There has been much hand wringing about the deplorable behavior of men in the military, up and down the command structure, and the sexual abuse of women and men under their command as well as their trainees and protegees. It is beyond disgusting. All agree something must be done.
I was thrilled when a female Air Force three-star General's promotion was held up because she overturned the sexual assault conviction of an officer under her command. While there is a chance she was ill-advised by her male colleagues that "that is the way things are done" if she wanted to get ahead - like a lot of people, I didn't care. Yes, it is unfortunate that a woman would be scrutinized for this behavior in a way that a man had not and I don't care because it is time for the military to stop viewing sexual assault as a hazard of the job and to fully embrace there is no room for abuse of power in the military. After all, the appearance that one's commander does not have the best interest of the men and women under his/her command firmly in his/her sights undermines unit cohesion.
I know this because I am the daughter of a former Marine. Over its history, the military has been a microcosm of how to address a variety of social issues in our country, including "racial" integration, "don't ask don't tell", the integration of gay people and the inclusion of women in combat situations.
It is therefore fascinating for me to watch members of Congress express outrage over how the military is and is not handling the sexual assault of women when some of those same members of Congress opposed and weakened the original Violence Against Women Act and delayed the most recent renewal. If Congress wants to truly transform how sexual assault is handled in the military, then Congress needs to be willing to transform how sexual assault is handled in the our society as a whole. Too many men (and some women) are more concerned about the reputations of "good men" being spoiled than they are providing justice for those harmed. Men assumed to be "good" have used that assumption to betray social trust time and again; and still the powers that be (read those who identify with those good men) hold victims accountable for the bad behavior of their perpetrators.
Let's face it, the women and men in the military are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephew, and cousins; brothers and sisters; generational aunts and uncles; and mothers and fathers for some. We have every right to expect them to be the best of us. Yet, precisely because our society continues to maintain antiquated values regarding the rights of women in terms of sexual assault, in particular, and equity in general, we have exactly the military we deserve: one that delivers above and beyond the call on one hand and breaks our hearts on the other.
Sexual abuse of men or women is abhorrent. Period! There are those parsing the statistics from the most recent report to make the case that gay men are responsible for most of the assaults against me. This is clearly an antigay canard. Sexual abuse is about power, control and humiliation; not about sex, sexual orientation or gender identification.
Unlike racial integration and the integration of gay people in the military, I believe that the military cannot be depended upon to lead the way to end sexual abuse. If we really want them to change, we as a society need to change. We need to take sexual abuse seriously, particularly when the perpetrators come from among the privileged classes.
(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013