The mad men (and women) behind a ‘don’t get raped’ culture
Let’s stop blaming rape for being rape. It doesn’t rule the lives of women by its own volition. Don’t blame rapists, the military or morality either. We created this sexual assault problem. It’s our fault.
Roughly 1 percent of the population actively serves in the military at any given time, so as sexual assault scandals and solutions pepper headlines, it’s easy to blame the military from the outside. Hell, it’s easy for me to blame it after six years on the inside. Our military is exclusive, hyper-masculine, beyond the reach of the law, violent and intimidating. It’s also just an amplified version of a ubiquitous problem. We’re training rapists. The military taught me disgusting and beautiful lessons in human behavior. It also taught me this: Our military and government enable our rapists. So do we, the civilians behind a “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape” culture.
Even women, including Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the first female wing commander in the U.S. Air Force, support our broken system. Unit commanders (typically with no legal training) are judge and jury in military assault cases. They run a military that lacks a sexual assault database and prosecutes rape cases at some of its lowest levels; so all a rapist need do is switch units when facing sexual assault accusations. These are the officers who allowed the rape problem to flourish, blamed women and successfully kept the bulk of these stories hidden from the public.
They don’t want to change that system.
“Commanders must have the ability to hold airmen accountable for their behavior,” Leavitt said.
She and the military’s top officers said they oppose taking sexual assault trials outside of the military in a June meeting with the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This is what enables a highly disciplined force, which increases the lethality of our weapons systems and improves the safety of our airmen,” she said.
Disciplined, safe and accountable. Good one, ma’am.
Here’s hoping Gen. Margaret Woodward, the newest director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, is more evolved than Leavitt as Woodward replaces Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Krusinski, who was removed from the post after he allegedly groped a woman in an off-duty parking lot incident.
The problem is that pervasive, but nobody should be surprised in a culture of “don’t give rapists opportunities.”
But, hey, at least as of August all military sexual-assault victims have the right to legal representation, submitting statements and testifying during sentencing.
Myriad options now sit in Congress for regulating military rapists, but none for actually reducing assaults. Punishment does not stop crime. Legislation and regulation must address the real issue plaguing society, not just the symptom. Once they’re rapists and we know this because they’re raping, we’ve failed.
Sexual assault estimations are at one in four for military women, according to “Invisible War,” the documentary that brought the military’s sexual assault culture to the forefront of the media. Equivalent estimates are one in five for the rest of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
As comedian Amy Schumer said, “We’ve all been a little raped.” Right?
It’s not funny, but you got the joke, didn’t you?
This problem isn’t about stranger rape. The potential for stranger rape, muggings and murder require that we be on guard and try to keep those people off the streets. Our sexual assault culture thrives on the roughly two-thirds of sexual assaults in which the woman (or man) knows a rapist enough to lower her guard.
It’s “don’t get raped” that led to the military’s battle-buddy (or wingman) system. The same mentality leads us to teach little girls to be wary of men, and that mentality prevails in adulthood. We see these rapists’ power every time a woman meets a man and must determine if she can trust him with privacy and/or booze.
The military amplifies this problem with the battle-buddy system as rape prevention, attempting to ensure women are never alone with men, especially drinking. Don’t trust 80 percent of the people around you with a beer, a penis and privacy, even though you have to trust them with weapons and war, they teach.
Don’t get raped! Not don’t rape. They don’t have sex ed in the military; they have sexual assault prevention courses.
At age 21 I signed a contract surrendering ownership of my body to the U.S. military. If slavery is a crime, then signing oneself into slavery must be a travesty of self-preservation. This is especially true because the 1950 Feres doctrine expanded the Tort Claims Act, effectively preventing service members from suing the military for damage done to their bodies during service, which officials subsequently determined includes rape.
That’s right: Join the military, where you’re more likely to be raped than killed in combat. Just know if the latter happens or you lose a limb or two, you get money. If the former happens, you’re just fucked.
The military teaches its females to expect rape from every man and expect to be blamed for being in the position to be sexually assaulted. My little sister didn’t bother to report the rapist who drugged her drink and locked her in his room without her pants all night. He’d done it before without consequence. Her military boyfriend blamed her, and he was there. She did, after all, put herself alone with men, drinking underage. Don’t get raped, right?
He’ll get honorably discharged eventually, a trained rapist coming to a city near you. He’ll be just like the former soldier who raped my best friend’s little sister on a “cuddle date,” effectively ruling out sexual assault as a charge based on circumstance alone. She wasn’t his first victim. We trained him to turn he-said/she-said scenarios into no conviction.
Bet you didn’t know rapists convicted by the military don’t have to register as sex offenders. She didn’t either.
Go ahead, blame her for believing in cuddle dates, for trusting drinking with him. Hospital staff did. Civilian law does. Society creates civilian law. We did this to her.
“But rape is about power!” Absolutely.
Power similar to that passed back and forth in dating. We teach boys they have to convince girls to give up their well-protected virtue — stored in the vagina — and be the initiators of sexual acts.
They must demonstrate physical and socioeconomic value as men. In doing so, we teach them, women will want to have sex, to give men the power. If they don’t, they just need more convincing. Fine line No. 1 toward rape culture.
If you’re not buying it, look at our transactional dating model. Both parties constantly test and demonstrate value to see what they can get via strategic power transfers. Men woo with romance or money, women “allow” sex, and the power play continues.
We teach abstinence and hold girls responsible for a couple waiting until marriage. We slut shame. We insist girls take daily steps to avoid unwanted advances while remaining sexually appealing, keeping their power. Fine line No. 2, and walking it sucks whether you’re in high heels or combat boots.
