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Sexual Assaults and Cultural Confusion in the Military's New Gender Order

June 2, 2013
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You know things are bad when the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, issues a statement to the troops declaring that "the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment is our primary mission." [1]  And Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced that sequestration cutbacks will affect everyone but sexual assault professionals in the military.  [2]  Let's hope that our nation's potential adversaries don't take advantage of our military leaders' current distractions.

The Pentagon has been hit by an internal explosive device − the latest report of the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office (SAPRO).  In two hefty volumes, the 2013 SAPRO report  documents the dysfunctional consequences of social experiments with human sexuality in our military over many years.  Failing to see the big picture, the Department of Defense is moving ahead with plans to extend problems of sexual assault and misconduct into the combat arms.

Consider the trends.  According to Volume I of the 2013 report, between 2004 and 2012, numbers of completed assault cases including civilians nearly doubled, from 1,700 to 3,374.  Cases of sexual assault among military personnel escalated from 1,275 to 2,949, an increase of 129%. [3] 

This is not the first report card with failing grades on sexual misconduct.  According to an Army Gold Book report released in 2012, violent attacks and rapes in Army ranks nearly doubled since 2006, rising from 663 in 2006 to 1,313 in 2011, and sex crimes accelerated at an average rate of 14.6% per year, and the rate was accelerating. [4]

How can this be?  Mandatory sensitivity training programs have consumed untold man-hours, and the military has more sexual assault response coordinators (25,000) than it does recruiters (19,000). [5]  Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinsky, the Air Force's highest-ranking SARC who was arrested for allegedly groping a women after hours in Arlington, VA, reportedly earned $132,000 per year. 

There aren't too many careers that allow professionals to take credit no matter what happens.  SARC professionals express satisfaction when sexual assault numbers keep going up, because that means that complainants feel more comfortable coming forward.  If this is "success," what does failure look like?  

Indicators can be found in Volume II of the SAPRO Report, which sets forth "virtual" findings extrapolated from the Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active-Duty Members (WGRA).  Of the nearly 26,000 WGRA survey respondents, 6.1% of women and 1.2% of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact (USC) in the past year − far more than actual complaints filed. [6] 

According to a New York Times analysis of 2012 figures, 12,100 of the 203,000 women on active-duty, and 13,900 of 1.2 million active-duty men, said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact. [7]  If these estimates are used to justify more funding for SAPRO programs, they should call into question claims that repeal of the 1993 law called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been a complete "success."  Consider:

  • Charts in Volume I of the 2013 SAPRO report showing gender breakdowns of completed investigations reveal that 12% of actual unrestricted reports and more than 13% of restricted (confidential) reports were filed by military men.  Only 2% of "subjects" (alleged perpetrators) were women, meaning that 98% were men.  [8]
  • Anu Bhagwati, Executive director of the Service Women Action Network (SWAN) conceded this point in referencing the previous year's SAPRO report for 2012, analyzing 2011 data.  Said Bhagwati in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, "The DoD estimates that 19,300 sexual assaults occurred in 2010, and that while 8,600 victims were female, 10,700 were male." 
  • Speaking for the Protect Our Defenders group at the same hearing, Brian K. Lewis, former Petty Officer 3rd Class, USN, cited the same estimated figures and added, "To translate this into percentages, about 56 percent of estimated victims in our military are men."  [9]
  • A line graph in Volume II shows survey results on questions asked to determine the "Percent of Active-Duty Members Who Have Experienced Unwanted Sexual Contact, by Gender."  The graph shows no change for women (32% in both 2010 and 2012), but a significant increase among men reporting "Unwanted Touching," from 31% in 2010 to 51% in 2012.  This is a 64.5% increase among men, but it appears just above the highly-misleading claim that there were "no statistically significant differences for women or men" in the years highlighted. [10]

Connecting the dots, it appears that the DoD has a serious problem with male-on-male sexual assaults that men are not reporting and the Pentagon doesn't want to talk about.  Furthermore, the wide gap in gender breakdowns of the estimated percentages, compared to escalating numbers of actual reports, seems to suggest that men are even more reluctant than women to file complaints. 

Will Forcing Women into Land Combat Reduce Sexual Assaults?

