Military Minded: Dealing with sexual assault in Our Ranks

Military Minded: Dealing with sexual assault in Our Ranks

Sexual assault is the act in which a person intentionally touches another person without their consent or forces or coerces the person to engage in sexual activity involuntarily. This can include groping, rape (forced oral, anal, vaginal penetration, or drug-facilitated sex), and child sexual abuse. This has been happening in the military for the longest time, and no appropriate action has been taken to bring the perpetrators to justice or reform the system so that sexual assault is not considered normal in the military. Different cases have been brought to light, like Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen and Pfc. Florence Shmorgoner (Moyer, 2021). It is not a surprise that women are the most victims of sexual assault, just as in any other field or industry, the most cases of sexual assault, women are the victims. Therefore, what might be why most sexual assault cases in the military are not taken seriously, despite bodies and laws protecting military servicemen and women from sexual assault?

The few cases that have been made public were severe and controversial, and the unreported cases are many hiding behind the “military culture” of ignoring sexual assault. One of the reasons why most sexual assault cases are never reported is because they are not investigated, and they are completely overlooked because of the hassle and negativity such a controversy would bring to the command. At the same time, the process of handling and following up a sexual assault case has proven to be painstaking and tedious for the victims who are seeking justice and therefore making it easy for perpetrators to continue abusing more personnel (Rough & David, Pg. 209). Moyer points out that for the longest time, sexual assault and harassment in the military have been dealt with by the military leaders who often promise justice to the victims, but nothing happens in the end. Moyer posits that “Women remain a distinct minority, making up only 16.5 percent of the armed services, yet nearly one in four servicewomen reports experiencing sexual assault in the military, and more than half report experiencing harassment.” This does not mean men are not victims; the fact is that the numbers are low when looking at men as sexual assault victims.

The reason why victims of sexual assault in the military never get justice is the way such matters are investigated and prosecuted. It is common knowledge that the army has a unique rule of law that only applies to armed forces. In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military commander is tasked with investigating or pursuing legal actions regarding any misdemeanor in the armed forces. This is peculiar and bizarre because this is a responsibility given to dedicated law enforcement personnel in the civilian world, which explains why most cases of sexual assault in the military are swept under the rug or not reported. Imagine a military commander being the perpetrator or misogynistic, and it would be hell for the victims.

Additionally, the military commander would want to make with the public and would never want to be exposed as the commander whose base encourages assault; therefore, ignoring the reports would be a way to make things better. In the case of Shmorgoner, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (N.C.I.S.), together with her commander, worked hard so that her case would be swept under the rug, despite her tireless efforts of trying to bring her perpetrator to justice. Moyer posits that “She was floored when a Marine commander and the N.C.I.S. recommended against a court-martial. They told her that, despite the confession, her assailant’s character witnesses had said good things about him, and there was no physical evidence to prove that a rape had happened.” Despite having a clear-cut case, with a confession and evidence, Shmorgoner’s case was dismissed, and her perpetrator served an entire military contract.

The concept of sexual offending is an issue that is rampant in almost every corner of the world, and most of the time, the minority group is the target. In the military, workplace, schools, and public, women, children, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are the most assaulted. The concept of sexual offending tries to explain why this happens, and it is because specific environments are “favorable” for the offenders to commit sexual assault. According to Pattavina et al. (Pg. 1067), the character pathway stipulates that an offense behavior will probably happen in a particular opportunity of context. A criminal will probably want to commit a crime in a dark alley but not in the middle of the street filled with cameras. A character with a personality filled with callousness, criminality, egocentricity, arrogance, lack of empathy, and entitlement will probably think about sexual assault in the right environment. A sexual offender has specific traits and lacks internal barriers that would prevent them from assaulting; therefore, the individual is likely to become a sexual offender or rapist in particular environments that provided by culture, subculture, or circumstance; and the military is one of those environments (Holland, Pg. 8).

