Here’s how the debate over military sexual assault has unfolded thus far: Bold female leaders spoke out, smart male allies stood behind them, clueless conservative men started mansplaining the issue, and right-wing media went full misogynist. Because of this, it’s easy to imagine that military sexual assault is mainly a problem of men versus (or attacking) women, but as James Dao in the New York Times explains, in fact, the majority of sexual assault in the military is male-on-male crime.
In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.
Part of the reason for this is that women are still a small minority in the military, representing only about 15 percent of service members. But what this astonishing number demonstrates is the truth of what feminists have been saying about sexual assault all along: It is not caused by an overabundance of sexual desire, but is an act of violence perpetrated by people who want to hurt and humiliate the victim, using sex as a weapon.
That’s why comments such as Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s during the Senate hearings on rape in the military are not just offensive, but flat-out wrong. Chambliss acknowledged the gravity of the problem but ended up minimizing it by saying, “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.” These kinds of comments perpetuate the myth that rape is not that big of a deal, the result of miscommunication, or caused by men being just too damn horny and ladies being just too damn sexy to not rape.
The fact that most military rape is male-on-male also shows how very wrong it is to suggest that the problem is that we let women serve to begin with. Even if you removed them all, that leaves nearly 14,000 rapes a year.
And lest you think this male-on-male crime is the result of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Dao shows otherwise. As one male victim told Dao, “The people who perpetrated these crimes on me identify as heterosexual males,” which is frequently true of male-on-male rape.
It would be nice if the dynamics of sexual assault could be understood and accepted even when women are the victims, but sadly, that’s not the world we live in. Publicizing the percentage of victims that are men will help male victims understand that they’re not alone, and it will help the public at large better realize why widespread sexual assault happens and why it’s so critical to do a better job preventing and prosecuting it.