Sexual Harassment in the Military: It’s Getting Worse for Women

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

Men Know What Consent Is

As I read and hear about continuous accusations of date rape on campuses and sexual assault by bosses—accusations that are usually denied vigorously by the men accused (and it is usually men)—I cannot help but wonder how people think that men do not know what consent is. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I have no question in my mind that I did not give consent and that my attacker knew full well what he was doing. How can a person think that it is acceptable to use physical force to pin someone to a bed who is struggling to get up or to force someone’s head down to perform oral sex? This is not consent.

Because of these questions, I was interested to read an article by Peggy Orenstein, a well-known scholar on gender differences. Orenstein reports that she interviewed high school and college students over the past two years, most of who came across to her as “friendly, thoughtful, bright, engaging young men.” Many of these young men reported to her that they have “sort of” raped girls, have pushed women’s heads down to get oral sex, have taken a Snapchat video of a date performing oral sex on them and sent it to the baseball team—and yet see themselves as “good guys.” How can this be?

Orenstein cites the research of Nicole Bedera, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan who interviewed male college students in 2015. Bedera reports that each male student could articulate at least a basic understanding of consent: both parties wanted to be doing what they were doing. Many of the young men had a sophisticated understanding of refusal and consent. Most of these students also endorsed the standard of “yes means yes,” which requires “active, conscious, continuous and freely given agreement by all parties engaging in sexual activity.” Yet when asked about their own recent sexual activity, “even men who claimed to practice affirmative consent often had not.” When this conflict between their understanding and actions was pointed out to them by the researcher, they expanded their definition of consent rather than question their own conduct. In some cases, the researcher reports that the expanded definitions of consent became so elastic that they met the legal definition of assault. If they were aware that their sex partner had become upset by their behavior, some young men rationalized it, got angry with the woman involved, and blamed her for refusing them.

Orenstein cites another study conducted on 1,200 college students in 2016 by researchers at Confi, an online resource dedicated to women’s health. In this study, one in four men believed that women usually have to be “convinced” for sex to happen and the behavior of a “tipsy” guy was more acceptable than a sober one. These beliefs allow young men to let themselves off the hook if they are accused of assault.

Orenstein offers these conclusions:

  • Young men still too often learn to prioritize their pleasure over women’s feelings and interpret a partner’s behavior through the lens of their own wishes.
  • We need to fully educate boys not only about the importance of consensual, ethical, and mutually pleasurable sexuality but also the ways their own sense of entitlement may blind them to those values, leading them to cause harm.

We still have a long way to go to educate both boys and men.


Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Lessons from the Kavanaugh Hearings: Himpathy, Bro Culture, and Sex Education

Anemona Hartocollis and Dana Goldstein of the New York Times write that the Kavanaugh hearings reminded Americans of the entrenched strain of aggressive hypersexualized “bro culture” that still persists today on high school and college campuses (and in many businesses). The bro culture described during Kavanaugh’s high school and college days is not a thing of the past. Studies show that most assaults of young women today are perpetrated by an acquaintance. One in five women in college experience sexual assault on campus. Peggy Orenstein writes that high school and college boys are more likely to rape when they are drunk—without consequences. She explains, “He . . . goes on to professional success and even a happy marriage. Meanwhile, he may have derailed the life of another human being, causing her years, decades, of pain and trauma.” Why is sexual assault in high school and college still so common? No parent wants to think that his or her son is capable of sexual assault, but Orenstein notes that a recent survey of more than three thousand men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five found that “more than 60 percent of respondents had never had a single conversation with their parents about how to be sure that your partner wants to be having sex with you . . . about ‘the importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you,’” or about how to stand up to other young men to stop a sexual assault. In other words, parents of boys are not educating them about responsible and ethical sexuality. Instead, most boys get their sex education in locker rooms, frat houses, and other all-male spaces where they hear that sex is about conquest. They also get their sex education from video games and movies, in which women are frequently portrayed as scantily clad sex objects, and from both everyday and celebrity role models. As for the messages about gender that boys receive from society, Kate Manne writes about the “himpathy” advantage, or “the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide and other misogynistic behavior.” Recent examples include President Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, Thomas, and Kavanaugh, all of whom received sympathy from some while the perspectives of their accusers were erased or dismissed. Manne writes that it is now time for a mass moral reckoning because of “gendered sociopathy,” which relentlessly casts suspicion on female accusers while excusing the behavior of boys and men. Manne notes that this pattern in which the powerful are believed while the vulnerable are dismissed is actually a source of systemic injustice. It sends a clear message to boys and young men that they can treat women disrespectfully and will not be held accountable. If anything is ever going to change, we must

