Saturday, January 21, 2012

Military Rape

Serving in the military is dangerous enough, you would think, without having to worry about your fellow soldiers raping you.  Killing you is bad enough; we know that there are deaths to friendly fire, and almost certainly always will be.  Getting raped by the other side is also a danger that, I would imagine, the laws of war will never completely eliminate.  But there is increasing news coverage of people getting raped by members of their own side.

A Democratic Congressman has introduced a bill that would take military rape cases out of the military chain of command.  If the Defense Department is to be believed, there is a veritable contagion of rape among soldiers:  19,000 sexual assaults in 2010 alone.  Even granted that not every sexual assault would qualify as a rape, that's still a staggering figure.  A new documentary called The Invisible War delves into the problem up close and, from what I have read, in a heart-rending fashion.

I don't know whether other countries have a comparable problem.  I do know that rape is deplorable, and rape on this scale is a scandal.  I also think that this consequence of mixing women and men in military units should have been entirely predictable.  In general, mixing men and women in close living quarters is almost certain to result in sex.  Mixing men and women in close living quarters where they are deprived of a normal social life is even more likely to result in sex.  Mixing men and women in close living quarters and a stressful position is almost certain to result in rape.  It is deplorable, but true.  Of course, one would have to adjust for factors such as the prevalence of rape in a society in general; within a given society, however, I would have to think that this is a recipe for rape, even if not necessarily on the same scale that the U.S. Army is experiencing.

Obviously, the military's response to sexual assault is also an important factor.  It appears that commanders have not taken rape accusations as seriously as they should have, and that may be due to an institutional failing.  I don't, however, think that they are going to eliminate the problem entirely.  And, no, I don't have a solution.  The best alternative, in my opinion, would be to have all-male and all-female units, but that creates other problems.  Women don't officially serve in combat roles now, but can you imagine if they did, and you had to choose between sending in an all-male or an all-female unit into a dangerous situation?  Whatever you picked, the answer would be wrong, and the military would probably end up creating rules about which units had to be committed that would be contrary to good tactics.  I don't have an answer, but the situation needs to get better.

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