The Fulcrum of Sexual Assault in the Military

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Experts say sexual violence isn’t about sex as much as it is about power.

That may help explain why the problem has long seemed intractable in the U.S. military, where hierarchy defines everything, and a commander’s order is accepted without hesitation.

But that’s only part of the challenge.

It helps to think of it in terms of physics.

The simplest of the classical six simple machines is the lever.

A military commander wishing to sexually assault someone under his or her command has leverage simply because of their respective links in the chain of command, even though the potential victim knows sexual assault is against all the military’s rules.

That’s where the lever’s key partner – the fulcrum – comes in to play.

A lever without a fulcrum is simply a stick.

But with a fulcrum, the power dynamic between the commander and commanded becomes huge.

The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals has just detailed the power inherent in this fulcrum:

According to these victims’ testimony, in December 2007, while on charge of quarters duty, appellant discovered PV2 SMH and PV2 EDP in the male living area after lights out. This violated established policy, which the parties knew could subject the female trainees to administrative action or punishment under the UCMJ.

Upon discovery of their misconduct, appellant directed the two trainees to wait for him in the administration building, which was otherwise empty at that time of night.

He later met them there and told them they were in significant trouble and faced both non-judicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ, and potentially being held over to repeat the course. This was upsetting to both trainees, as class was scheduled to end in a matter of days, to be followed by a period of leave coinciding with the holiday break. Appellant then pulled PV2 EDP aside and told her if she and PV2 SMH performed sexual favors, he would not report the misconduct.

That is a fulcrum.