  1. Learn to recognize this pattern of protecting men rather than believing women within ourselves
  2. Listen to girls and women and believe them
  3. Educate boys and young men about the tendency of alcohol to fuel aggressive behavior and about their responsibility to treat women and girls with respect
Are you the parent of boys or young men? What conversations are you having with them about sex?   Photo courtesy of Gratisography.]]>

The #MeToo Anniversary: After One Year, Has Anything Changed?

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published the first story on Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times on October 5, 2017. Their story gave much-needed momentum to the #MeToo movement launched by Tarana Burke more than a decade earlier, which brought to light African American women’s experiences of abuse. The Weinstein accusations started a public outpouring of abuse stories from women, and some men, around the globe and exposed the pervasiveness of this problem. Kantor and Twohey note that it has become clear over the past year that nothing is going to change for women unless we keep speaking out. They state that a reckoning “wide and deep” was reignited one year ago and is likely to continue. In fact, the voicing of sexual assault experiences needs to continue if there is any hope of societal change. The recent Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation process added new fuel to the #MeToo fire by revealing that not much has changed. Women witnessed the demeaning mockery and dismissal of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford by the president and several GOP senators after her public testimony about her assault experience. Kantor and Twohey note that we must continue to tell our stories, in public and in private, because honest sharing of previously hidden traumatic experiences causes subtle adjustments in our collective understanding of the line between right and wrong. They explain, “Progress requires a correct accounting of what women have really faced.” But is anything different after a year of #MeToo? While societal attitudes do not seem to have changed much yet, Zoe Greenberg of the New York Times writes that some laws have changed at the state level and some industry practices are changing as well. For example, since October 2017

  • Some states have passed laws banning or limiting nondisclosure or other confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment.
  • A few states expanded sexual harassment protections to apply to more workers.
  • Certain private companies, including Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft, eliminated forced arbitration agreements when settling sexual harassment claims.
  • Some private companies are including “morality clauses” or “Weinstein clauses” in merger deals or book contracts requiring full disclosure of accusations of sexual harassment.
  • The Screen Actors Guild has published a code of conduct that calls for an end to auditions and professional meetings in homes and hotel rooms.
  • Several women, including Christiane Amanpour, Jennifer Salke, Hoda Kotb, Jennifer Lee, and Tina Smith, have been elevated to replace powerful men like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer who were forced out by multiple sexual harassment accusations.
In another New York Times article, several prominent authors offer warnings and suggestions about what lies ahead:
  • Sarah Polley urges us to notice “how quickly we went from looking openly at the challenges women face to how the conversation about misogyny affects men.” She urges us to stay focused on unearthing women’s experiences.
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon, a legal scholar, notes that the norms of rape culture still permeate the law. She points out that the burden of proof for sexual assault in criminal law are difficult for survivors to meet and statutes of limitation are too short to allow victims of sexual violation to get past their trauma enough to report the event.
  • Stephen Marche writes that men are largely absent from the conversation. He notes that “the only way out of the intractable problems of gender—harassment, the pay gap—will involve robust male participation.”
  • Shanita Hubbard states that race and class have always been the deciding factors in whose pain is prioritized. She explains that “research indicates that African-American women experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian and Latina women. At the same time, their reports of sexual violence are less likely to be recognized by the legal system.”
  • Katie J. M. Baker writes that it is unrealistic to think that men accused of sexual misconduct won’t try to reappear as though nothing happened. She points out that there is a big difference between shunning and effective gatekeeping. The industry gatekeepers must facilitate these comebacks responsibly and with public accountability.
In conclusion, MacKinnon notes, “#MeToo may be the first change toward women achieving human status since the vote.” Our rage and our stories are moving us forward, and we must not be silenced again.   Photo courtesy of GGAADD (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Sexual Harassment at McDonald’s: Workers Demand Protection

Sexual assaults perpetrated by men in high-profile positions have garnered a lot of attention in the news lately. Acknowledging and supporting efforts by low-wage restaurant workers to draw awareness to the lack of safe working conditions is also important. Rachel Abrams of the New York Times reports that for the first time in more than a century, hundreds of restaurant workers employed by McDonald’s went on strike in several cities to demand that the largest fast-food chain in the country do more to combat sexual harassment. Shouting “Hold your burgers, hold your fries, keep your hands off my thighs” or covering their mouths with blue duct tape with “MeToo” written on it, workers protested hostile work environments. Employees described being “trapped” by managers making unwanted advances, being groped by customers, and facing retaliation from supervisors when they complained. Abrams explains that low wage restaurant workers represent a large segment of the US workforce and are typically young people and women, groups that are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. Fight for $15, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, is working to organize and advocate for better pay and working conditions for low-wage workers. The striking employees want McDonald’s to institute stronger policies to protect workers in their fourteen thousand stores in the United States. Their demands include

  • Better training programs for all workers on sexual harassment laws and policies
  • More effective mechanisms to report complaints
  • A corporate committee dedicated to addressing sexual harassment issues
These demands seem basic and reasonable, but Abrams explains that major companies in the fast-food industry often do not feel responsible for bad behavior at individual locations operated by independent franchisees. She cites Mary Joyce Carlson, a Fight for $15 lawyer, who noted that McDonald’s dictates everything from menu boards to hiring practices, so the company can also adopt and enforce policies to identify and prevent sexual harassment. Five steps that McDonald’s can take immediately are
  1. Provide training to workers, and not just to supervisors, on the laws so they know their rights.
  2. Establish multiple mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment, and commit resources to ensure complaints are responded to quickly, making sure that sexual harassment complaint hotlines are staffed and that people who call get help.
  3. Create policies and procedures to protect workers from retaliation.
  4. Train workers on company policies and procedures to prevent harassment of all types.
  5. Listen to workers. Involve them in designing policies and procedures.
Sexual harassment is not about sex—it is about the abuse of power. We must do more as a society to protect vulnerable workers.     Photo courtesy of virginiaretail (CC BY 2.0)]]>

How We All Lose When Women Are Devalued

A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed. As Sallie Krawcheck of the New York Times writes, it can seem like a seismic shift is taking place in our culture as the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault stories, previously unspoken, silenced, or disbelieved, come pouring out. While this outpouring is important, Krawcheck notes that sexual harassment is part of a larger problem in our culture: women are demeaned and devalued. The cost of demeaning and devaluing women is not only the high incidence of sexual harassment and a general culture of rape on our college campuses and elsewhere but a problem that’s costing all of us in other ways as well:

  • Women’s ideas are discounted and their talents ignored in all kinds of social, academic, and work settings. In a previous article, I wrote about Krawcheck’s direct experience with the ways that homogeneity on Wall Street resulted in the groupthink that crashed our economy in 2008 with the subprime lending debacle. Krawcheck was fired from a senior leadership position at Smith Barney for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to be client focused. We all lost when the market crashed.
  • Krawcheck points out that, “despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly with more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top,” as are most other sectors of our economy. Without diversity of perspectives and a broad range of skills, poor decisions get made that can have widespread impact on the lives of everyday people.
I agree with Krawcheck that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are important, but that the current focus on sexual harassment is only one step on the change journey. Valuing girls and women means eliminating gender bias in our workplaces and institutions and creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, schools, and social institutions.   Photo by Sam Valadi, CC BY 2.0.]]>

