The American military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last ten years in sexual harassment prevention and education, but the problem is getting worse for women. Dave Philipps of the New York Times reports several alarming statistics:
- Sexual assaults in the military have increased by 50 percent in the last two years against women in uniform.
- The Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimates 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2018, based on a survey of women and men across all branches of the military.
- Assaults on men remained flat while assaults on women recorded the biggest increase in years.
- Women make up 20 percent of the military but are the targets of 63 percent of the assaults.
- Active military personnel are experiencing more assaults, but despite significant increases in the availability of sexual assault specialists and victim advocates, they are less likely than before to report the assaults.
- Philipps notes that a separate report in January 2019 showed that the number of sexual assaults at the service academies has also risen by 50 percent for women since 2016, showing that the problem is just as rampant among the military’s future leaders as for the current ones.
Representative Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are each leading two different concerted efforts to pass legislation that would create an independent prosecutor for sexual harassment cases in the military, but the military has lobbied against this legislation. Under the current system, only military commanders have the authority to determine whether an assault has occurred and to impose punishment. The commanders do not want to relinquish any of their authority. Even Senator Martha McSally, who came forward last year to reveal that she had been raped by a superior officer and suffered numerous other sexual assaults, opposes shifting authority over assault cases away from commanding officers. McSally even admits that she never reported her assaults for fear of retaliation.
The current system is not working. While the survey found that more assaults are occurring, fewer are being reported: fewer than 30 percent were reported in 2018, down from 32 percent in 2016. Philipps notes, “A large majority of victims do not trust the system” to handle the cases well or protect them from retaliation. Structural change is needed.
Please encourage your congressional representatives to support legislation that protects women in the military.
Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash