some guy, who was much larger than me was harassing me and telling me what he was going to do to me if I looked in his direction again. I was scared and uncomfortable. This lovely girl came over and sat right next to me and started talking to me about her book that she was reading as if we were good friends. All it took was a look between us to know what she was doing. She was making it clear to the guy that I was not alone. She was standing by me, and he stopped messing with me.

Bystander intervention strategies are actually easier than you might think, and there are also multiple ways to intervene depending on the situation. Intervention methods include:

  • pulling the victim out by talking to them as if you know them

  • if you know the aggressor then you could talk them into leaving

  • turning on the lights(if it’s a dark room or party),

  •  call a cab for the victim.

The method will vary from situation to situation, the key though is to separate the aggressor and the victim.

Sexual violence is a huge societal problem, but it can be stopped. Stopping it starts with you. By taking these steps, you can begin to put an end to a culture that turns a blind eye to sexual violence.  

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