Invisible Victims of Sexual Harassment: Hotel and Blue-Collar Workers

The tidal wave of public accusations and firings of high-profile men for sexual harassment and assault, known as the #MeToo movement, has swept across several sectors and industries in recent weeks, including technology, entertainment, finance, and government. But not everyone who experiences sexual harassment and assault as an employee feels included in the #MeToo movement. Hotel and blue-collar workers are often invisible victims of sexual harassment for whom participating in the #MeToo movement either is too dangerous or does not help them. Benjamin Mueller of the New York Times explains that hotel workers, especially housekeepers and janitors, are particularly vulnerable to being sexually harassed because they work alone. While some states and several cities have passed laws to protect hotel workers, hotels tend to put the needs and experiences of guests, especially VIPs, before those of employees. Consequently, workers do not trust management to do anything about their complaints and fear being fired as troublemakers if they do report harassment. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable because of limited job opportunities. A union survey of hotel workers in Chicago found that 58 percent of them had been sexually harassed by a guest, so this is no small problem. Difficulties for blue-collar workers were recently revealed in an exposé of sexual harassment at Ford Motor Company written by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn of the New York Times. The most interesting point about the situation at Ford is that sexual harassment is not a new problem there. Women at Ford filed and won a lawsuit for $22 million in the 1990s for sexual harassment and assault in two Chicago plants. The women endured being groped or rubbed against, male colleagues masturbating in front of them, and offers from supervisors for better assignments in exchange for sex—with retribution if they refused. A number of these Ford women worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the 1990s to sue the company and won a settlement, but twenty-five years later, at these same two plants, women are subjected to many of the same abuses. Chira and Einhorn report that when the women complained in the 1990s, they were, “mocked, dismissed, threatened and ostracized.” Many of the men whom they filed complaints against kept their jobs after the settlement, while the women were asked to leave. New sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed with a recent settlement by Ford for $10 million, but, in spite of lots of sexual harassment training, the culture of the organization has never changed. The story of sexual harassment at Ford shows the challenges of transforming an organization’s culture. After the lawsuit of the 1990s, the company did not act aggressively enough to root out the problem. Instead, they

  • Delayed firing those accused.
  • Let sexual harassment training wane.
  • Failed to stop retaliation.
  • Failed to staff an antiharassment hotline. They published the number but calls were not returned.
  • Instituted policies that required witnesses to prove a claim of harassment.
Chira and Einhorn note that while senior leaders at Ford currently make pronouncements about not tolerating sexual harassment as a company, employees say, “They don’t even go on the floor, so they don’t know what goes on.” Blue-collar women at Ford now feel that not only does the #MeToo movement not help them, even lawsuits do not work to improve their work environment. It’s easy to understand how they may feel invisible. We must work together to make their situation visible, amplify their voices, and put pressure on all companies to change their cultures to be safe for workers. As the story of the Ford women demonstrates, lawsuits and training are clearly not enough.   Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre, CC BY 2.0.      ]]>

Sexual Harassment and Assault: A Costly Tax for Women

I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects.  I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.”  Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country.  Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following:

