This week the U.S. Air Force launched an initiative to rid its ranks of material seen to objectify women. Pictures and calendars featuring half-naked women will be stripped from Air Force work spaces and public areas in an attempt to combat the sexism and rape culture permeating the institution.
As of Thursday, commanders and supervisors in all active, reserve and Air National Guard units have 10 days to complete the sweep for pin-up images or similar materials. The sweep is part of broader efforts to combat what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called a “silent epidemic” of sexual assault in the armed forces. According the military’s own statistics, there are 19,000 victims each year of mostly unpunished rape and sexual assault throughout the military. Only 13.5 percent of incidents are reported; of those who have come forward about a sexual assault, 80 percent would, if given the chance, not do so again.
“In my view, all this stuff is connected,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh, adding, “If we’re going to get serious about things like sexual assault, we have to get serious about an environment that could lead to sexual harassment. In some ways this stuff can all be linked.“
Groups who have advocated against rape culture in the military tepidly praised the move. “Protect Our Defenders is pleased that the Air Force is undertaking this long overdue sweep for misogynist materials; however this, like so many other initiatives that have been announced and tried before, will not adequately address the fundamental problems of unpunished sexual harassment and assault facing our military,” said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for service members who have been raped or sexually assaulted in the military.
The organization has called on Congress to investigate instances of sexual violence in the Air Force, which were recently highlighted by an administrative complaint filed on behalf of a number of females in service detailing a wide range of sexual harassment, “including, but not limited to, verbal slurs and inferences, nonverbal gestures, pictures and notes, unwanted physical contact, unwanted touching, and physical advances.”