Speaking of Women's Rights: 26,000

Monday, June 3, 2013


by Bethany Kirk

That's the number of sexual assaults that the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimates occurred in 2012. Here’s another: 3,374. That’s the number of sexual assault reports in 2012, up from 3,119 (2011) and 3,158 (2010), but not much higher than the 3,230 reported in 2009. It’s horrifying how many people were sexually assaulted, but it’s also appalling how few were reported. The underreporting is disturbing, but not surprising when you see the news: an officer in charge of a sexual assault prevention program being arrested for sexual assault; the Air Force chief of staff saying that the increase in military rape is a result of the “hook-up mentality” of young women; the fact that only 238 assailants were convicted last year.  The New York Times reports that sexual assaults at the three top military academies are at record numbers and that studies have shown sexual trauma to be the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among servicewomen. All this after years of promises to step up enforcement and reform military culture. 

Proposals like independent prosecutors, special victim’s counsels, and ending the power of senior commanders to unilaterally dismiss verdicts are a start, but woefully inadequate to addressing larger, cultural problems within the military.

When my friend, Sarah Garcia, joined the military upon graduating from college, I was concerned for her safety. But I was concerned about attacks from insurgents, not attacks from her comrades. It wasn’t long before I had new concerns. Expectations that she had to be either a “cold bitch” or a “slut.” The seeming inevitability of being groped or worse. The calculations involved with a decision to report –personal safety, careers, privacy, desire for justice. This combination of tense expectation with a casual sense of “cost of doing business” is indictment of a military culture that is beyond the aid of mere structural changes.

The thing is, though the military may be an intense example, the “military sexual assault crisis” is seen at all levels of our society. Nationally, almost 20% of women report experiencing rape at some time in their lives. Approximately 54% of sexual assaults are unreported. Out of every 100 cases of rape, only 9 are prosecuted.  The recent Department of Justice report on the University of Montana shows that blame and disbelief often assault survivors. Prominent politicians imbue uteruses with magical abilities to fight off “legitimate” rape.

The internet trolls (and some members of Congress) may see the Department of Defense report as an example of why women should not serve in the military but it appears that our culture does not want women serving in any part of society.  This is not just a military problem – this is a United States problem. And we owe it to ourselves to do better.

Bethany Kirk is a legal intern at Legal Voice. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Settle University and will receive a law degree from the University of Washington in 2014.