Sexual Assault: The Danger of Isolation

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that there will be more training for commanders and senior leaders to help prevent sexual assault in the ranks. “The men and women of the U.S. military deserve an environment that is free from the threat of sexual assault,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says. “Service members and their families must feel secure enough to report this crime without fear of retribution and commanders must hold offenders appropriately accountable.”

As with suicide awareness, we have been hearing the calls for more training for years. But the Joint Base Lackland scandal has gained our national attention.

I am troubled, once again, by the use of old, already tried/tired (failed?) methods for reducing sexual assault.

As I wrote about suicide awareness, service members do not need more PowerPoint slides and annual reports on the topic for nearly a decade.

Training to reduce sexual assault tends to focus on two issues:

Army values (you should not rape a fellow Soldier).
— The battle buddy system, which pairs troops together to reduce the chances of such assaults.

What I believe, having been closely involved in these issues since the drill-sergeant scandal at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in 1996, is that command needs to recognize patterns and circumstances in which sexual misbehavior is likely to occur.

There are three common scenarios that are repeated over and over:

— The recruit scenario in which recruiters, drill sergeants or male superiors victimize numerous recruits or basic trainees of a lower rank.
— The “date-rape” scenario, where two service members of more or less equal rank meet in a secluded place (the park bench, the barracks), drink too much, and sex happens; the question later is whether the sex was consensual.
— In the theater of war, two service members become close, and then sex happens. A similar question: whether or not it is consensual.

The common theme among these situations is isolation, whether on a secluded base, park bench, barracks or the CHU (container housing unit).

The concept of behavioral drift is useful here. In an isolated environment, with no oversight, bad things happen. Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

Another useful concept is the subset of these cases involving sexual predators, and how they  select their victims. They touch their knees, probe, make friends, see who reacts, who is afraid to tell.

In the military-recruit environment, if potential victims resist, such instigators bring up the failed physical training tests, past psychological issues, and other vulnerabilities.

Bottom line: the training of commanders should include not just Army values, or traveling with your battle buddy. It should include how to ensure that the military environment does not have training bases with lax supervision, picnic tables with no lights, and, of course, responsible use of alcohol.

And how to empower potential victims to report.

Many have said that rape is an occupational hazard of being in the military. I think we can best change that by being aware of, and altering, the environmental hazards of isolation.

Battle buddies never hurt.

Sort: Newest | Oldest

One troubling thing with the recent AF scandal was that some recruits felt pressured to have sex with their supervisors because they saw them as authority figures who needed to be obeyed. It's very troubling how far they took it. Now, military discipline is important of course, but it has its limits. They need to be taught that there is such a thing as an unlawful order and they don't have to do everything their superiors tell them. Especially when it comes to sexual advances.


Consensual or not consensual? I am sorry, but if the victim says it wasn't consensual, then it needs to be treated as such unless proven otherwise. This article talks about solutions that save a potential victim from assault including: having a battle buddy, or to use "alcohol responsibly"; only ONE sentence at the very end says "empower potential victims." Really? This is the problem! Turn your attention to taking it out of the command's hand and removing perpetrators! In the civilian world, we don't have to have "battle buddies" with us at all times to feel safe, why should be need that protection in the military?? Answer: the command and Mr. Panetta realize they are harvesting perpetrators. Not only harvesting them, but some of the commanders, generals, recruiters, etc. are the perpetrators and they have the power to decide what happens when a victim reports sexual assault. What a corrupt system. All this is doing is molding an environment to blame the victim more than they are already blamed! "Well, if she would have had her battle buddy... Well, if she would have used alcohol responsibly". Why doesn't the rest of the country catch on to these false promises of sexual assault prevention and training? The military laughs at sexual assault training, it is a sign off sheet that is passed around once a year. The soldiers they send to sexual assault courses to become advocates blame victims and are often involved in harassment themselves. Wake up America!!! For years, we have heard promises to fix the system. For years, tax money is spent on training that is not effective. For years, victims are still silences, still scared, and still alone with no one to tell. These victims are our heroes too, protect them! 


It's really a problem with the military "justice" system in general. It's beyond absurd that commanding officers have such immense power over criminal cases. It's ok for them to deal with relatively minor disciplinary issues within the unit, but I just don't understand why matters dealing with criminal charges aren't handled by independent investigators and prosecutors like in the civilian world. The weird thing is that those institutions exist - they just need to have the power to act on their own.


you forgot about the other type of isolation: isolation after the assault. trying to hold together your world as it once was. not wanting your chain of command involved until you can figure it out. not wanting to have to put down that you received counseling for your sexual assault on your security clearance, because you do not want to be invaded, traumatized again. we are abandoning our servicemen and women by forcing them to report sexual assault counseling on their security clearances.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,122 other followers