The Bad, the Worse and the Horrible on Rape in the Military

The Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on Tuesday into the epidemic of rape in the armed forces. Rape in the military is at a horrific level, and while the military has been arguing that it can clean up its act, the numbers belie that argument. In 2012 alone, there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the US armed forces, numbers that are an outrage to pretty much any thinking person.

Fortunately for senior military officials, the hearing was not just attended by thinking people. Senate Republicans showed up as well. And their responses to the spate of sexual assaults ranged from clueless to downright despicable.

The Bad

In defense of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., he does seem to understand that the sexual assault crisis in the military is a serious problem that needs attention.

“At its core, this is an issue about defending basic human rights but it’s also a long-term threat to the strength of our military.†We have to ask ourselves: if left uncorrected, what impact will this problem have on recruitment and retention of qualified men and women?” McCain asked during the hearing. “I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military. Weíve been talking about this issue for years and talk is insufficient.”

Very true, and while it’s sad to say McCain deserves credit for finding rape despicable, given his peers in the GOP, he really does. Unfortunately, McCain’s short-term fix is just flat wrong.

“Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not,” McCain said.

Look, I get it: if my daughter was older and wanted to serve in the military, I would absolutely be concerned about sexual assault. But when we say that women should stay out of the military because of rape, we’re really giving the rapists what they want. Rape is more about power than sex, and rape in the military is all about demonstrating to women, in the most graphic and terrible way, that they are not welcome.

It’s the same impulse that leads us to tell women they shouldn’t walk alone at night. Okay, maybe it’s good advice, but when we focus on that, we lose sight of the fact that victims of rape do not bear responsibility for being raped — their assailants do.

Now, if McCain’s had been the worst statement of the day, it would hardly merit comment. However, McCain’s ineptitude looks angelic compared to two of his fellow senators.

The Worse

According to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., maybe the problem isn’t that men in the military are raping women. Maybe the real problem is porn.

“Mr. Chairman, Iíd just add a letter, a document here that was given to me from Morality in the Media,” said Sessions during the debate. “Pat Truman used to be in the Department of Justice. I knew him when he was there.†He points out that, a picture here of a newsstand and an Air Force base exchange with, you know, sexually explicit magazines being sold. So, we live in a culture thatís awash in sexual activity. If itís not sold on base, itís right off base. There are videos and so forth that can be obtained, and it creates some problems, I think.

Now, it goes without saying, but the vast majority of people who watch or read porn in some form do not go out and rape people. Indeed, there’s some evidence that the wide availability of pornography online has helped to reduce the rate of sexual assault, though obviously, there’s a question of whether it’s causation or correlation at work.

Additionally, sexual assault in the military has been a problem long before porn was widely available. The newly-released book What Soldiers Do documents a wave of rape and sexual assault by American soldiers in France during World War II. Those soldiers weren’t induced to rape by a Playboy at the PX; Playboy didn’t exist then.

Sessions is conflating sex with rape. A soldier who buys a smutty video isn’t then turned into a wild, uncontrollable rape fiend. They’re much more likely to watch it and go to bed by himself. Or herself.

Still, at least there might be a tiny sliver of something useful in this. It’s conceivable that pornography could be used as part of sexual harassment, as part of a pattern to make the military unwelcome to women. It’s kind of not the point of the hearing, but I can at least see it. Nobody managed to top the worst statement of the day, the week, and possibly the year.

The Horrible

“The young folks who are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature†sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful how we address it on our side.”

In three short sentences, Chambliss manages to declare rape an intractable problem that is a natural consequence of being 20 years old, and nothing we want to rush to correct in any way, shape or form.

This is news, I think, to most people who are older than 17. For most of us, either those of us living through those hormonally-crazed years or those on the other side of them, we can acknowledge that there was a point in time where we were perhaps more driven by sex than we are now. But for the vast majority of us, we can look back on that period in our lives as a time when we didn’t rape anyone. Indeed, as a time when we weren’t even remotely tempted to rape anyone.

Chambliss’ argument boils down to “boys will be boys.” Guys have hormones, these hormones make us rape women, what are you gonna do? Well, for one thing, not rape people. Guys and gals with hormones manage to make that difficult choice every day.

