Factors Behind the Surge in Sexual Harassment in the United States Military
Sexual assault reports have increased nearly 10% since 2016, a record high. Although it is hard to pinpoint a specific cause of the increased reports, studies have shown that the increased willingness of a victim to come forward, the male-dominated workplace, and a culture that has allowed sexual harassment to thrive may contribute to the rise in numbers.
The Willingness of Victims to Report
The increased willingness of a victim to come forward is the most concrete evidence for the annual rise in sexual assault reports. The introduction of sexual assault and harassment prevention programs, such as SHARP, has encouraged victims to come forward by providing safe and private avenues to file reports. Victims are now taken more seriously about their claims, protected from reprisal, and moved from their current units if needed. Furthermore, increased reporting numbers do not necessarily mean that sexual assaults have increased. Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, the Pentagon’s principal director for force resiliency, stated, “Over the last decade, the department has made progress, fewer service members experience sexual assault, and more service members than ever are making the courageous decision to report their experiences and to receive restorative require.”
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Another possible reason for the continuously increasing number of sexual assault reports is the male-dominated workplace. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9% are male. In the Army, females make up only 14% of the enlisted force. The low female-to-male ratio has made females extremely vulnerable to sexual assault. Overseas especially, men tend to turn to, and sometimes prey upon, the few females who are in their respective units.
Lastly, a culture that has allowed sexual harassment to thrive may contribute to high sexual assault rates. In the Army, many cultural norms were created long before females became a major part of the Army’s workforce. For example, it is a norm among male soldiers to talk about sex, make dirty jokes, and talk inappropriately about women. Additionally, when soldiers are close to their chain of command, it is harder to obtain a conviction. A victim’s commanding officer has the ability to intervene, stop an investigation, reduce a sentence, or even set aside a conviction. A combination of inappropriate behavior, combined with protection from superiors, has allowed sexual harassment and assault to thrive and grow.
In conclusion, sexual assault is a major problem in the United States military. This form of conduct diminishes the unit’s comradery and could hinder our mission. Although programs have been established to combat sexual assault, reporting numbers continue to increase. Theories for this include the increased willingness of victims to file reports, the male-dominated society, and a culture that has allowed sexual assaults to go unnoticed, unreported, and thrive. Programs that have been implemented, such as our SHARP program, do show to assist in the decreasing of sexual assault reports, but only time will tell if it is enough.
- “The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq” by Helen Benedict
- “The Invisible War: What Every Woman Should Know About the Military and Sexual Assault” by Helen Benedict