Tough news about U.S. troops as victims of sexual trauma from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, as reported by George Zornick of The Nation.
The study found extremely high rates of military sexual trauma, both in men and women. About 48,100 women and 43,700 men reported suffering military sexual trauma, the authors note. These relatively even numbers are a useful reminder that sexual assault in the military happens not only to women, but men—as was demonstrated at a powerful Senate hearing last week.
Does the issue affect women disproportionately to men? You bet!
But women comprise only 14 percent of active-duty military, so even raw numbers don’t reflect the fact that women, in much greater proportions, are the victims of military sexual assault. Over 21 percent of female troops reported military sexual trauma, compared to under 2 percent of men.
But because there are nearly 10 times as many men as women in the armed services the raw numbers of victims, 48 thousand to 44 thousand, are depressingly similar. Roughly equal numbers of human beings in service to our country. Nearly 100,000!*
Given those numbers does anyone still think the issue of sexual violence is "just" a women's issue?
If so then here's something else to think about...
Women have only been seriously involved in combat and combat-support roles in the U.S. miltary for, what, 15 years? 20? Not that long, right.
Chances are that that 2% of servicemen figure has been true since at least the beginning of military combat in the U.S.
Actually, it's a good guess that somewhat similar figures have been true for men in non-service but still mostly-male environments in America since 1492.
Still think sexual violence is "just" a women's issue?
Anyone still think that for men sexual violence should "just" be a sentimental wives, sisters, daughters concern instead of a "wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and personal" issue?
If we want to stop this thing, and despite stereotypes about knuckledraggers and fantasists I'm pretty sure everyone actually does, then we can't pretend it's just a women's issue, or just a men's issue. It's not even just a military issue. It's an everybody issue.
Note: While I'm often wary of "recovery" programs, while researching this post I ran across this insightful rundown at a clinic called The Ranch. I particularly appreciated this passage which, to me, really helps drive home the commonalities between perpetrators on the one hand and their victims on the other
Military sexual trauma, defined as any unwanted sexual activity, including harassment, sodomy, rape, verbal remarks, grabbing and pressure for sexual favors, affects thousands of men each year. Victims are most often young, low-ranking enlistees who fall prey to peers’ and superiors’ desire to demean or humiliate others. The acts are rarely homosexual in nature but rather an effort to feel powerful or dominant over others.
There's really not a lot of evidence thateither same or opposite sex sexual violence is about anything but personal or social domination using as tools whatever the perpetrator considers most humiliating, degrading, and/or painful for his or her victims.
The status of sex as least socially acceptable makes it an ideal choice for "demonstrations" of power over the powerless. It's this fact that made, say, the case of the (evidently still completely unrepenetant) Lynndie England's sexual humiliation and terrorization of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison a gender-neutral commonplace rather than a female-gendered novelty. Quoth she "Then you see staff sergeants walking around not saying anything [about the abuse]. You think, OK, obviously it's normal."
And, untill we recognize that, no, really, it's not just a women's issue and it's not just a men's issue and that it's almost never even a sexual issue (it's a power issue, remember) then by the tens and hundreds of thousands we'll all continue to experience, encounter, and perhaps even perpetrate what happens to roughly 21% of women in the military, roughly 2% of men in the military, roughly one in four women and one in seven men in civilian life.
* Anyone beside me think it should be a little closer to zero for both?