Commentary Magazine


More on Sexual Assault in the Military

I previously expressed skepticism that the U.S. armed forces were really experiencing the surge of sexual assault suggested in overheated news stories and echoed by lawmakers eager to change the traditional military justice system so as to make it more responsive to all these supposed victims.

Further confirmation for skepticism comes from this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Marine captain and judge advocate Lindsay Rodman. She points out that the headline-grabbing figure of 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012 breaks down on closer analysis. That dubious statistic comes from a survey distributed to more than 100,000 individuals but completed by fewer than 23,000. It is not clear exactly who in the military completed the survey or whether it is a scientifically valid sampling (to the extent that such a thing even exists). She suggests there is good cause to believe the females, who constitute only 14.6 percent of the military, are oversampled.

Moreover, Rodman notes:

The term “sexual assault” was not used in the WGRA survey. Instead, the survey refers to “unwanted sexual contact,” which includes touching the buttocks and attempted touching. All of that behavior is wrongful, but it doesn’t comport with the conventional definition of sexual assault or with the legal definition of sexual assault in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as enacted by Congress.

Notwithstanding Captain Rodman’s welcome scrutiny, the media continue to hype numbers about sexual abuse in the military of dubious reliability. The latest is this headline from the Associated Press: “More than 85,000 veterans treated last year over alleged military sex abuse, report says.”

This finding conjures up images of victims such as Ruth Moore who, according to AP, “was raped twice while she was stationed in Europe with the Navy” some sixteen years ago.

Yet the Veterans’ Administration definition of “military sexual trauma” is far broader than rape–it is defined as “any sexual activity where you are involved against your will.” According to AP: “Some report that they were victims of rape, while others say they were groped or subjected to verbal abuse or other forms of sexual harassment.” Being subjected to “verbal abuse” is a quintessential part of the military experience, at least in the training phase, and is a long way from what is commonly thought of as “sexual assault.” It is wrong, as is sexual harassment, but it is a long way from the commonly accepted definition of “sexual abuse” which has more in common with the notorious Cleveland sex-slavery case than it does with a few offensive words in the workplace.

As I said before, none of this is to deny that the problem of sexual assault exists in the military, as it does in civilian society, and that it needs to be addressed with treatment for victims and punishment for malefactors. But we should be wary of accepting, as so many in the media do, the sensationalist claims of feminist activists and trial lawyers who have a stake in hyping this issue.