Elitist policy makers keep pretending that human sexuality does not matter, and that men and women are interchangeable in all roles.  Instead of re-evaluating the consequences of flawed policy changes, the administration is pushing ahead with determined, incremental steps that will extend sexual misconduct problems into Marine and Army infantry, armor, artillery, Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALs.

Since there is not a single valid military reason to do this (for decades, military women have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men) advocates of women in combat have contrived a false argument that was voiced by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey in January. 

Women would get more respect and experience fewer assaults, said Dempsey, if they serve in the combat arms.  This meme is a throwback to arguments made in 1991 by then-Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder in 1991.  When male and female aviators embarrassed the Navy by partying wildly at the Las Vegas Tailhook convention, the Colorado feminist maintained that if female pilots entered tactical aviation, respect for women would increase and sexual assaults would decrease.[11]

More than twenty years later, actual experience has discredited Schroeder's theory.  Respect for military women is higher than ever, but rates of sexual assault and other forms of misconduct are soaring with no end in sight.

Charges against all sex offenders, if true, warrant swift punishment.  But Pentagon policy-makers also should be held accountable for years of social experiments testing flawed theories of human perfection and a "New Gender Order" that exists nowhere in the world. 

Sound Policy for Women in the Military

What to do?  First, do no harm.  To truly honor and respect our military women, Pentagon officials and members of Congress should take action before the administration extends unresolved social issues into the combat arms.  If the same due diligence that is required in other matters of national defense is applied to matters involving women, Congress would take a thoughtful approach that could be called "Sound Policy for Women in the Military." [12]

Using authority invested by Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution, Congress should define and codify women's exemptions from direct ground combat battalions that attack the enemy, while recognizing contingent or incident-related combat "in harm's way" in a war zone.  Clear definitions and codification of women's exemption from direct ground combat would remove the need to impose "gender-neutral" (actually, gender-normed) standards on tough Army Ranger training, the Marine Infantry Officer Course (IOC), and high-attrition programs that produce elite Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALs.

This is the only way to ensure that standards remain high and identical for all trainees, and to avoid costly attempts to gender-norm male-oriented combat training, which would demoralize the men and increase resentment of women who are not to blame.  Such efforts ultimately would be futile because feminists have always demanded removal of tough standards that they consider to be "barriers" to women's careers.

Congressional action to codify sound, reality-based policies also would preserve women's exemption from Selective Service obligations and a possible future draft.   As CMR explained in a Policy Analysis, in 1981 the Supreme Court tied women's exemptions from Selective Service to their ineligibility for direct ground combat. [13]

Until Congress has a better understanding of why issues of sexual misconduct keep increasing, common sense would argue that problems known to exist should not be transferred into "tip of the spear" fighting units that currently are all-male. 

Would Changes in the UCMJ Help to Reduce or Punish Sexual Assaults?

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), commanders are responsible for everything that happens in their area of responsibility, including decisions regarding career-ending non-judicial punishments or courts-martial.  Some members of Congress want to reduce sexual assaults by removing such cases from the chain of command of the defendant or the complainant.

Senators Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are promoting legislation to strip commanders of their rarely-used UCMJ Article 60 authority to overturn court-martial convictions, shifting that power to separate military lawyers without the responsibility for command.  This controversial move was sparked when Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin exercised his option as Convening Authority to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a subordinate officer, Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. [14]

Contrary to early reports, Gen. Franklin put his own career on the line after he had conducted his own thorough review of all evidence and testimony in the 2012 Wilkerson case.  In a detailed six-page letter, Franklin informed the Secretary of the Air Force that he considered the conviction of Lt. Col. Wilkerson to be unjust because of the lack of evidence and contradictions that could not be resolved. [15]  Feminist critics in Congress nevertheless have insisted that this case justifies abolishing Article 60 of the UCMJ.

In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), Campbell Law School Professor William  A. Woodruff, a former Army colonel and judge advocate general, explained why it would be a mistake to repeal Article 60 of the UCMJ: "I fear we are about to jettison a component of the military justice system that serves both the need to insure good order and discipline within the command and provide the accused with a prompt and meaningful right of appellate review."  [16] 

Senators Gillibrand and Boxer, together with Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Chuck Grassley (IA), are primary sponsors of controversial legislation to take responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the victim's chain of command, putting it into the hands of specialized prosecutors.  Rep. Jackie Speier(D-CA) and other members of the House Armed Services Committee have been promoting similar legislation, calling for an independent oversight office to prosecute sex crimes.