  • One in four women in the United States have been sexually assaulted.
  • One in five women in the United States are victims of rape or attempted rape.
The cost to women who experience sexual assault and harassment in its many forms—many of which were clearly described in the Access Hollywood tape that recorded Donald J. Trump boasting of grabbing, groping, kissing, leering, and committing other violations of the personal boundaries of women without their consent—occurs on many levels.  The cost can be emotional trauma that can be permanently damaging to one’s confidence and self-image, not to mention the pain and humiliation of rape.  I particularly resonate with Taub’s description of the impact of sexual assault on women as an “opportunity tax.” Women are taught early in life that they are responsible for avoiding sexual assault and that it is their fault if it happens to them. Taub cites social scientist Professor Leong, who explains the opportunity tax: “Whereas men can freely seize opportunities, women must pause and weigh the costs of” meeting alone with a professor, going out to dinner with a male client, networking after hours with colleagues at a conference, meeting alone with a potential investor, or going on a business trip with a male boss. Because of sexual harassment and assault, many women quit jobs, leave professions, or step back to avoid risk, thereby damaging their careers and limiting their life choices. A lot of women have come forward to tell their stories since Trump’s words and tone in the Access Hollywood recording struck a chord with many of us. We are outraged by the dismissal of his remarks as “locker room talk.”  Jonathan Miller sums up Trump’s statements well, writing that they reflect a “rape culture” in our larger society.  He explains that talking about objectification of women’s bodies results in the cultural conditioning of men and boys to feel entitled to treat women as sex objects. This is also described by Sam Polk as “bro talk.” Yes, Trump’s comments struck a nerve.  Kelly Oxford posted a tweet sharing her experience of sexual assault on Friday night when the Access Hollywood tape was released, and by Monday morning twenty-seven million people around the world shared first-person accounts or visited her Twitter page.  Shortly before the Access Hollywood tape came to light, I published an article on why sexual harassment happens, and received more than two hundred stories and comments and over 10,000 viewings from readers all over the world on LinkedIn.  The following are a few of those comments from my readers:
  • I work in silence. It’s not nice bosses that have the upper hand over employees. Female Housekeeper
  • I was in a position in which a high ranking male would look at various parts of my body in a very lewd manner. When I filed a complaint, it became his word against mine and nothing was done.  I was asked to transfer to another location. Female Technician
  • I think a lot of sexual harassment begins at home. Dad belittles Mom, Mom tries to keep a straight face because the kids are watching.  Daughter grows up and gets married to a man much like Dad.  This carries over into the daughter’s work life—trapped, not knowing which way to turn, ignoring degrading remarks in order to put food on the table. Female Author and Business Owner
  • One college professor grabbed my backside while at a business club event. Another offered to give me a better grade if I “went out” with him. I took the lower grade.  Things like this happen more frequently than reported. Female Technical Professional
  • This is still a huge problem. I recently wrote about my own experiences with sexual harassment by an executive and admitted my own fear of speaking out because I worried it might damage my reputation. Female Entrepreneur
  • In India, a deeply rooted culture of patriarchy plus inherent misogyny form a dangerous basis of judging the seriousness of any sexual harassment complaint made at the workplace. Female Financial Advisor in India
It is not easy to speak out when demeaning and traumatizing things happen to you.  It helps when we can share our stories and know we are not alone.  We must come out of the shadows with our stories and support each other.  Together we can pressure our society to stop perpetuating a rape culture and to end this opportunity tax for women. Please share your story here, if you have one to tell.   Photo: Daniel Kruczynski License:  ]]>

Why Is It So Hard for Women in the Military to Fit In?

Two million US women are now veterans. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the United States military attempted the integration of women into the military in unprecedented numbers (15 percent of service members during these conflicts were women), opening combat and leadership roles to women for the first time. Yet, although women distinguished themselves as leaders and soldiers, Emily King of the Minnesota Women’s Press noted that “service women often feel disrespected and devalued, and many face discrimination.” Benedict Carey of the New York Times and King agree on two of the main factors that make life in the military so hard for women:

  • A sense of isolation for women that undermines their confidence and can lead to depression and suicide
  • The way the military treats sexual trauma, an experience that is more common for women than for men in the military

Isolation—Why Does It Happen?

The isolation women face in the military is not unlike what happens to women in other male-dominated industries and organizations, as described in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. As in other male-dominated organizations, women often see other women as their competition and do not support or bond with each other. King quoted military women who said, “Women generally don’t bond with other women,” and “There’s a sense of competition [between women] . . . fed by their superiors comparing them with other women rather than with their male peers.” While this dynamic of competition is not unique to the military, the impact on women under conditions of deployment and war may be especially severe. In addition, women in the military also have difficulty bonding with their male peers because they must all live together. Fear of rumors of romantic alliances, along with the potential misinterpretation of friendly gestures by a male peer, results in more isolation for women. It is not surprising, then, that their experience of exclusion has led to an alarming level of hopelessness and alienation felt among many women in the military and a resulting increase in the suicide rate for female soldiers during and after deployment. The rate of depression after deployment is also higher for women than men. The exception is for women who found companionship with other women while in the military.