But maybe rapists are different. Maybe their hormones are ridiculously high, right? Wrong. There’s no significant correlation between testosterone level and propensity to rape. Indeed, a 1976 study indicated that non-rapists actually had slightly higher levels of testosterone than rapists did.

Now, are two 20-year-olds more likely to hook up randomly than two 40-year-olds? Probably. But that’s just it — they’re more likely to have sex. And rape is not about sex.

If you doubt that, consider this: nearly half of the victims of sexual assault in the military in 2011 were victims of male-on-male sexual assault. And no, before you leap to that conclusion, this was not caused by gay men raping straight men. Those numbers showed no significant change before or after repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

No, rape is about asserting dominance — and rapists are more than willing to assault men in violent, degrading ways, as long as they think they can get away with it. It’s about shaming and belittling other people, teaching them “their place.”

That’s why Chambliss’ statement is so abhorrent. It’s not just that he says that men can’t help but rape — a lie that is far more anti-male than anything feminists could ever come up with — but that he uses this to justify doing nothing. In short, Chambliss looked at men abusing men and women alike, and he’s siding with the abusers. Even on a day with bad statements from his fellow Republicans, this is an entirely different level of awful.


Image Source: U.S. Air Force Media


Jim V
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm5 years ago

And he surely wants the 50s back where no black man would ever consider running and winning the Presidency,

Robert H.
Robert Hamm5 years ago

don't let Bill get to you Mary he is a lunatic. He wants the country back in the 1950s where you woman knew yer effing place and it was at home making cookies and sech.. yer only allowed to serve your country in the old traditional ways after all. chuckles.

Annaliisa A.

A very disturbing situation.
Hopefully there will be improvement.
It is horrible to think that it is the fellow comrades in arms soldiers should be afraid of.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese5 years ago

I hate to say this but Eygpt used the lash on a rape victim, because she did not have one of her family present while being raped so she is guilty of dishonoring her family name and thus the Lash. What insanity.

Our sweet government is sticking its head into the military and telling them that they need to do this and that when the military has years of experience of training our young people in the art of warfare and our administration should have let the military run their own programs and not turn it into a Social experiment.

Richard Anonymous

I believe in equal opportunity and that males and females are able to live and work together harmoniously; HOWEVER, proper education education/socialization as well as effective laws and consequences are necessary -- both in the military and in civilian life. Sex ed in school should have a strong anti-rape focus and respect focus. Unfortunately, we need to acknowledge that a MINORITY of males will use their physical strength advantage to indulge their hormonal impulses and that a strong and effective deterrent is necessary for these men. It might sound old-fashioned, but a return to the imposition of corporal punishment (that is, whipping, caning, or strapping), which has been the traditional and time-tested punishment for sex crime around the world should strongly be considered. Many nations, such as Singapore and Malaysia still use such punishment and with enviable success, and even the most progressive nations did the same thing until mid way through the 1900s. In our modern co-ed society, military, workplaces, and college dorms, we need the lash more than ever to keep women and girls safe. Why don't we want this tool in our tool kit? Lashing is an amazingly cost-effective addition to a prison term that would definitely cause many morally weak men to think twice before crossing a line. How can we say that we are doing all we can for women if we do not even consider bringing back the lash to keep them safe from serious crime and enable them to feel safe enough to

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

Bill R.... you are really disgusting.... Maybe if your daughter was raped it would be OK?....You have so much hate for your BLACK President that it colours your whole life....
You tell outright lies !!!

Robert H.
Robert Hamm5 years ago

Bill, there is NO excuse for rape! NONE!!!! Not in the military and not in civilian life.

It shows a complete lack of respect for half of our country. Hilary has nothing to do with this. Obama has nothing to do with this. I am sure NONE of the rapists thought Oh This is all cuz of Hilary. We are simply not holding men to a high enough standard.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese5 years ago

It is no wonder there are a record number of rapes in our military, look at what the administration has done to our military and then on top of that look at the examples of our WH security details and Hillary's security details hiring prostitutes on our money. One of Hillary's ambassadors even was trying to hire minors for his prostitute.
Our government is corrupt and we expect our military to become angels? Who are we kidding? We are supposed to lead by example not by do as I say but not as I do. Same with our Presidents half-brother being one of the leaders of Al-Qaida and still we wonder why Obama favors Al-Qaida in Libya.
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