Last summer, after 48 female military trainees said they had been sexually assaulted or otherwise unprofessionally treated by around two dozen instructors at the Lackland Air Force base, the Air Force reassured everyone they were launching an aggressive investigation that would get to the root of why so many officials view basic training as an all-you-can-eat sex crime buffet. Today, the Air Education and Training Command announced the solution: a "wingman policy." From now on, all Air Force trainees must be accompanied by at least one classmate at all times. What's next, chastity belts?
Look, the buddy system works great in kindergarten classrooms and summer camp field trips to theme parks! Bros in sports bars across America would be hopelessly lost without their slurring wingmen by their side. But when we're talking about a massive sex crime scandal in one of the military's busiest training centers that obviously (obviouslyyyyy) has something to do with the men in power — so far, the top commander of basic training has been fired, a staff sergeant has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes including rape and aggravated sexual assault involving 10 trainees, five military training instructors have been convicted of sexual assaults or unprofessional relationships with trainees or students, and many others are still under investigation or have charges pending — a wingman policy is not only a dumb idea, it's an unbelievably offensive one.
"Can you imagine if leaders in our civilian society suggested that in order to prevent rape or assault we must never be alone?" Nancy Parrish, president of the Burlingame, California-based group, asked Bloomberg. (Uh, unfortunately, yes. But at least cops stop short of requiring ladies who dare to leave the house to stick together by law! For now.)
The most frustrating part of the Command's new policy is that SO many other people have come up with progressive, workable alternatives to combat rampant sex abuse in the military that focus on the system itself, not the system's victims, which are many: the Defense Department estimates that about 19,000 people are sexually assaulted per year. (Way fewer are reported, of course; and it's EASY TO SEE WHY.) Let's name some, shall we?
U.S. Representatives Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, and Jackie Speier are awesome advocates for the cause and have called for tougher military measures, including one that would make it a crime for a supervisor to know about sexual abuse but not report it. Hmm, is that a solution that blames the victim? Nope!
Speier has also said the military should revamp its judicial system so that sex crimes are handled outside the chain of command, making it so superiors won't try and hush things up to make themselves look better, an issue found to often be the case at Lackland. Hmm, is that a solution that blames the victim? Double nope!
Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine officer who is now the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, has said boot camp's, well, boot-campish environment makes it hard to ask for help when you're being yelled at constantly; what about rethinking the ways trainees actually report sexual assault? Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also talked about pushing policies that would make it easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and be taken seriously. Hmm, is that a solution that blames the victim? Triple nope!
General Edward A. Rice Jr, the commander of training and education for the Air Force, has said he would consider hiring more female MTIs — MAYBE a good idea, since out of the 500 instructors who train about 35,000 cadets annually, only 11 percent are women, compared to 22 percent of the recruits. Hmm, is that a solution that blames the victim? Quadruple nope!
Hey, Command: any thoughts? We know, we know: trying to rework the system and change the culture does sound like a challenge. And a wingman system sounds so simple!
To be fair, The Air Education and Training Command also said it will "increase and strengthen leadership positions" at Lackland and that an expanded leadership orientation course "will place additional emphasis on the potential for abuse of power, sexual assault, unprofessional relationships, and maltreatment or maltraining." Thanks for throwing us a bone, guys! But why does the only clear-cut solution enforced so far penalize the trainees instead of the instructors — some of whom were unsurprisingly found, in an independent investigation by the Air Force chief of safety, to be "too immature and inexperienced to effectively exercise the authority and power they were given over trainees."
Huh. Too immature and inexperienced? Sounds like some people need to be treated like little kids and kept on a tight leash! (Or, you know, fired.) We're not talking about the trainees.