There’s a heated argument in the comments section of this article about whether there is a “culture of rape” within the military. As with most arguments, the answer is both yes and no, and both sides are right and wrong.
It should first be noted that, as Dr. Dreadful opined, both military and civilian data indicate that the rates at which rapes and sexual assaults go unreported are roughly equal, though the reasons behind such failure to report these crimes are quite different. Second, here’s a PBS reference and a reference from McClatchy showing military rates of these crimes that are significantly higher than in the civilian community. It would seem, then, that there can be no argument against the existence of a culture of rape within the military.
To add fuel to the fire, it has been well documented that rape by military personnel has been a part of American military history from the very beginning, having been noted even by George Washington. Of course these crimes are not confined to the American military, as is clearly shown by the Rape of Nanking by the Imperial Japanese Army and the conduct of the Soviet Army as they drove through Poland and Germany on their way to Berlin. Both the Japanese and the Soviet high commands knew what their respective armies were doing and not only did nothing to stop it, but to an extent encouraged it. War is without question the greatest crime of humanity, and such unforgivable conduct is a part of war.
Nevertheless, I still maintain that the military does not in and of itself have a culture of rape. Now given the above evidence, how can I possibly make such a claim? The very notion that the military doesn’t have such a culture would seem ridiculous on its face, but there’s more to the story.
I clearly remember what the Navy was like when I arrived at my first ship, the USS Simon Lake (AS-33) back in February of 1982. My first impression was that of most boot-campers: “Wow, the work is hard, but this is still pretty cool!” With the benefit of hindsight I can look back and see just how unprofessional the ship was, from the material condition of the ship to the conduct of the personnel on- and off-duty. It wasn’t any better when I arrived on the USS Ranger (CV-61) in October of 1983. Sailors (myself included) were concerned with two things: getting drunk and getting laid; though the order depended on circumstances. I can now see that the Navy, and the entire military, was still in what I call the bad old days, still recovering from the wars in southeast Asia, because most of the higher-ups had either experienced combat or were commanded by someone who had.
But a watershed moment had already occurred: the crash of an EA-6B Prowler aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). The investigation showed that several of the flight deck crew tested positive for marijuana. It was after this incident that the Navy began implementing its zero tolerance drug policy, and began emphasizing professionalism throughout the fleet, dragging us kicking and screaming into what we derisively called the “New Navy.” By the early 1990′s, having a beard on active duty was but a fond memory; a positive urinalysis test got one kicked out, no questions asked; a DWI conviction often (but not always) meant one wouldn’t be promoted, ever; and an accusation of sexual harassment usually stopped one’s career dead in its tracks. We enlisted men by and large dreaded women being assigned to our surface fleet, because we could all envision a liberal hell (I was conservative in those days) of political correctness throughout the command.