As mentioned before, the military creates an environment that is a haven for perpetrators of sexual assault. Shmogorner’s perpetrators served their entire military contract and were discharged honorably from the military. Shmogorner’s Commander and the N.C.I.S. advised her not to take the issue to the court-martial because she would not win the case. This military culture creates a perfect example where sexual offenders can do whatever they please without consequences. Myers posits that “young service members are as vulnerable as ever to unwanted advances both from their peers and authority figures. While they generally believe their senior leadership is committed to their safety, it’s mid-and junior-level leaders who are either not modeling proper behavior or are turning a blind eye when they see problems arise.” The military is a different world, and it would fit into the analogy of a sexual offender in prison; the common denominator is the environment.

An antisocial and highly criminal person who rapes in prison may not be interested in same-sex partners. They may be aroused by power and anger needs. But the environment and the character pathology of the criminal and the issues that a victim is impacted with, a particular individual will rape for domination, sexual gratification, oppression, and humiliation [or all of the above] because the perpetrator is remorseless, entitled, and insensitive, lacking any internal reason to not rape. The environment and context contribute to an external environment that does not inhibit sexual assault. The same applies to most armed forces who are sexual predators and offenders. They have few internal barriers to sexual aggression. They are placed in an environment with few external barriers to sexual aggression, increasing the risk of sexual assault (Pattavina, Pg. 1071). In other words, the military increases the risk of sexual assault because it creates a perfect environment that does not inhibit sexual assault.

The military is an all-volunteer, which is another factor that leads to the prevalence of sexual assault. Benedict (Pg. 10) posits that most people enlist in the military because of economic reasons, whereby the military is the only way out of poverty for poor Americans. But what is not considered is establishing how many people enlist in the military to escape violent or troubled homes. Poverty increases stress in a household, which creates a ripple effect that may lead to violent parents of siblings. Benedict (Pg. 11) points out that “two well-respected studies of Army and Marine recruits, conducted in 1996 and 2005 respectively and published in the journal Military Medicine, found that half the male enlistees had been physically abused in childhood, one-sixth had been sexually abused, and 11 percent had experienced both.” This is important because children often emulate their childhood when they grow up. In other words, childhood abuse may often turn the childhood victims into abusers when they are grown. Although not proven, abusive individuals seek the military because it provides a violent outlet built on a misogynistic culture that allows rape and sexual assault. It is pretty obvious that violent men are attracted to the military. If that is not enough, Benedict (Pg. 11) & Bonnette (Pg. 277) has also found out that violent and sexist men are volunteering for the military, and to make matters worse, the military blows the issue out of proportion by giving out “moral waivers” to recruits since the 9/11. This means that every individual with a history of domestic and sexual violence is free to join the military, according to the Department of Defense [DoD] Report.

The root cause of sexual assault in the military stems beyond the culture and the environment; misogyny plays an important role in making it possible for sexual offenders to get away with their acts. As the retired Major General Robert Scales [The Washington Post] said, “As with the military’s acceptance of African Americans and gay soldiers, the issue does not lie with observing regulations or executive orders. This is about culture. The rank and file have yet to accept women into their community. Women have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are no longer excluded from combat zones. But the military has yet to fully accept women or their contributions.” It all revolves around how women and other minority groups are valued by the majority of men in the military. Better enforcement has not worked for the issue of sexual violence in the military as the efforts of the Department of Defense (DoD), and Sexual Assault Prevention Response (S.A.R.R.) has tried to “educate,” as a way of trying to sensitize the armed forces on matters sexual assault, which shows that the DoD only focuses on fighting the sexual assault offense instead of checking the attitude of our armed forces in regards to sexual assault, how the armed forces think about sexual assault. This is not different from women’s experience in corporate America, which seems like the emphasis is only on women. Still, as mentioned before, women represent the minority groups in the military and have the highest cases regarding sexual assault.

The underlying issue is that culture always trumps strategy. The culture in our military is what dictates how our troops will behave among themselves. At the same time, it all boils down to how we perceive the military; it is not merely a defense; it is an organization that has human beings who need an organizational structure. Organizational culture is the basis for group-oriented behavior, and it dictates whether an organization will succeed or not. Reiterating what Maj Gen. Robert Scales said, women have fought and died in Afghanistan and other places fighting for the U.S. military, making them worthy of respect and dignity just like any other military personnel. And that should not be the case. They are human and have sacrificed their lives to serve their country is a reason enough for them to be respected.

