There were 3,374 rapes in the military last year, a 6 percent increase, and an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults — news that comes from a Pentagon report released Tuesday, the day after news arrived from the Air Force that its officer in charge of sexual assault prevention office was charged with sexual assault. When asked about the report Tuesday, President Obama said the U.S. needs to be "exponentially stepping up our game to go at this hard." What makes it all the more clear that the rapes are underreported in the Department of Defense is that there are about 1.12 rapes per 1,000 employees, while the Justice Department says there are about two rapes or sexual assaults per 1,000 American women. The DoD rate could theoretically be higher, because its population is younger, and 88 percent of rape victims are between the ages of 12 and 28.
There are two problems here: rapists, and bringing rapists to justice. Some are conflating the two, arguing the military has a problem with "rape culture," which is when men think rape is OK, that women were asking for it or will lie about it. "Right now the attitude of guys is to be extremely cautious with girls because they are afraid of them pulling the 'rape card,'"a Marine told Business Insider in a March 2012 article titled "Marines Offer Brutally Honest Insight On Military Rape Culture." That's such a gross sentiment — "the rape card." You know where else you can find it? Another place teeming with adolescent males, Reddit. If there is such a thing as "rape culture," it exists in the American military because it exists in America.
A New York Times editorial in March pointed to the military poster at right, which seems to have a bit of "rape card" in its DNA, and says "as if predation could be combated through a grotesque parody of an etiquette poster." Haha yeah that's pretty funny. But how would the Times stop predation? Better posters? The real problem, as the Times rightly focuses on, is that women in the military are afraid to report rapes, and when they do report them, the crimes are not always prosecuted.
Likewise, Wired points to an Air Force pamphlet that warns that if you're being sexually assaulted, the first priority is to stay alive, even if that means you have to "submit" to the assault. But the pamphlet "does not offer instruction to servicemembers on not committing sexual assault." Lest the reader be nervous that servicemembers are not being regularly reminded not to rape people, rest assured they're getting that message almost daily in the Armed Forces Network's PSAs, which run on some military TV channels instead of regular commercials. Here are several PSAs saying sexual assault is a crime.
The military might not need more anti-rape PSAs so much as more pro-rape-reporting PSAs directed at women and more pro-prosecution PSAs directed at officers. As Think Progress' Hayes Brown notes, the number of estimated sexual assaults in 2012, 26,000, shows a huge increase from the estimated number in 2011, 19,000. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network estimates that 54 percent of rapes are not reported to police, and of those that are reported, only 12 percent lead to an arrest. The Justice Department says only 35 percent of sexual assaults were reported in 2010. In 2010, the Pentagon estimated that 71 percent of female victims, and 85 percent of male victims, did not report sexual assaults.
The military's problem is not that it's filled with high-testosterone dudes. It's that it's a massive bureaucracy. Woman-dominated higher education has the same problem. A 2010 study by the Center for Public Integrity found that when women report sexual assault on college campuses, they are pulled into a confusing administrative process that can make the victim's life very unpleasant and result in no consequences for students found responsible for sexual assaults. (Just ask the students at the University of North Carolina who have prompted a federal investigation into just that.) Only 10 to 25 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault in the CPI study were expelled. Judging by the statistics, the military doesn't have more rapists, it has more bureaucrats who fail to punish rapists.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.