Sexual Assault

King reported that according to government statistics, “About one in four women experience unwanted sexual contact in the military, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape.” Because reporting sexual assault is discouraged by the structure and procedures of the military, the percentages could be as high as three in four women. The chain of command system of determining guilt means that cases are not reported to civilian authorities, and a highly sexualized boy’s club culture means that perpetrators are seldom held accountable. Consequently, little support exists for those reporting sexual assaults. While Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, proposed a bill in 2014 that would move these cases out of military courts to prevent commanders from making decisions about prosecuting subordinates for rape and sexual assault, it did not pass in the Senate.

What Needs to Change?

The military needs to recognize the challenges faced by women that men do not face. To create a healthier and more supportive environment in which women can continue to excel without enduring the psychological and emotional damage that results from isolation and sexual assault, the military needs to make several changes:
  • Encourage supportive environments where women can bond and be supportive of each other. Organizations do this by promoting the formation and functioning of affinity groups.
  • Reward a wide range of leadership styles. As in corporations, while women can adopt a masculine leadership style, this style doesn’t play to the strengths of many women. Having to pretend you are someone you’re not, especially in the stressful context of military deployment, can take a toll.
  • Support passage and implementation of laws and policies that would move prosecution of sexual assault cases to civilian authorities to restore credibility and accountability.
Ultimately, we need more women in the senior ranks of the military, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff level, to get the changes that will allow everyone who desires a military career to thrive and bring their best to their service.   Image credit: Photo courtesy of US Army (]]>

Why Is Violence Against Women So Widespread? Where Is the Outrage?

recent article in the New York Times reported these statistics:

  • 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical violence.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged twelve to sixteen said they experienced some form of sexual harassment in school.
  • In the European Union, only 14 percent of women reported their most serious episode of domestic violence to the police because these reports are not taken seriously.
Violence against women has reached epidemic proportions and is present in every single country around the world. Sisonke Msimang, in her article “The Backlash Against African Women,” suggested that the surge in violence against women can be understood as a backlash against the progress that women have made in recent years. She contended that, especially in Africa, “it has taken some time for the conservative backlash to develop into a coherent and organized force” joined by churches, tribal leaders, and politicians.

Progress for Women and Girls

If we see the epidemic of violence as a backlash against women’s advances, what are these advances? Somini Sangupta of the New York Times reported that positive changes have occurred in the global context over the past twenty years, as a result of pressure put on world governments by the participants at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women:
  • As many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary school.
  • Maternal mortality has fallen by half.
  • Women are more likely to be in the labor force, although a significant gender pay gap persists.
  • The share of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled, though women still account for only one in five legislators.
  • More countries have passed laws protecting the rights of women, though the laws do not mean anything if police, judges, and medical personnel do not take violence against women seriously.
Clearly, progress has been made, but there is still more work to do.

What We Can Do to Stop Violence Against Women

To start with, we have to find our outrage about worldwide violence against women before we can find the energy and inspiration to take action locally. Msimang reported that the only effective deterrent to a wave of new laws proposed in South Africa to limit the rights of women has been a “loud and organized women’s movement.” In India, large numbers of people, women and men, turned out to demonstrate against the lax laws and sexist attitudes that encourage rape and harassment of women, and, consequently, new legislation has been passed. In addition, a public debate has begun about the treatment of women in India. In the United States, media attention and demonstrations have put the spotlight on campus rape and have embarrassed some high-profile universities into changing the policies and practices that allowed them to turn a blind eye to rape on campus in the past. Where’s your outrage? What can you do in your community to help ensure that girls and women are not harassed or assaulted? Do you know the statistics on sexual assault in your community and local schools? Do you know the statistics on domestic violence in your community? Do you know the status of local shelters for victims of domestic violence? What can you do to educate your neighbors and organize local support for schools and neighborhoods to prevent sexual violence? Thinking globally and being informed is essential, but we can all find a way to act locally to stop violence against women.]]>