Sex — despite what we’re teaching our children and enlistees — should look like this: Consenting partners explore what they like sexually until both are satisfied. In an equal society, that would mean no matter when a partner does or does not put on the brakes, it remains up to both parties to consent.
But our women want diamond rings and romance, not equality. Our relationship dynamics are a constant power play, and nobody loves antiquated power plays more than a military that still considers consensual oral and anal sex indecent, immoral and punishable by Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 125. Sorry fellas, rape flies, but not oral.
By recruiting from the lowest income — and thereby typically least educated — portion of the population, the military made itself the country’s most effective modern welfare system. These men and women move from their parents’ homes and high school to barracks and war where hyper-masculinity and misogyny dominate.
Want to hear a joke?
What’s the difference between a slut and a bitch?
A slut sleeps with everyone. A bitch sleeps with everyone but you.
Guess where I learned that one?
Recruiting as it does, the military would be wise to take responsibility for the sexual education of often poorly educated sexual beings, especially knowing it has a sexual assault problem. The closest I got in six years was, “Make her say yes, boys!” Funny in the moment, not so much when you know it was a female sergeant encouraging men to “make” her say yes. This was her “don’t get accused of sexual assault” talk.
We reinforce this thinking. We blame women for being sexually assaulted because they tripped up somewhere in prevention steps A, B and C as they walked the power tightrope. Add in a group mentality in which I can’t tell you how many discussions were unanimously ended with, “You’re a woman, so your opinion doesn’t matter. Pow!” And pow!, there’s an opportunist who knows women are second-class outsiders. He knows his buddies will have his back, be it bullet or bitch at his six — six o’clock position, aka your backside — an opportunist who knows he has the power, especially if he gets sex from the slut.
Here’s the kicker: He’s your best friend. He’s your well-respected sergeant. He’s your drinking buddy. He’s a man playing our power game at its worst.
While both men and women perpetuate this cycle by playing the power game in dating their whole lives, it’s a sign society is fucked, not that women are somehow asking for it by putting themselves in these situations. We have to trust men sometimes, especially because they’re 80 percent of the military population and roughly half of our actual population. We have to trust them so we can work, live, date and procreate.
When former Sgt. 1st Class Aangi Mueller’s sergeant showed up at her door one day outside of work, she had to trust him enough to let him in. Guess what happened next?
“As he’s holding me down, he is fumbling with the belt and buttons of my uniform, and I finally get it that I am not in charge of this situation,” she said.
She was a specialist at the time, a rank between a private and a sergeant. This man was a well-respected sergeant in her unit. In war, men of his rank are responsible for her safety and well-being.
“I had bruises on my arms, legs and throat and jaw and wrists,” she said. “He had his dick on my thigh and was moments away from rape … and I thought it was my fault for months. Until the next girl.”
Then the slut shaming began, courtesy of her rapist himself. The unit tried to scare her off of pursuing the case, so she went to the inspector general for protection from her chain of command.
“The lieutenant colonel battalion commander told me if I valued my job I would drop my investigation,” she said. “We took it to the top, and the investigation had been ‘misfiled’ in the unit commander’s garage.”
Her sergeant was supposed to suffer a reduction in rank, a flag on his record. Nope. A good portion of the deciding party was in his wedding, so he was in the clear until seven more victims surfaced. They were enough to get him moved from the Guard to the Army Reserves to protect him from spots on his record that could lose him benefits or job opportunities. That’s how our system works, 65 years after women were allowed to enlist in the United States military.
Now, not a year after a historic leap toward true gender equality allowed women into combat roles, we’ve suddenly noticed this gross rape problem. From the hype, you’d think the assaults just began. Sexual assault accounts have surfaced from decades past, but the military and government only see the last 12 years, a time during which senior military officials testified to the committee that they’d just lost track of the rape issue. Mueller’s assault was in ’94.
The laughably low sexual assault report numbers should have raised alarms earlier, but couldn’t. Courtesy of the military’s sexual assault reporting system, those victimized sexually have three choices: say nothing to preserve their military standing; file a restricted report to “specified individuals” to receive medical care without pressing charges; or have the entire unit know about their rape to file an unrestricted report and prosecute their rapist within a unit of the rapist’s comrades, never in civilian courts. That’s how the military does sexual assault regulation, keeping its numbers deceptively low.
And that’s how it wants to keep it.
“The role of the commander should remain central,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis.”
These are the same commanders so indoctrinated in the military that, to have gotten where they are, they embraced the culture in its entirety.
Change comes from all of us or it doesn’t come at all. Scaring military men into avoiding he-said/she-said situations by immediately pulling the accused out to be tried in a civilian court is definitely a start. Instill a little fear; commanders already proved they can’t.
But our civilian system is broken, too. Instead of sharing ourselves with people we’d like to date, we sell and qualify ourselves to win the power play.
Holding rapists and commanders accountable for sexual assault can’t stop rape because, to hold someone accountable, the act must happen.
Because rape laws focus on punishing the immorality and brutality of rape using a male-designed legislative system, nothing changes. We train rapists to intelligently skirt the law instead of promoting an equal, sexually comfortable and acquaintance rape-free society.
Change must come from each of us. Both genders must want equality in all relationships for this to change. Make no mistake, putting a vagina in charge of military sexual assault prevention does nothing if Woodward proves to be an indoctrinated dick. We have to transition from this power-playing, transactional relationship model within and without the military, or we’re all fucked.
The endemic is not rape’s fault. It’s ours.