Ongoing rampant sexual assault within America's armed forces is a tragedy. The 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members (WGRA) found that an estimated 26,000 active-duty servicemembers were sexually assaulted last year, and recent allegations of sexual assault by officers assigned to prevent that very crime have lent the situation a sinister irony. The U.S. military is clearly facing, in the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, "a crisis."
Last week, Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, declared that confronting the problem was his "No. 1 priority." Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno went further, saying: "The Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment." He said that fighting the crime is now "our primary mission." Repeating the claims of his two predecessors, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel vowed to solve the chronic problem of sexual assault and stated that "every option is on the table."
The estimated incidents of "unwanted sexual contact" within the military have increased since the previous survey in 2010 despite internal reforms. When reviewing the Pentagon and service websites dedicated to preventing sexual assault, it is difficult to comprehend the vast number of new directives, memoranda, instructions, policies, and awareness-raising campaigns that have been introduced over the past three years -- none of which seems to be having an effect. Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, referred to these efforts as "half-hearted, half-measured reform Band-Aids."
Unfortunately, however admirable the recent condemnations of sexual assault in the military, they're unlikely to have much impact, because sexual assault in the military is not a military problem. It is an American problem. Scholars, retired officers, and others have longed warned of the creeping militarization of American society. However, as the Pentagon yet again renews its sexual assault prevention efforts, it must not discount the socialization of the American military.
The data suggest that one servicemember is sexually assaulted every 20 minutes and that one American citizen is sexually assaulted every two minutes, but it is difficult to directly compare military and civilian sexual assault rates. The WGRA defines "unwanted sexual contact" as "completed or attempted sexual intercourse, sodomy (oral or anal sex), penetration by an object, and the unwanted touching of genitalia and other sexually-related areas of the body." Survey participants were asked to report incidents occurring in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice survey used to calculate sexual assaults nationwide asks participants if anyone has "attacked" or "threatened" them by "grabbing, punching, or choking" or by "any rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual act" over the course of the past six months.