In Which The Senate Should Just Be Ashamed

Like many advocates working on the issue of sexual assault, I was relieved when I first heard that the Senate was finally-~-FINALLY-~-going to be holding a hearing on the issue of sexual assault in the military.  The rampant sexual violence experienced by men and particularly by women in uniform should be considered a national embarrassment, and our government’s lack of willingness to act has been frustrating at best and heartbreaking at worst.  Though the military has begun to take steps to try to reduce incidence at West Point and the Air Force Academy, the reality is that far, far more needs to be done.

The problem is, I’m not sure the Senate is going to do it right.

Remember last year, when hearings were held about birth control and no women were invited to speak?  Instead of learning from that, the Senate put together a line-up wherein NO SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT WILL BE ASKED TO SPEAK on the issue of sexual assault in the military.  Wonderful.  On top of that, of the 20 people asked to testify, only 2 are in favor of reform.  The other 18 all oppose the kinds of reform that advocates and activists have been pushing for.

What kind of reforms ARE we looking at?  So far, no one seems to be against providing more support for survivors, and that’s a good start, but it doesn’t change the way that the military handles these incidents.  Military chiefs also seemed amenable to tougher laws for sex offenders.  A fifth of the Senate co-sponsored a bill that would remove the ability to oversee these cases from commanding officers and give that power to uniformed prosecutors.  And that’s where the military leaders drew the line: they don’t want this power taken away from unit commanders, saying it undermines they way in which the military operates.

Here’s WHY we need uniformed prosecutors handling this, instead of unit commanders: unit commanders have a vested interest in the operation of their unit, and may deem a perpetrator’s work to be too valuable to actually take action against him/her.  Unit commanders may also decide to take action against survivors for being “troublemakers”.  People high up in the military hierarchy are often unable to provide the necessary levels of oversight to ensure that unit commanders are, in fact, adequately addressing this issue-~-a problem that Gen. Martin E. Dempsey admitted to.

But back to the Senate, and why I’m so frustrated: it’s pretty clear that at least some of the Senate Armed Services Committee have zero interest in seeing reforms passed, and in fact are somewhat tragically out of touch with the issue.  The only word I can think of for the kinds of comments that have been made by some of our Senators is “embarrassing”.

For example, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) claimed that because those who enter the military are young, their hormone levels drive them to commit these acts.  His argument, which was echoed by Senator Jeff Sessions, is essentially that men lose control when they are aroused around women, and this has led to high levels of sexual assault, and this is why we apparently have no ability to address the problem.

Sorry…what?

So first of all, the facts indicate that no matter WHAT conservative politicians seem to think, sexual assault is not about sex, it is about dominance.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that, I could have paid for this semester of college, easily.  Even though most men experience high levels of sexual desire, only a very small minority (Slate’s sources indicate about 5-6%) commit rape.  The reality is that men are not mindless machines controlled by their erections-~-and if they were, would we really want people with no self-control in our military?

I think not.

It’s probably worth it to give a nod to the seven women on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who grilled military leaders and challenged the incredibly false statements put forth by colleagues like Chambliss.  Senator Claire McCaskill pointed out that it is absolutely ridiculous, and unacceptable, to treat a violent crime as a human resources issue.

I feel like I have to pause to point this out a lot, but rape is a felony.  When universities treat it like it’s just student misconduct, and the military treats it like an HR issue, the severity of the action gets downplayed, and it is not adequately addressed.  We would never just stand there and allow members of our armed services to violently beat each other and leave the bodies covered in bruises, or to commit crimes such as armed robbery; why would we allow them to get away with sexual assault, simply because the context is sexual?

The reality is, our men and women in uniform deserve better than to be subject to sexual violence.  They absolutely deserve better than to be subjected to sexual violence and then given no means of recourse.  The military has come to serve as a microcosm of some of the elements of rape culture that our society as a whole struggles with: the position of the perpetrator being used as an excuse not to take action, victims being silenced and/or punished for coming forward, people in authority failing to take the issue seriously, male survivors not being given enough attention, and survivors being accused of lying are all systemic issues that have become magnified within the military context.  But we can do better, and we must start doing better.  Those who risk their lives to defend the United States deserve better, and it’s time for Congress to come through, for once.

To those Senators who fought to keep survivors off the panel and continue to victim-blame and refuse to engage with the real facts about sexual assault: you should be ashamed.  You should be ashamed that as members of our government you are willing to stand up and say that men simply have no control, that this is not the time to act; you should be ashamed that you are not willing to listen to the voices of those who have survived these abuses, that you are only truly willing to listen to those who oppose reform, that you stand not with those of our troops who have endured trauma at the hands of their comrades, but with those who perpetrate violence, or those who let it happen.

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~ by Randi Saunders on June 5, 2013.

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