In the military today, women still struggle with many issues that civilians would see as outdated. Sexual assault in the military is an extremely prevalent problem; not only does this problem affect women but men as well. While this blog will focus on the issue of women’s sexual assault in the military, it is important to make note that this issue reaches across gender lines, and the only way it can be solved is through mutual support by both men and women. One article states, “more men than women were sexually assaulted in the military in 2013”, but upon analysis, this fact can be extremely deceiving. 12,000 women say they were assaulted, while 14,000 men say they were assaulted, but in the military women only make up approximately 14.5% of the forces. 12,000 women when they only represent 14.5% is an extremely large number when the other 85.5% of the forces experienced 14,000 sexual assaults. Some officials say that this issue is “not solely a women’s issue”, and with that, I agree. However, I disagree in their opinion that this issue is not focused mainly on the females. I believe that it is; even in my time ROTC, I have experienced forms of harassment and belittlement based on my gender (outside of the Penn State program, fortunately).
These numbers are highly underreported, just as my experiences went unsaid as well. Fortunately, for me there was no outright harassment or assault, but some women experience traumatic experiences such as rape and fail to report it to their superiors. Why? The failure to report comes from not only the masculine culture of the military, but sometimes because the assault transgressed with the superior to whom they would be reporting! The military is desperately trying, and in some cases succeeding, in curtailing the number of sexual assaults, but the training program can still be misconstrued to slightly blame the victim or focus on victim prevention of women changing their own habits.
In the Army, every soldier goes through the SHARP training program to help prevent sexual assault. SHARP stands for Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. In my personal experience with this program, scenarios are presented among which both males and females are the victims, but the scenarios are those in which the female is typically the victim. For example, they are given scenarios at the bar where an individual is trying to pick someone up and take them home; a superior is trying to coax an individual to treat them to a sexual favor in order to be promoted, etc. Soldiers are taught to intervene, act, and motivate through this program. It seems ideal as the program is presented to the body of soldiers as a whole, but in some occasions this does not always occur. The program may be presented in one instance to the soldiers as a group, but then in other occasions the women are pulled aside separately and given their own “preventative program”. This is extremely concerning to me, as it singles out the women as the potential victims and it encourages them to stay in groups or watch what they were or say or drink… These typical strategies we hear about are what perpetuate victim blaming in the first place! Measures like these are ones that scare women away from reporting, as if the masculine culture was not intimidating enough for some of them already.
Now, I would never be one to say that the Department of Justice is not trying to prevent sexual assault. It is clear that they are trying to do their best to prevent sexual assault and harassment for both males and females in the military, but due to past stigmas and strategies, some can still be seen as perpetuating females to be the main victim. They can still make the women feel as though they should watch their every move when trying to simply perform their duty. Women should not feel the need to watch their backs while on the job; the job should be the only focus. It is a shame that in today’s day and age, women must still worry about being assaulted within the ranks. The ranks are a brotherhood and sisterhood, and no military member should ever be a victim.