Today the United States military proved that sexual assault to them is about as important as banning My Little Pony backpacks are to certain schools. In releasing Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair with a fine of $20,000 and no jail time over accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, it appears that the issue is not as important to them as their media campaigns would have people believe. Not only is this a denial of basic statistics over sexual assault in the military, but it is a startlingly light consequence for what should be their primary focus – stopping sexual offenders from repeating their offense.
The prosecution did try to make the punishment fit the crime, asking for eighteen months in jail. Sinclair and his attorneys, however, launched a campaign on social media and the web to discredit the woman who made the accusation of sexual assault, an unnamed female captain. The website, titled “Friends of Sinclair”, says it is designed to help people make up their own minds about the case without being affected by the “propaganda” being put out by the army. Instead of having blind faith in the prosecution and the accuser, the website wants people to judge fairly, and they want them to do so by accepting their discrediting of the accuser.
Whether Sinclair’s accuser isn’t creditable or not, this is just another example of a disturbing trend in America’s rape culture in which victims are more often blamed for being sexually assaulted than their actual offenders are. This is a topic being discussed all over the United States, but it doesn’t look like any progress is actually being made. In launching a full campaign to discredit his accuser, Sinclair and his defense have taken obvious advantage of this terrible fact.
Blaming the victim isn’t limited to just victims of sexual assault, though. Recently it was seen in the case of Grayson Bruce, a 9-year-old boy who loves the My Little Pony cartoon and wore a backpack with characters from the show to school. He was subsequently bullied by his fellow classmates for liking what is usually marketed as a girls’ show, and for having the backpack. Instead of combating the bullying in their school, school officials banned Grayson’s backpack. The principle of the school called the backpack a distraction and made that his reason for banning it.
Where have we heard this logic before? Any woman can tell you. It’s what they’re told when they’re wearing short skirts or skimpy clothing in public. Women and young girls in rape prevention programs are constantly told to not wear such articles of clothing because they might provoke an attack. The excuse of “she was asking for it” has become so iconic of the problem that media campaigns have been launched to stop its use.
The question about the Sinclair case should be was his alleged victim “asking for it” when wearing military fatigues, which cover from head to toe? Are women wearing the military standard uniform skirts also asking to be assaulted? People might also ask if 9-year-old Grayson was asking to be bullied when he took his backpack to school. What is certain is that the United States military shouldn’t be treating this case as somehow less important than a My Little Pony backpack.
In comments made to the court, Sinclair admitted to certain amounts of wrongdoing. He stated that he did cause emotional harm to the woman under his command, as well as failing her as a leader and a mentor. But admitting to maltreatment was part of his plea deal. Saying you did something wrong is pretty easy to do when it makes the difference between eighteen months in jail and a $20,000 fine.
Nevertheless, the female captain has stated that she is satisfied with the outcome of the case even as she maintains the truth of her accusations. As the one who made the claim, she is entitled to have her feelings about the case and if they are positive feelings, that’s better than most victims of sexual assault ever achieve. But should the American public watching this case be satisfied?
That depends on how serious an offense sexual assault is. People might agree with the prosecution, which argued that this was not a case of mistakes in judgment regarding sexual matters, but repeated offenses. Sinclair was on trial not only because accusations of sexual assault, but for two other instances of having inappropriate relations with female subordinates. Obviously, Sinclair has a record of inappropriate sexual conduct. Is a mistake repeated multiple times still a mistake, or is it proof of a continuing problem?
Sinclair did plead guilty to adultery, considered a crime by the military, with both women and the captain who accused him of assault. Still, his defense argued that as an unselfish leader and a veteran of multiple armed conflicts, he should be given a lighter punishment than that recommended by the prosecution.
This argument apparently worked since the judge did not dismiss Sinclair from the army, which would have meant the loss of his pension of benefits. As of the ruling, Sinclair is still a brigadier general with female subordinates in his command. Should a man with an admitted history of inappropriate sexual conduct towards the women in his command be allowed to still have authority over women?
To a general audience, the judge’s ruling seems questionable at best. It looks as though the system put in place to protect victims of sexual assault isn’t doing a great job of actually protecting victims of sexual assault. This could have serious repercussions on victims of sexual assault who are considering reporting abuse or who have not already reported it. Already women are getting the message that sexual assault is their fault, but now the message is that speaking out won’t do any good.
Women are already affected by this idea, a fact that has led to an under reporting of sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of actual sexual assaults go unreported. In the American military, 67% did not report being sexually assaulted. It is cases like this where perpetrators get off either with light punishments or no punishments at all and where victims are discredited by targeted campaigns that lead to women remaining silent and, in many cases, continuing to be abused or assaulted.
Everyone has heard the facts on sexual abuse in America before. The conversation about rape culture and blaming the victim will continue without end until something changes, until real progress is made.
In the American justice system, people are innocent until proven guilty. This is an important part of the system that should continue. No one wants to see an innocent person punished for a crime they didn’t commit. But nowadays it seems as though there is a presumption that victims are guilty until proven innocent – guilty of lying, guilty of “asking for it,” guilty of deserving what they got. This is something that desperately needs to change, not just in cases like Brigadier General Sinclair’s, but in cases like a 9-year-old’s My Little Pony backpack, or any instance where a victim of sexual assault stays silent out of fear.
Opinion By Lydia Webb
Friends of Sinclair