Military Sexual Assault Survivors Not Invited to Sexual Assault Hearing

Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Senate Armed Services Committee just held a hearing on military sexual assault, and they didn't invite any rape survivors to testify.

Jun 5, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Senate Armed Services Committee just held a hearing on military sexual assault, and they didn't invite any rape survivors to testify. If you're recordscratching right now, take a seat on the chaise right along side me, my friend. 

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Absolutely nothing going on in this picture has anything to do with this article, but I like ponies. So.

Photo credit: Claudio Gennari.

So. Let's recap. Military sexual assault is a growing problem, with reports up 35% between 2010 and 2012. That includes, by the way, an estimated 13,000 male sexual assault victims, and this is not the consequence of opening up service to gay men. Because rape, as we know, is about exercising power over other human beings, not about sexuality. 

And the military environment is one in which highly formalized power structures can reinforce a dangerous culture that people are already bringing to the military with them, because we live in a world of rape culture. Once people are in the military, they're trapped by rigid rules which can make it difficult or impossible to report, let alone pursue a case to completion; can you imagine, for example, being obliged to report your rape to your rapist? And having no other avenue to get justice?

Thankfully, military sexual assault is something people at large are finally talking about, which is a significant shift from historical discussions on the issue. Previously it was buried under the carpet. Many well-meaning calls to equalize participation by opening up service to LGBQ people (trans people are still banned from service, although a member of Seal Team 6 recently came out as trans after her retirement) and ensuring that women can serve in combat positions ended up burying the fact that sexual assault was and is a huge issue for people of all genders in the military. 

Congress, as it is so often wont to do, decided to respond to calls for them to do something in its usual sluggish fashion: by committee. After years of lobbying by groups like the Service Women's Action Network, after growing public pressure, it held a hearing. And it was a pretty major hearing.

All the Joint Chiefs of Staff were called up on the carpet to discuss proposed legislation that's supposed to tighten up military discipline and address the sexual assault issue. But let's take a closer look at who testified at this critical hearing, shall we?

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog pointed out that when it comes to these types of hearings, the Senate Armed Services Committee usually has around four witnesses on average. This time, they had 20. Of those 20, 18 came to oppose the proposed legislation, while only two were invited to testify in support of it.

No one on either side was a survivor of military sexual assault; Congress, once again, held a hearing on an important social issue without actually including any of the people who would be affected by its outcome. And the deck in this case was stacked from the start against the proposed legislation. 

This is a Democrat-dominated committee, by the way, before you suggest that this is the result of evil conservatives. If you still doubt whether Democrats have the interests of sexual assault victims in mind, this is pretty compelling evidence.

This is also a committee with seven women sitting on it. Only some of those women aggressively pursued the issue of military sexual assault during the hearing; Senator Gillibrand in particular was a bit of a firebrand. (Best Gillibrand smackdown: "...not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.")

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You tried, Senator. You tried. 

Photo credit: The Irish Labour Party.

But she alone can't turn the tide of a committee that has a bad record when it comes to women in the military, and Tuesday's hearing was no exception. What happened in that room was something the Senate should have been deeply ashamed of, because it was a mockery of justice, and it did absolutely nothing to address the larger issue of military sexual assault. 

This is, after all, the committee where Senator Saxby  Chambliss said: "The young folks coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we've got to be very careful how we address it on our side."

Hormones, people. That's it. All those hormone levels are sending soldiers running amuck, incapable of regulating themselves, willy-nilly. We can't be exposing them to women, or they won't be able to exercise some self-control and not rape them. (Those male rape survivors? That's obviously The Gays.) 

We cannot keep doing this. We can't keep holding hearings about critical social issues without soliciting testimony from people who are personally affected by those issues. The lack of witnesses in this case wasn't due to a lack of volunteers or available people; numerous people who work in and with military organizations could have testified, and the presentation of information could have been much more balanced. 

At the very least, the people on that committee should have been confronted with the actual face of someone who's experienced sexual assault in the military and is willing to talk about it.

Veteran Kayla Williams notes that "Even if just 1 percent of those serving are criminals, that would mean over 10,000 criminals are on active duty." That's a lot of people in the military with the potential to commit rape, and clearly what the military is doing right now in terms of command structure, processing rape reports, and creating a culture of safety is not working. General Odierno claims "We can't simply legislate our way out of this," but obviously letting the Uniform Code of Military Justice remain as-is is not working.

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I see you there, General Odierno. 

Photo credit: The US Army.

What we need is a combination of better legislation and better command structure and functionality in the military to address military rape. And that process needs to involve actual survivors of military rape, because they're the ones who can speak best to what is failing and what is working within the system. They have the experiences the Senate Armed Services Committee needs to be hearing about, and yet they weren't invited to this hearing.

Gosh, it's almost like the members of the committee weren't actually interested in meaningful reform on the subject.  

When you're done writing your Congressperson and Senator to demand that we do better by our armed forces, want to do something to help survivors of military sexual assault? The Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program provides 14 days of intensive residential treatment for survivors -- and they could use funding assistance