It's no news that the military is still having trouble grasping the definition of sexual assault. If the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention can't even get it right, is it even surprising that so many others are just as fucked up? And it's getting worse every year. Since 2010, sexual assaults in the military have skyrocketed from 19,000 to 26,000 today. This Air Force brochure about rape risk reduction is telling of how misguided whoever put this thing together was. It merely focuses on violent attacks from strangers, as though never in a million years would a man attack a woman he already knew! Not that anybody really needs a fucking brochure to figure that one out, but it's a shining example of how blind these people are to what a huge and pervasive problem rape and sexual assault is. It's no wonder the statistics are showing high rates of assault. These guys have never even heard of date rape.
Kayla Williams and Stephanie Driessel are military women in the 101st Airborne Division who have witnessed these atrocities firsthand and are hoping to bring change to these unsettling trends. Sergeant Williams wrote a memoir about her experiences and incidents she witnessed while serving. She formally reported a cadre member and a fellow student but never heard word of any punishment given for their crimes.
Stephanie Driessel, a specialist in the 101st, was sexually assaulted while intoxicated at the age of 18 in 2000. During the first weeks of her training, Driessel was bothered incessantly by a 33 year old prior-service soldier until she agreed to go to dinner with him. She did so only to see if he’d leave her alone after that night was over, which he did. After their meal, he pulled out a bottle of vodka in his car and got Driessel drunk. She was hardly conscious when he brought her back to his room and raped her. At first Driessel wasn’t sure whether to consider it rape because she had willingly gone on the “date” and willingly consumed the alcohol. She didn’t want to get in trouble for underage consumption so she didn’t report the incident, but instead confessed what happened to her mother. Driessel’s mom called the drill sergeant who asked Driessel to come in and tell her story, and thus formally reported the assault.
Driessel never heard back about the event and her attacker was never punished. This response is common in the military, and thus discourages future formal reporting of sexual assaults. One quickly learns that reporting does not result in conviction or prosecution. Most of the time all it does is humiliate the victim or put her career at risk.
The fact that rape culture is so widely accepted in the military is prompting Williams and Driessel to call for a huge change. They’ve outlined a few steps that need to be taken in order to get things on the right track.
As President Obama has said, offenders need to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged—period." The two ladies add that those offenders must also be discharged with a record, so communities will be made aware of their presence and any danger they might impose. In addition, evaluation reports should include officer’s dealings with sexual assault so they will be held accountable for improper responses. The government needs to provide far more resources for prevention, training, and prosecution.
All trainees and officer cadets should receive informed and intense prevention training that addresses relevant issues, including: “acquaintance rape, common tactics used by offenders, reporting procedures, frequency of repeat offenses, rarity of false reporting, and the consequences of conviction.”
Williams and Driessel agree that the way to stop offenders is to enforce consequences. Otherwise victims and witnesses will not report and this will continue to be a growing problem. Their message is clear: “Prevent, report, prosecute, convict.”
Photos via Slate and NPR