Some decades ago, when the women’s liberation movement was fully in swing, some coed published pictures of all the male students under the heading of potential rapists. As you might imagine, this shocked the sensibility of the young men so listed and sent a tremor through the American male population. Of course, there were many women also so shocked and protests filled the media denouncing the young woman who had been so blatant in her distrust and hostility toward men.
Me? I knew I was not a rapist and could never imagine any situations in which I might act so and thus felt the unfairness of her accusations. Time passes, the women’s movement loses some of its fervor though not its concerns and it appears as if society understands women’s concerns. Rape, was once thought to be a consequence of a woman’s provocative behavior. “Your honor, what could I do, she looked so enticing and I’m a red-blooded man. I only did what any man would do under the circumstances.” That was often enough for an “innocent” verdict. Or, rape was thought to be a function of time and place. I knew a number of men, somewhat ashamed of themselves, but not much, who raped “enemy” women in Viet Nam. They also (not all) engaged in rather sadistic behaviors, but that is not this essay’s topic.
Well, here we are and while rape is perhaps less common, we find old men of some authority telling us about legitimate rape in which pregnancy is almost not possible. I suppose if no conception the rape itself is of little consequence. What’s the phrase, “No harm, no foul.”?
Clearly, the readers of this essay likely remember some of the above and are enraged by some current attitudes, but I suspect that the issue has currently seemed less significant. Until, the generals gave testimony at a recent Senate hearing. As you are aware, the incidence of sexual assault and rape has grown considerably in our military services. Commanders have refused to try men accused of such behavior and at least once, a commander overturned a verdict of guilty. The officer in charge of the military’s effort to curtail such activities himself is now accused of such. In spite of the warnings to the generals, what has been accomplished is an increase in such ugly behavior.
The solution seems obvious; create an independent judicial system that would take commanders out of the loop. But, but, wait, that would interfere with the sacred chain of command. The commanding officer is in charge, period. He or she has to weigh the accused importance to the service and sometimes may decide that the needs are greater than justice. It’s as if the accused is so important that he (yes, he) can get away with anything.
It’s important to understand that the military likes to change only on its own terms. President Truman desegregated the military, but there were black divisions well after that. They did poorly because their white officers were not very good and desegregation occurred only when those black divisions were broken up and mixed in with the white divisions, those that had better officers. What happened? The black soldiers performed as well as their white counterparts.
I suspect that the generals, in spite of their promises to do better will be forced to give up a bit of their power and things will be better. When John McCain said that a woman’s daughter could not be safe in the military, we know they have to get better.