Unintended Consequences of Proposed Remedies for Sexual Assaults

Programs to improve legal representation of both complainants and persons accused of sexual misconduct are a step in the right direction, but before the military's unique system of justice is radically changed, caution is in order.  The military protects individual rights but it must be governed by different rules.  Rights of both accusers and the accused depend on due process, not command or political interference in the military justice system.

There are good reasons why rights of due process must be scrupulously guarded in matters of sexual assault.  As reported recently in the Washington Times, the SAPRO review of completed cases found that 17% of sexual assault allegations were unfounded, up from 13% − a 34% increase since 2009. [17]  There is no evidence that SAPRO is doing anything about this problem.

Legislation that would automatically assign "victim" status to an accuser or "perpetrator" status to a person accused of sexual assault would replace the presumption of innocence with a presumption of guilt.  Special rules and legal systems that politicize and skew the process could have unintended consequences that are unfair to both the accuser and the accused.  For example:

  • Legislation that would shift sexual abuse cases outside of military justice, creating a class of offenses over which commanders would have no authority, could result in fewer prosecutions.  Military attorneys are required to prosecute all cases referred to trial by a convening authority, even if evidence is weak.  Civilian attorneys, in contrast, will not take poorly supported cases that would be difficult to win in court.
  • Some commanders have gone overboard in targeting sexual assaults.  In a 2012 speech at Parris Island, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos called for more convictions because “80 percent” of sexual assault allegations are “legitimate."   Lt. Col. R.G. Palmer USMC, serving as a military judge, quoted Gen. Amos in telling junior officers, "We need more convictions."  As a result, defendants in more than 60 sexual assault cases filed unlawful command influence claims, and judges in nearly all the cases that have been litigated found the appearance of unlawful command influence. [18]

Revenge and Retaliation

Some members of Congress are attempting to do something about fear of retaliation, which often deters individuals who experience sexual abuse from filing complaints.  Retaliation is wrong, whether it is aimed at a person filing a truthful complaint, or against a person who is falsely accused.  But if due process rights are not protected, anti-retaliation legislation could have the unintended effect of incentivizing false accusations, many of which are based on revenge or retaliation for emotional harm when a relationship falls apart.

Given the fact that unsubstantiated accusations have increased by one-third since 2009, pending legislation might be better if it prohibited retaliation against persons wrongly accused as well as persons who file truthful complaints.

Is Military Culture the Problem?

It is easy to express alarm about horrendous rates of sexual assaults in the military, and to blame all problems on military culture.  On the contrary, most problems occur when flawed human beings do things that fail to live up to high standards set by military culture.  Lives and mission accomplishment depend on core values, such as honor, courage, commitment, and respect, which  are essential elements of military culture.

In an imperfect world it is not easy to mandate good judgment and integrity.  Civilian officials and military commanders nevertheless should implement policies that reinforce discipline and that reflect actual experience − not unrealistic social theories about human perfectibility.

In 1997, following a rash of sex scandals at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the independent Kassebaum-Baker Commission unanimously recommended that co-ed basic training be ended, noting that it has resulted in "less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from training programs."  Fifteen years later, the same military and congressional leaders who disregarded the commission's recommendation are expressing surprise that at Lackland Air Force Base, more than twenty military training instructors (MTIs) are being prosecuted and punished for sexual abuse of recruits.

In January, the Center for Military Readiness submitted testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, recommending an end to gender-integrated basic training and implementation of other policy changes known to reinforce good order and discipline:

Ironies of the Violence Against Women Campaign

In 1992 the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces passed recommendations recognizing a cultural value that was best stated by commissioner Kate O'Beirne: "Good men protect and defend women."  Proponents of women in combat are essentially arguing that violence against women is wrong, unless it happens at the hands of the enemy.  Consequences of this shift in cultural values are showing up everywhere, perhaps in escalating incidents of abuse involving women. 

Confusion and cultural dissonance about male/female relationships will continue because not all women agree on what is appropriate.  Some want to be treated like "one of the boys," while others file complaints if they are not treated like women.  All branches of the service are coping with social problems ranging across the spectrum from inappropriate (romantic) relationships to sexual harassment and worse. 

