"When you look at the mission of the military and military culture, which is about aggression and about war, it shouldn’t surprise us at all that sexual assault would surface as a huge issue that they’d [the military] need to look at," said Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore, of Wisconsin.
Where to begin here?
There are about one million active duty military personnel and the number of reported sexual assaults in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011. In 2011, there were 194 rapes in Gwen Moore’s hometown of Milwaukee, a rate of 32.5 per 100,000 people.
What culture does Moore blame for that?
There are many possible explanations for sexual assault in the military (although we should be careful not be exaggerate). In no particular order: popular culture, the breakdown of sexual mores in the wider society, boredom, alcohol, lust, anger, sexual aggression, the proximity of the young men and women who are confined under conditions that can, at times, be stressful. We could certainly add the popularity of misogynist celebration of rape in some rap music.
But Moore goes to "military culture."
Let’s concede for the moment that a certain amount of aggressive machismo will inevitably be part of that culture. But does it lead to rape? Where’s the evidence?
Does a willingness to go on patrol in Iraq make one more likely to want to commit a sexual assault? Are soldiers tracking the Taliban though villages in Afghanistan more likely to return to the barracks and rape a female colleague?
And what of the rest of military culture? The sense of duty, honor, courage, sacrifice? The willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s country and for one’s fellow soldiers?
Is that all about "aggression and about war’? Or is that merely Gwen Moore cartoonish view of the culture of men and women in uniform, a lingering hangover from her 1960s-1970s notion of the returning veteran as killer and potential abuser?
As a victim herself, Moore, obviously cares about the problem, but rather than providing any new insight, she simply throws out a tired anti-military caricature.
No doubt the issue is a serious one, but is it really the case that women in the military are more likely to be assaulted than those in civilian life? It’s hard to say for sure because statistics in this area are suspect, but isn’t it possible—even likely—that the military is simply better about tracking the problem than is civilian society?
And a Marine Corps advocate general, is challenging the validity of the survey that is being hyped by the media/critics to argue that there is an epidemic: Lindsay Rodman notes that the latest numbers are derived from a survey of doubtful scientific validity:
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.
We’re likely to find out a lot more about the problem in coming weeks, but for any real insight, you’re probably best off not looking to Gwen Moore.