Pentagon: No centralized support for military sexual assault victims

Reports are increasing, but resources for complainants are not improving.


Lynn Harris
July 19, 2006 8:52PM (UTC)

Number of reported sexual assaults in the military: 2,374 in 2005, up, since the previous year, from 1,700. Number of Pentagon offices established to assist alleged victims: zero, up from zero. As Raw Story reports (also mentioned at Feministing), the Department of Defense recently rejected a proposal by advocacy groups to create an Office of Victim Advocate under its own auspices.

The Pentagon offered Raw Story no details as to why the proposal -- which was backed by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and a Wellesley College study evidently commissioned by the DOD itself -- was shot down. A spokesperson confirmed only that "the department does not tolerate sexual assault of any kind and the department has worked vigorously to implement programs to prevent [it]."

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To be sure, members of the armed forces alleging sexual assault are not entirely without recourse. A new procedure now allows them to receive services without filing charges, which some say accounts for the rise in reports. And when people do request services, they are matched with a "victim advocate" who helps them navigate the system, whether they seek counseling, medical treatment, or to go ahead and open an investigation.

Advocates are volunteers, which is nice. But critics say that their training is limited and that the fact that many are uniformed themselves can create uncomfortable emotional and political issues among fellow soldiers. There's also the notion that, hey, if the system's so balkanized you need an advocate to get through it, perhaps you should consider centralizing it.

So why was the proposal rejected? John Santore, Slaughter's deputy communications secretary, suggested to Raw Story that, in short, the military doesn't like being told what to do. (It's unclear, in that regard, why the Wellesley report was commissioned in the first place.) Santore also pointed, indirectly, at the influence of advocates such as Elaine Donnelly, president of the nongovernmental Center for Military Readiness, who has in the past suggested that establishing an "Office of Male Bashing" would "nuclearize the war between the sexes" in the military and create a "man-eating plant with worldwide reach." As Raw Story paraphrased Donnelly, such an office would "bring a civilian, feminist sensibility to the American military and undermine its ability to serve national security and defense functions."

A man-eating plant with worldwide reach! Does the Axis of Evil know we could have that capability? To my civilian, feminist sensibility, it seems the best way to support the military's ability to serve is to it them the tools it needs -- whether efficient, effective support or, say, armor -- to get the job done.


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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