Sexual assault in the military has become a topic of much debate this year, bringing huge amounts of media scrutiny to an issue that's all-too-often covered up or ignored. However, there remains one area of military sexual assault that's gone largely unmentioned and unexamined: the issue of attacks on men, who, according to a new New York Times report, comprise 53 percent of military sexual assault victims.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012 (up from 19,000 in 2010). This led many — including President Obama — to rightfully claim that sexual assault in the military has reached epidemic proportions. Quite a few Republican responses to these findings, though, were (predictably) sexist and shitty and furthermore minimized the issue entirely — for instance, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R, Georgia) blamed the increased rate of assaults on "hormones." Not only do responses like this make it seem that sexual assault has something to do with unfettered (heterosexual) lust, it also erases completely the suffering of male victims.
In the words of First Lt. Adam Cohen, who alleges that he was raped by a superior officer:
“It’s easy for some people to single out women and say: ‘There’s a small percentage of the force having this problem.' No one wants to admit this problem affects everyone. Both genders, of all ranks. It’s a cultural problem.”
As Amanda Marcotte at Slate points out, this confirms something that feminists have been arguing for years. Sexual assault in the military is not the result of "an overabundance of sexual desire;" rather, it's "an act of violence perpetrated by people who want to hurt and humiliate the victim, using sex as a weapon." Former New York State prosecutor Roger Canaff, who helps train sexual assault prosecutors for the Pentagon agrees with this sentiment: “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he told the New York Times.
There are some who argue that the increase in assaults is a direct result of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which is absolutely ridiculous. Sexual assault advocates disagree strongly with this logic, arguing that the increased instances of assault stems from harmful attitudes and a hostile environment in which sexual assault and harassment are tacitly condoned. “A lot of people say this problem exists because we are allowing women into the military or because of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” said Rick Lawson, an Iraq veteran who was sexually harassed and groped by his fellow soldiers on multiple occasions. “But that is absurd. The people who perpetrated these crimes on me identify as heterosexual males.” Furthermore, before DADT was repealed, a male-on-male rape victim could face being discharged for having sexual contact — even nonconsensual sexual contact — with another man.
According to Cynthia O. Smith, a Department of Defense spokeswoman, increased sexual assault prevention efforts will contain provisions geared toward male survivors. They will look to address a variety of male-specific issues, including "why male survivors report at much lower rates than female survivors, and determining the unique support and assistance male survivors need." It's yet another small step in the right direction, but it's come far, far too late for the tens of thousands of men affected.
"In Debate Over Military Sexual Assault, Men Are Overlooked Victims" [NYT]
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