By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor/Columnist
Some interesting events happened recently in the arena of sex politics in America. It’s too early to tell yet whether we’ll see any positive changes, but what I’ve observed so far has been tentatively encouraging.
Shortly after being confirmed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a review of reported sexual assaults in the military. This is not the first time this has been done, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What’s different this time is the sheer number of victims who have been willing to tell their stories.
There’s always been a sort of unwritten “code of silence” surrounding rape and other sex crimes in the military. It’s one of the dirty little secrets about military culture. The public face of it is that such things aren’t tolerated, but like in the Wizard of Oz, when you pull aside the curtain, you find the truth isn’t so pretty. What’s been happening lately is people have been yanking that curtain wide open.
It would be comforting to think that perpetrating a crime like rape would be a career ender, but the sad truth is such things get covered up all too frequently. Worse, when someone actually reports the crime, most of the time the victim finds her – or his – career in jeopardy. Commanders often don’t like to admit there’s a problem within their ranks, and will go to some lengths to hide the truth. The problem is so widespread that in 2011, over 3,000 cases were reported throughout all the services, but according to outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the actual figures could be as high as 19,000. The problem is getting worse, not better.
And then, there’s the question of something called “convening authority.” This is a unique feature of military justice that allows commanders to review cases and make what amounts to summary judgments on them. This happened in a high profile case from Aviano Air Base, Italy, where a commander dismissed the charges against one of his officers who had actually been convicted of sexual assault.
The justification for such authority is that it maintains “good order and discipline,” but as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, “I don’t know how you can say that having 19,000 sexual assaults and rapes each year is discipline and order.”
Well spoken. I really have nothing more to add.
The second item that caught our collective attention was the trial and conviction of two Steubenville, Ohio high school students who had been accused of raping a girl at an alcohol-soaked party. The boys, both top players on the local football team, were accused of taking advantage of a young lady who had overindulged and was unable to either resist or respond. The case came to national attention when it was revealed that they had taken pictures and video of the incident and shared them via text messages, in effect convicting themselves even before being caught.
So these “star athletes” with “bright futures,” as they were later described in rather sycophantic news reports, were either arrogant enough to think they wouldn’t be held accountable, or stupid enough to think they were doing nothing wrong.
Or maybe a little bit of both. One of the boys said in the trial that he didn’t think what he had done was rape, because he didn’t “force himself” on her. Their defense followed the usual pattern of blaming the victim, saying she “drank, had a history of telling lies.” Apparently this sort of behavior was part of the athletic culture at Steubenville, as other similar incidents were related to the head coach and subsequently ignored. Worst of all, instead of expressing concern for the victim, CNN and other outlets lamented the lifelong damage the boys would “suffer” as a result of their conviction.
It’s hard to believe we still have to live with unevolved attitudes like these in the 21st century.
Sex crimes are like icebergs and turds.
For every case that goes to trial, there are a dozens, even hundreds more that are reported but not investigated. And for every one of those, there is another order of magnitude that are committed but never reported.
This is a growing cancer on our society, and it must be stopped. As the father of two girls, I find it shocking and appalling.
I want my children to grow up in a world where they can feel safe among their male peers. I want them to be able to live in a world where boys are taught and socialized early to become men who respect women.
Because no society that objectifies and abuses half its population deserves to be called the “greatest nation on Earth.”