Failure Not an Option?: Sexual Violence and the U.S. Military

Why would any parent feel good about their child choosing to enter the military for service or a career at this point? I am the eleventh child in a large Irish family and, although I eventually did time in the priesthood, I watched four brothers and many uncles and cousins do their duty in the U.S. Army. My father was one of the metallurgists who created the bullet credited with a difference in the Battle of Stalingrad. We have always been a family who has believed in serving the country. There is a further history of the American military being (ironically, perhaps) a force for egalitarian social change. It has provided opportunity for those with few options for economic advancement and it has proved decisive in helping the nation attain a tipping point of consciousness to end the terrible legacy of Jim Crow laws and the segregated world from the olden times. It may well prove to be instrumental in achieving overdue equality for LGBT men and women in the nation soon. It is also a confirmed source of sexual violence committed against its own members and one that the shows considerable inadequacy to solve from within the ranks. A military that can not protect its own membership from predation from within has a very serious problem.

So why would the military be facing an existential crisis in 2013? With an epidemic of sexual violence happening in precisely the place one would expect a tendency to maintain the most rigorous order, the already horrific problem is made considerably worse by dangerous suppression of accusations and menacing behavior towards the accusers coming from within the very chain of command that is made to protect. The unconscionable behaviors of most on the Committee on Armed Services is underscored by the dinosaur statements of Senator Levin of Michigan and Senator McCaskill from Missouri. The clear-headed Senator Gillibrand stands nearly alone in this quest, with little support from mainstream groups from the progressive world or most women's organizations. Why?

Quiet lamentations on allowing felons to serve in the military or of relaxing recruiting standards in times of war do not answer the question. On the contrary, they deflect it onto other vulnerable groups. Why is crime in the military different than civil life? Why do we allow the military to continue to be responsible for its own jurisdiction in these matters while we seem hellbent on avoiding any hint of controversy more than we are concerned with the pursuit of justice? Why is none of this a trigger to think through the current suicide rates for those in or returned from military service?

Where is Hilary Clinton in this fight? Where is the National Organization of Women? Equality Now? Amnesty International? Where is the sustained fight for human rights within the military? It seems as though those on the Left are determined to avoid being perceived as an ally of military concerns and those on the Right are determined to maintain external unity of the military at any cost.

Dehumanization is an essential component of rape and the victimization of most humans. In fact, dehumanization is an essential component of all human rights. Above and beyond the facile sloganeering of R2P, can't we come together to agree that there is a problem of tremendous size in a military command that creates a world with so many becoming victims and so many becoming perpetrators and so many of them being ignored by the chain of command? Imagine what would happen if observation of human rights were a baseline concern of the military. How much less likely might we be to have these numbers of women (and men) who have had lives disrupted by criminal violence? How much less likely would it have been that Abu Ghraib and other events would have happened if we were to engage a culture that matched the pure strength of material force with the pure power of human rights respect at their base. That would indeed be a military worth being proud of not only as an American but as a global citizen. I think, to paraphrase Gandhi's comment on Western Civilization, that it sounds like a wonderful idea. Until that happens, the military's leadership is a source of shame for human rights advocates and for the world at large.

You think that there is shame in the failure to provide death benefits for the families of those who have died during service? Yes, undoubtedly. But what is more shameful is the failure of our nation's military leaders to step up to the plate and do their duty towards the men and women who have pledged their very bodies and lives in service to their country. The practice of human rights should not be marginal to the success of the American military. Indeed, the practice is essential to its very ability to have any legitimacy at all. Don't wait for the shutdown to end in D.C. before calling your representatives and demanding a full accounting of these failures and an immediate reform process. See for more information. Tell them to do their duty: protect human rights everywhere. This problem hasn't gone away. It could. It should. Help this thing to change today. Call your representative and demand action.