Why is Sexual Assault So Common in Our Military?

One snippet from this Politico piece on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s effort to reform how the Pentagon handles reports of sexual assault really stood out for me:

The Pentagon also estimated a drop in the number of service members who had been sexually assaulted in 2014: 19,000, compared with about 26,000 in 2012.

It’s an interesting estimate because the Pentagon also says that there was an eight percent increase in reported sexual assaults in 2014. In other words, despite more people coming forward, they nonetheless think that overall instances are down rather sharply. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explained this is a growing perception within the ranks that the Pentagon brass would handle allegations of rape responsibly, and that this increase in reports in therefore a sign of progress.

First, I’ll stipulate that it is indeed possible for these seemingly contradictory statistics to be accurate. Sexual assaults could be down by quite a lot at the same time that there are more soldiers coming forward to report being victims of assaults.

But, Jesus Christ, look at those numbers. We’re talking about 20 to 25 thousand sexual assaults annually within the ranks of our military.

So, we have more than one problem here. The problem everyone wants to discuss is how these types of allegations are adjudicated within the military, particularly whether the commanders in the field will retain the ultimate authority and discretion to mete out punishment, or not.

But that’s putting the cart after the horse. Why are our soldiers assaulting each other at such a ridiculously high rate?

I wish Senator Gillibrand luck in her effort to revive her bill in this new Congress, but I suspect that even if she makes some surprising progress on the Senate side there will be an obstinate refusal to take her approach over in the House.

One of the elements that makes this particular legislative issue interesting is that it truly does divide the Senate in a non-partisan way, with Gillibrand getting support from people like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and (at least in the past) Mitch McConnell, while facing opposition from Democrats like Claire McCaskill, Jack Reed, and the now retired Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin.

One thing to look for in the State of the Union speech is whether or not the president comes out firmly on Gillibrand’s side.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.