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Jane Ahlin, Published June 08 2013

Ahlin: Sexual assault, generals and Senate Neanderthals

When Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., questioned a lineup of military generals in a Capitol Hill hearing last week concerning the terrible problem of sexual assault in the military, the importance of her Senate win over Todd “legitimate rape” Akin was made crystal clear. Akin infamously insisted a female’s body “shut[s] the whole thing down” to avoid pregnancy if she’s really raped. In his loopy mindset, rape can’t cause pregnancy and women who say it can are liars.

McCaskill’s words from the hearing get to the crux of the sexual assault issue in the military and point up the lack of understanding by military commanders, not to mention some of her congressional peers. In an exchange with one general insisting commanders retain full authority to deal with sexual assault claims, including whether to prosecute, she said, “With all due respect … we can prosecute our way out of … the problem of sexual predators (in the military). My years of experience in this area tell me they are committing crimes of domination and violence. This isn’t about sex. This is about assaultive domination and violence.” McCaskill knows. Before she was a senator, she was a prosecutor who handled rape cases.

Now, note the words of a Todd-Akin-type currently in Congress, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who brought up the youthful age of most male troops and said, “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.” (Ah, the Southern gentleman, too embarrassed to say “assault” or “rape,” opting instead for the euphemism “these types of things.”)

Chambliss professed to be on board with the majority of senators appalled by the frequency and across-all-branches pattern of sexual assault in the military; however, what came out of his mouth was just another version of the old saw: Boys will be boys, especially when forced into constant close proximity of the female sex (subtext, that’s why women don’t belong in the military). Mired in the mentality of Neanderthals who equate sexual desire – good old-fashioned lust – with rape, Chambliss’ gut belief is that all young men are just one hormonal surge away from committing criminal assault.

Would that Chambliss who was alone in his gut reaction. At least it would be nice to think the lineup of male generals had a clearer sense of the crime of rape and why it occurs. Yet, given the remark of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III last month in another hearing when he blamed military rapes on America’s “hook-up culture,” ongoing confidence in the generals and chain of command defies logic.

It’s been 22 years since the Navy Tailhook Scandal thrust sexual assault in the military into public parlance, but little – if anything – has changed. Just in the month of May, the sexual harassment/assault response and prevention coordinator for the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, was charged both with running a prostitution ring and for sexually assaulting a soldier who refused to participate in it. The head of the Sexual Assault Unit for the Air Force was arrested for sexual assault. The Army officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., in charge of the sexual assault response program was arrested for violating a protection order his ex-wife had taken out against him.

More disturbing are cases from the military academies, where the attitudes of future officers concerning sex crimes likely are set. An Army sergeant at West Point was charged with videotaping females in an academy bathroom. And at the Naval Academy, three football players accused of the sexual assault of a female midshipman more than a year ago have yet to be charged or even disciplined while the female accuser was punished for underage drinking.

The most telling moment in last week’s hearings came when the generals were asked about commanders under them who had been disciplined or fired over how they dealt with sexual assault cases. The Coast Guard admiral had one example; one Army general referred to a few firings not specific to sexual assault; all the others, nothing at all. In preparing for testimony on sexual assault, they hadn’t thought to check what happened in their own chain of command. They had to ask their aides.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email janeahlin@yahoo.com