Some men are encouraged to get physically rough and to hit female counterparts in training. Then they are required to sit through hours of mandatory sessions teaching sensitivity toward women.  Some military men have become indifferent or resentful of women because of double standards imposed by policy makers.  Others want to respect and protect their female colleagues instead of exposing them to combat violence. [19] 

The big push for co-ed combat is being portrayed as a reward for women, even though most military women, who serve in the enlisted ranks and outnumber female officers five to one, do not want to be treated like men in the infantry.

As a nation we should consider whether the misguided form of chivalry is a step forward for civilization or a step backward.  The answer to problems of sexual assault is not to send our daughters and granddaughters to fight our nation's future wars.  Congress should bring law and policy in line with current realities and lessons learned since September 11, 2001, while maintaining classic principles that improve the readiness and effectiveness of the All-Volunteer Force. 

* * * * * * *



[1] Message from Gen. Odierno to Army personnel, May 17, 2013.

[4] Generating Health & Discipline in the Force Ahead of the Strategic Reset, p. 122.  CMR discovered references to these statistics only in the report's index; they were not mentioned in the Executive Summary. 

[5] Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor, AP, "Hagel Orders Review of Sex-Abuse Prevention," May 17, 2013.

[6] Volume II, DoD SAPRO Report, Figure 6, p. 13.  Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, "Victims of Sex Assaults in the Military Are Mostly Men," May 20, 2013.

[7] New York Times, Sexual Assaults in Military Raise Alarm in Washington, May 8, 2013.

[8] SAPRO Report Vol. I, Exhibit 17, p. 81 and Exhibit 27, p. 88, which includes an additional 8% segment marked "gender data not available."   A separate chart, Exhibit 20 on p. 83, indicates that only 2% of the "subjects," (perpetrators) in completed cases were female, with 90% male and 8% "unidentified."  In a May 20, 2013, Washington Times article by Rowan Scarborough titled "Victims of Sex Assaults in the Military Are Mostly Men," Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, an academic gay activist group, said "very few" male-on-male perpetrators are gay, making the astonishing argument that such incidents are "somewhat similar to prison rape." 

[9] Testimony before Military Personnel Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee,  March 13, 2013.

[10] SAPRO Report Vol. II, citing WGRA 2012 Report, Q34, p. 17.  In 2008, percentages were 38% for women and 39% for men, respectively.

[11] See Elaine Donnelly, National Review, "The Tailhook Scandals," March 7, 1994, and the definitive account by  Col. Hays W. Parks, USMCR (Ret.) Proceedings, USNI Naval Institute magazine, Sept. 1994 - "Tailhook: What Happened Why, and What's to Be Learned."

[14] Nancy Montgomery, Stars & Stripes, "Senator Asks Leaders to Consider Firing General in Wilkerson Case," Mar. 6, 2013.

[15] Excerpt of six-page letter from Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, USAF, Commander, Third Air Force, to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, 12 March, 2013: "As I have previously stated, after considering all matters in the entire record of trial, I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime of sexual assault...Accordingly, I knew that my court-martial action to disapprove findings and to dismiss the charges was the right, the just, and the only thing to do."

[16] Campbell University Law Professor William A. Woodruff, Letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, May 15, 2013.  Wall Street Journal writer Charles G. Kels also explained why George Washington, upon assuming command of the American Army in 1775, established a military justice system that gave commanders ultimate authority to preserve good order and discipline.  "Now is the time to exercise military leadership," wrote Kels, "not to undermine military law." See  "Congress Targets Military Justice," May 13, 2013. 

[17] SAPRO Report Vol. I, Exhibit 18, p. 80.  Footnoted numbers indicate that 333 cases in 2009 jumped to 444 in 2012.  Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, False Reports Outpace Sex Assaults in the Military, May 12, 2013.

[18] Community of the Wrongly Accused, "We Need More Convictions," May 31, 2013.

[19] 1st Lt. B. L. Brewster, USMC, and 1st Lt. R. K. Wallace, Marine Corps Gazette,"Let us Fight for You, the Moral Imperative of a Masculine Military, " June 2013.


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