This shows that there is a way to change the trend of sexual assault in the military. As long as we see our military as an organization that requires the appropriate leadership. The military organizational culture is the basis for sexual violence and assault. The good news is that organizational culture can be changed. According to Schein (Pg. 10), the emphasis should be on the individual and the group mostly, from the leaders who promote the change; a top-down approach instead of the bottom-up approach. In the Schmogorner case, it was mentioned that the commanders are in charge of sexual assault cases, and they are responsible for sweeping the case under the rug. Therefore, reforms need to start from such personnel, they are responsible for the sexual assault cases, and they don’t do the right thing. The right direction is stripping them of such powers or having policies in place that will make them do the right thing. Schein (Pg. 12) also points out that. “Culture is not only about observable behavior (artifacts) but also about the amalgamation of underlying beliefs and ideas, which inform and reinforce values upheld by the group as standards of behavior to espouse.” This shows that society and the military both need to look closely at the human phenomenon of culture. The military culture is misogynistic and has been created since the existence of the military, which means that it is an uphill task to try and change the same culture. The military culture can change with the proper actions, and sexual violence and assault cases will reduce.

Sexual assault and related crimes in the military have been a thorn in the flesh for many people. For the longest time, a few people have joined the war on reforming the military to reduce the case of sexual assault, and there is some progress. The new administration has ended the 20-year war in Afghanistan and unearthed a lot of misgivings in the military, such as racial bias and sexism in the armed forces. Some policy reforms are in place, and they might deal with sexual assault in the military and help victims get justice. The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act is supported by different lawmakers across the board dedicated to preventing sexual assault in the armed forces (Wexler, Pg. 134). Such a policy reform is because the existing system is not working, and therefore a change, would be better. On the other hand, this reform faces staunch rejection from particular bodies like the Armed Services Committee. This opposition is that the legislation is too broad, and it may change how the military work around all serious crimes and not just sexual assault.

In conclusion, sexual assault is an epidemic that needs to end in the military. It is made possible because of lack of proper investigation and reporting, the military commander preceding every criminal case, the military is an environment that harbors sexual assault, and the military is filled with individuals who have a sexual and domestic criminal history. The only way to work around all these reasons is through policy reform legislation like the “The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act,” which has made significant progress. One of the recommendations in this act is that military commanders should be removed from prosecutorial decision-making for sexual assault and related crimes. This is one step forward towards reducing sexual assault in the military.

Works Cited

“A Commission Finds ‘Quite a Lot of Tolerance’ for Sexual Harassment in the Military.” NPR,

2 July 2021,

Benedict, Helen. The lonely soldier: The private war of women serving in Iraq. Beacon Press, 2009.

“Biden Backs Removing Commanders from Military Sex Assault Cases.” The New York Times (2021).

Bonnette, Rikka. “Military Sexual Trauma in Female Veterans: An Analysis of Policy and Outcomes.” (2018): 277-280.

Holland, Kathryn J., Verónica Caridad Rabelo, and Lilia Cortina. “See something, do something: Predicting sexual assault bystander intentions in the U.S. military.” American journal of community psychology 58.1-2 (2016): 3-15.

Lee, Peter J. This Man’s Military: Masculine Culture’s Role in Sexual Violence. AIR UNIV MAXWELL AFB AL SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIR AND SPACE STUDIES, (2014): 1-6.

Moyer, Melinda Wenner. “A Poison in the System’: The Epidemic of Military Sexual Assault.” The New York Times (2021).

Myers, Meghann. “A culture that fosters sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite prevention efforts, a new Pentagon study shows.” Military Times (2020),

Pattavina, April, Melissa S. Morabito, and Linda M. Williams. “Pathways to sexual assault case attrition: culture, context, and case clearance.” Victims & Offenders 16.8 (2021): 1061-1076.

Rough, Jill A., and David J. Armor. “Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military: Trends and

Responses.” World Medical & Health Policy, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 206-224. OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center, doi:10.1002/WMH3.228.

Scales, Robert H. “Military culture still refuses to include women.” The Washington Post (2013).

Schein, Edgar H. Organizational culture and leadership. Vol. 2. John Wiley & Sons, 2010: 10-12.

Wexler, Lesley. “Biden’s# MeToo Presidency: Military and Campus Justice Reform.” U. Ill. L. Rev. Online (2021): 134.




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