Sexual assault, harrassment and exploitation is an issue across the globe, and the U.S. military is no exception. The recent Marines United scandal, which featured servicemen posting nude and compromising photos of servicewomen on a private Facebook page, has served to illuminate another more modern facet to sexual assault in the military. The scandal was shocking in its scope, with more than 30,000 military members involved, and as a newspaper on a campus still reeling from its own sexual assault scandal, the Lariat simply couldn’t stay quiet.
The military as a whole needs to take a more direct stand against sexual assault, exploitation and harassment. As Baylor has moved through the stages of releasing information and reforming policies in regard to its own sexual assault scandal, we’ve seen how responding to sexual assault and harassment allegations with the aim of preserving an establishment’s reputation can devolve into a much bigger issue exceptionally quickly. Baylor is recovering and making amends, but the military needs to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t follow in our haphazard footsteps.
A 2014 study by the RAND National Defense Research Institute that surveyed almost 560,000 active duty and reservist service members found that approximately 1 percent of active-duty men and 4.9 percent of active-duty women — that’s more than 20,000 women — were sexually assaulted in the preceding year. When expanded to include harassment, this number rose to 22 percent — more than 116,000 active-duty women — and 7 percent of active-duty men. In addition, more than 50 percent of active-duty women who reported sexual assault or harassment were found to have experienced “professional or social retaliation,” according to the study.
These numbers are disconcerting, but they are made even more so by the blatant rejection of traditional values such as courage, honor and commitment touted by the military. What is honorable about disgracing your fellow service members? What is courageous about objectifying women’s bodies, about perpetuating the belief that women are substandard? How is commitment defined so as to allow for the injustice of posting and indulging in compromising photos of the very women with whom you serve?
To be fair, many military members have responded respectably to the Marines United scandal. Facebook groups such as Female Marines United have emerged to support military victims of sexual exploitation, and the Marine Corps released a video in which Commandant Gen. Robert Neller addressed the situation, condemning the group’s actions.
“When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don’t think such behavior is that of true warriors or warfighters,” Neller said. “… Right now, we all need to be focused on getting better, becoming more lethal and working day and night to stay ahead of potential adversaries — getting ready for the fight today and the one ahead, not hiding on social media, participating in or being aware of actions that are disrespectful and harmful to other Marines.”
The military is saying the right things, and they should be commended for denouncing these actions, but it isn’t enough to simply be disappointed, to acknowledge that wrongdoing occurred. Just as Baylor’s sexual assault scandal was not limited to its athletics department, the Marines United Facebook group is indicative of a much larger, inter-military problem. And just as drastic action was needed to begin repairing our campus, the military needs a complete overhaul in order to find the root of its sexual assault issue.
We’ve walked this path already, and we know its pitfalls better than most – Baylor is still making headlines as it works its way through the quagmire that is sexual assault, prevention and justice on campus. The military has an opportunity here and now to use the Marines United scandal as an impetus to return to its core values and truly revamp how it deals with sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. It should use it as an opportunity to implement effective, long-term change now, before the situation progresses.