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.
And you know what? The men began behaving! Of course there were those who still held fast to the code of conduct of the neanderthals of yesteryear (and usually didn’t last long), but most of us adapted and even appreciated the change. I strongly suspect this is what led to the period of time in which the rate of rape within the military was less than in the civilian community (the quote in the reference is taken from the Oxford Companion to American Military History). And that’s the crux of my argument: while I will never deny the evil that any military does, and while one period of time in which the sexual assault rape was lower than in the civilian community does not in and of itself prove that there is no culture of rape therein, it does show that a professional military force can in peacetime be a safer place for women than the civilian community. The reference also notes that while the sexual assault rate for the military was lower than the civilian rate, the degree to which it was lower was not as great as the degree that other serious crimes were lower than civilian rates.
Read that last sentence again. Is it saying that serious crimes are committed less often by military members than by the civilian community? Yep! In fact, ask most people in the military (and most well-traveled Americans) and they’ll tell you that the most law-abiding nations they’ve seen are Japan and Korea (and Singapore, of course). Here’s what Slate found:
In Okinawa, Japan, for example, American soldiers have been involved in several high-profile rapes and have been accused of more widespread violence. While it’s reasonable to expect that a population of young men trained in warfare would commit crimes at higher rates, a recent study found that the troops in Okinawa were less than half as likely to break the law as those in the general population. In Korea, too, U.S. servicemen seem to be arrested for serious crimes far less often than the locals.
The article goes on to note that the level of violent crimes changes significantly for combat vets. The greater the exposure they had to combat, the greater risk of criminal behavior.
Any claims of a culture of rape then, must be taken in the context of the times;especially in regard to whether there are sustained major combat operations during the time in question. I have said all along that the military is a tool, and all blame for how that tool is used or what that tool does belongs on those putting the tool to use; in this case, our military has been at war nonstop since 9/11. While military personnel must be held accountable for the crimes they commit, the ultimate blame must be laid on those who took this nation to war: our civilian leadership. Any such epidemic of rape by military personnel, then, is not the result of a culture thereof, but is rather a symptom of what happens to those who experience combat. Unfortunately, the above studies and observations would indicate that the current high rates of sexual assault and rape by military personnel will continue for several years after the end of sustained combat operations which, in my opinion, would mean until the point that combat vets no longer comprise the majority of front-line supervisors.
The easy rebuttal to that last paragraph would seem to be, “well, the solution is let’s just not fight any more wars; problem solved!” But such a view is simplistic and pollyanna-like, the worst sort of naivete. The world is too interdependent for America to hide her head in the sand and pretend that we don’t need to have a strong military to defend our interests outside our own borders. What America needs is not only a military capable of winning quick victories with a minimum of bloodshed, but also presidents and congressmen who are determined to use the military only in times of clear necessity and then only as a last resort.