Addressing sexual assault in the military

A recent Letter to the Editor of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette begged the question – “Did sexual assault in the military occur before women were integrated into the military?”

The writer then questioned whether it was a mistake to let women into the military because, after all, it did just fine without women for centuries.

To that author – this column is for you.

To begin, I must emphasize that despite a barrage of news regarding the “epidemic” of sexual assault in the military – that is not what defines the United States Military.

The vast majority of the Armed Forces are good men and women who staunchly oppose sexual violence.

Sexual assault is a problem everywhere. One in four girls, one in six boys, one in four female college students, one in 33 men and 237,868 individuals are raped every year in America.

In the United States Military, women aren’t the only rape victims. In fact, the Department of Defense reports that in fiscal year 2012 – 13,900 male soldiers were sexually assaulted in the military.

The same year, 12,000 females were assaulted.

These numbers represent a one-third increase since 2010.

Perhaps people view this as a woman’s problem, because out of those 26,000 victims – fewer than 400 men reported the crime whereas 2,555 females sought justice.

Startlingly, more than 500,000 men and women in uniform have been sexually assaulted since 1991.

Keeping women out of the military won’t prevent rape either. Documentation from the dawn of time shows that occupying armies have raped civilians.

This is not unique to any country or any armed forces. Furthermore, to suggest the military was ever successful without women is just wrong. From the very beginning of the United States Military in 1775, women were entrenched in the American Revolution.

Countless women served as nurses, cooks, water bearers, laundresses, saboteurs and some even disguised as soldiers.

I challenge anyone to define how a successful military would work without these roles being filled.

When this aforementioned Letter to the Editor was published, more than 60 comments appeared on the online version. Some implied women wishing to join the military should accept rape as a possibility – an occupational hazard. The only thing that that attitude accomplishes is releasing the perpetrator from blame, and points the finger directly at the victim.

Stop victim blaming. The only thing that causes sexual assault is a rapist. Not what someone wears, drinks or chooses to do for a living. No one should have to live in fear of rape. It is a crime; not an occupational hazard. It should never be the result of choosing to defend the United States of America.

This month, the YWCA recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month. If you’ve experienced sexual assault and need help – call us.

If you want more information how to end this crime – call us. Our crisis hotline is open 24/7 at 800-326-8483.

Thompson is the communications and development manager at the YWCA.