Those who service in the military are obviously held in high esteem, and yes, they should be. The national anthem boldly proclaims how much the US values bravery. The flag “was still there,” at the end of the fight, but was the dignity of the soldiers? Maybe in the olden days it was, but what happens these days is questionable, at best. This week, yet another poorly-handled case of sexual misconduct in the military has made the news. Many cases of sexual violence in the military are completely ignored, and because of that, it’s no wonder that those who are guilty of such crimes become repeat offenders.
While the sacrifice soldiers make is worth of great praise, a major dishonor has occurred too many times, behind closed doors. While small complaints and issues among soldiers may be handled privately by those at the top ranks, there is a line that is (and has been) being crossed. It is unacceptable for sexual harassment or assault to go by unacknowledged, and this a major part of why the statistics are so high. The way the military has ignored sexual violence in several cases is a problem, and the latest repeat offender to be found guilty is one of many to face only minimal consequences. Those committing such crimes should be found guilty, not by a court of soldiers, but by a court of law.
What happens to the statistics when crime becomes “military business”? As it is, sexual violence is underreported- there is a stigma to being a survivor, even in the most supportive circumstances. But in many cases (across this nation) those who allege sexual violence are treated as if they are guilty of a crime; victim-blaming and doubt run rampant in many of these cases. In one case of a marine who was raped (by a fellow marine), the report was dismissed as her complaint was reduced to her having sex and changing her mind.
Given the treatment of those who report sexual violence in the military, it likely that the 3,553 reports of sexual assault from 2012-2013 is actually a much higher number. A report from the Pentagon disagrees with this number, saying it might be as high a 26,000. To be clear, it is not exclusively women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault; many of the victims are men. But out of all the women in the military, the Department of Labor says that between 20-48 percent become victims of sexual violence. Because allegations of sexual violence in the military are often ignored or dismissed with minimal consequences, there are logically going to be several repeat offenders.
There are many serious consequences that many victims of sexual violence face. PTSD (or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a complex issue that occurs for many who endure abuse. Some major symptoms include hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, depression and even immune system issues. Many have heard about PTSD used in context to discuss what happens to soldiers after combat. Many programs even exist to help soldiers with PTSD as a result of combat. Frighteningly, more women return from the military with PTSD from sexual violence than from combat. No one should make the decision to help protect this county and return home as a victim of sexual violence.
The military does not have an impressive track record in terms of creating suitable consequences for those convicted of sexual violence. A recent case is just one of many examples of this. This week, Michael McClendon, a 1st Class Sergeant, was sentenced to 33 months. His conviction was based on several serious charges, but the information released has been boiled down to secretly video-taping female cadets. So one might see this and write it off, saying McClendon made a mistake, and it seems appropriate that the military is allowed to handle it. After all, he got some jail time, and a “reduction in rank.”
Here is what Michael McClendon’s story actual looks like. McClendon has criminal charges against him dating back to 2009. He initially worked at West Point. Then some charges were raised against him: mistreatment, taking naked photos of cadets, entering female bathrooms without notice, etc. Instead of being charged for these things, McClendon was transferred to Fort Drum, where he continued to disregard the law, because why would someone who has learned he can get away with sexual harassment stop such behavior? Naturally, McClendon’s behavior continued at Fort Drum. Now, the 1st Class Sergeant, who has been downgraded to Private, will serve time, but will he have even learned that his actions were unacceptable and criminal?
Sexual assault in the military is an embarrassing blemish on US History. Even if the US wins every battle until the end of time, it can never be the “land of the free, and the home of the brave” until women and men stop returning from service with memories of being attacked, not on the battlefield, but in the barracks. When children in the US grow up waiting for the day they can make the great sacrifice of enlisting and risking their life for this country, they should do so with the understanding that if they sustain any injury, it should only be as a result of defending this county. The military is guilty of consistently ignoring and discounting sexual violence, and given the poor treatment of those who have come forward as survivors of these crimes, it is no wonder so many offenders repeat their actions.
Opinion by Bonnie Sludikoff