A bad week for the military and sexual assaults keeps getting worse.
Following Monday’s arrest of the Air Force’s Chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response for grabbing a woman in an Arlington parking lot, and a new Department of Defense report showing a dramatic escalation of sexual assaults in the armed forces, comes the revelation of a pamphlet from the Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, advising, among other things, that victims “submit” in response to an attack.
The pamphlet, entitled “Sexual Assault Prevention & Response,” proposes that “it may be advisable to submit rather than resist. You have to make the decision based on circumstances.”
Wired obtained a copy of the pamphlet from an anti-rape advocacy group, and says a public relations officer for the base believes it to be current.
While not all the advice is as egregious as submitting, Spencer Ackerman notes that the pamphlet “does not offer instruction to servicemembers on not committing sexual assault. Prevention is treated as the responsibility of potential victims.”
In short, the military is speaking to the wrong actors in sexual assault cases. While advocating caution and awareness among female service members is important, it should be dwarfed by efforts to reduce incidents of sexual assault.
Instead, the opposite is happening. Just this morning, the Department of Defense released a report showing a six percent increase in sexual assaults in 2012, while estimated unreported assaults rose from 19,000 in 2011 to 26,000 last year.
Additional scrutiny is also being paid to how the military adjudicates sexual assault cases. Ackerman points out that new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has removed the ability to overturn decisions from the chain of command. Until now, convictions for sexual assaults could be (and sometimes were) voided by commanding officers.
When pamphlets presuppose sexual assault, and an internal judicial system excuses them later, the result is a culture that doesn’t just ignore rape but allows it. Rather than telling women they should make a decision “based on circumstances,” the military should do far more to prevent those circumstances from ever occurring.
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