GOP Eerily Silent on Cases of Actual Immorality
Issue   |   Wed, 09/12/2012 - 00:26

The men and women of our armed forces are facing continual, catastrophic assaults that threaten not only their individual well-beings but also the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the military as a whole. These assaults don’t originate from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or any of the groups that we have declared as our enemies. These assaults, distressingly, originate from within our own military. Every day our military personnel face sexual assault and battery from other members of the same military, frequently from those they have been drilled to trust at a religiously absolute level.

The Department of Defense announced that in 2010 there were 2,617 reported instances of sexual assault, but that the reported quantity represents only 14% of total instances, meaning that an estimated 19,000 cases actually occurred. Most of the victims are women, but men follow as a very close minority. The secretive, historically male-dominated culture of the military has made reporting sexual assault incredibly difficult. Those daring to issue such complaints frequently find themselves ostracized, ignored and sometimes additionally assaulted by those in their community. The DoD estimates that of the 13.5% of victims who report their assault less than 10% see their perpetrators prosecuted. Also, because no public record of sexual offenders is published by the military, those very few who get convicted get a clean slate once they reach civilian life. In 2011, 3,192 cases of sexual assault were reported, with 1,518 of those making it to referrals for trial and a mere 191 leading to convictions. The DoD also estimates that over a fifth of active duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted, and it postulates that the gender disparity between sexual assault levels helps account for the higher levels of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) found in female veterans upon discharge.

This trend is mortifying. Military success largely depends on successful uphold of chain of command — the line of authority through which orders are passed down. So many assault complaints fail to go to court because they are just cast aside by the officers who hear them. When surveyed, over half of military sexual assault victims who didn’t report their attacks said that they forwent doing so because the assigned commanding officer was either a friend of their perpetrator, or the very perpetrator himself. The troops are taught from boot camp to place complete, unwavering trust into their superiors and to obey their commands without hesitation. When these officers abuse that trust, they put the entire system into jeopardy.
The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated. It is a tactical problem as it undermines the chain of trust in authority that our military success is grounded in. It is also a moral atrocity, as we are tolerating the assault of the people we most venerate.

Why then, I wonder, do Republican leaders remain so silent about this? Two of their platform’s most important aims are threatened — preservation of morality and strong support of the armed forces. It is considered a requirement of any politician, especially Republican, to pay special homage to the military. That they should receive extensive benefits is an absolute bipartisan agreement. I cannot imagine a bigger moral disaster than this very situation, where huge portions of our most revered citizens are not only sexually assaulted, but also subsequently shamed and ostracized. Why are Republicans so eager to grant them veteran medical benefits but fail to act when studies show that female military members experience elevated levels of dehydration from being too afraid of assault to retrieve water at night? The GOP claims to takes moral enforcement so seriously that they have placed the preservation of “traditional” marriage at the top of this year’s platform, above the economy. When Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Republicans were in uproar about how the action would leave an adverse effect on the military’s readiness (even though the Pentagon released a study predicting the opposite). Well I can’t imagine any greater challenge to military readiness than the systematic sexual assault of military personnel.

Consider the recent scandal at Lackland Air Force Base, where 12 instructors have been accused of sexually assaulting no fewer than 31 female trainees since 2009. The sensationalism of this story brought exception to the issue because it actually directed public attention to it. Military proceedings were seen as insufficient, and soon action by civilian lawmakers was demanded. One (that is, one who is only vaguely familiar with the GOP) might have expected Republican leadership to jump at the opportunity of denouncing such an easily, almost objectively immoral situation. But no, Republicans fear speaking against the military complex regardless of which of their ‘principles’ are at stake. Instead, the strongest voice in favor of Congressional action came from Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), and some Republicans actually stood in the way. The most perturbing comments came from Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who claimed that there is “no evidence of a widespread problem” and that the assault seems to be “very limited.” Bear in mind that this came after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the problem and issued a directive for the restructuring of the system by which sexual assault cases are heard.

If Republicans are serious about enforcing moral rights, they need to stop interfering with the sexual lives of our citizens and start acknowledging the deep, ghastly wrongs that actively plague our country.

I urge anyone interested in learning more about sexual assault in the military to watch the Sundance-winning documentary The Invisible War. I have found that it is available to be viewed online if one looks hard enough.