Our Soldiers are being raped…by our Soldiers.
In the U.S. Military, annually, more men are being raped by men than women are being raped by men. I state this fact, articulating it in this manner, not to diminish what these women are enduring but to raise the level of awareness and discourse to fully include the men; they have been dropping through the cracks in our “system” in alarming and increasing numbers. The assertion is that this problem is as great among men and these men are not being supported. There is virtually no effective system or network of support for male victims of rape in our Military, yet more men are raped than are women.
In 2012, nearly 14,000 active military men were assaulted by men, along with over 12,000 women. All of this is despicable, all of this calls for aggressive and public reprisal and punishment. Yet, virtually no one has been talking about it.
Why is this? Why has this not been dealt with swiftly and cleanly?
Stepping back for a moment and looking at the insidious breadth of institutional man-on-man rape in this country, I have never fully appreciated nor understood why we—as a culture, as media professionals, as journalists—seem to look the other way in the face of these myriad ruined lives … being ruined right before our eyes, daily.
When I see on television or read about young men being sent to prison, I know that kid is going to be someone’s bitch within the week—possibly the property of many. In prison, he risks having his teeth knocked out for better service. It’s violent, it’s cruel and unusual, it’s unacceptable. Out of prison, it is never discussed.
In my own experience of four long days in LA County Jail, I sensed the extremely heavy tension in that place … and I sure as hell didn’t take a shower. I was already on crutches, and the weak go first. Not interested.
In our military, men who have sworn service to this country, who have committed several years if not the rest of their lives to honor that commitment, can find themselves the victims of sexual aggression and assault—then have no where to go. Afraid to be seen as weak, unwilling to deal with the implications of sexual orientation or the disparaging accusations of failed loyalty, these men don’t report the assault.
It seems redundant and even cliché to point out that male rape is rarely about sex and is rarely done by homosexuals … though homosexual guys are of the primary targets in prison, a dynamic that, when translated into mainstream society and our military, seems to affect the perception of the survivor … keeping him close-mouthed.
Men who do report, who speak up and seek justice, all too often find themselves the brunt of the pressure, the focus of relentless and uncharitable scrutiny, their own careers called into question or ruined.
So, why are our leaders—and, by leaders, I mean block-by-block, clique by clique, posse by posse, city by city, legislature by legislature and service branch by service branch—unwilling to address this, head-on?
Is this the residual fear of the barely-latent macho culture, of which the military may be one of the last bastions? Outside the military, is it possible that this perspective will fade with the passing of the baby-boomers?
I’m hoping so. In my own experience, I don’t sense a sexual defensiveness in the current 20-somethings, amongst the thinking millennials … There seems to be, among the demographics now entering adulthood, an inherent acceptance of diversity and disparity that results in almost astonished compassion at societal dynamics that have grown out of intolerance and ignorance for decades. I’m thinking that, with a life- and worldview in this vein, our culture(s) will evolve into something less prejudicial and judgmental. It’s a Dream.
In recent months, a few brave men have stepped up to publicly speak out as survivors of sexual assault in the military. These men are exceptionally courageous, I believe, comparable to the early women—any woman, really—who took the step of testifying in court against their assailants. Exposing oneself as victim/survivor is an enormous, intimate act. For a man, the stigma is exacerbated with our own culturally insidious negative implication and ancillary effect.
In recent weeks, President Obama has given voice and direction to Pentagon Leadership, calling for immediate and aggressive change in the way in which these cases are handled, taking treatment and trial of these incidents out of the chain-of-command and handling them as Criminal Offenses. To their credit, the Military Leaders have embraced this attitude and it would seem that such aggressive reform is imminent.
I certainly hope so.
But what of society? What about us? We, as Men, must embrace responsibility for addressing the jocular, political incorrectness of rape jokes, in and out of prison, and call one another out when we slip.
Seriously, what used to “feel” okay simply is not: with enlightenment comes responsibility.
When I hear “fag” or “faggot” or “that’s so Gay” (this last of which I’m hearing less and less…), I tend generally and in a civil but strong manner to confront and correct the speaker. (I’m a big guy, the risk to my physical being is low). These words are not acceptable, so must we coach one another on the damage we’re perpetrating on ourselves by the acceptance or overlooking of words and actions that undermine human dignity.
I come from a Country (& Western!) background, raised in the mountains of Oregon. In the evolution toward City Boy and World Citizen, I still remember the day I learned what I was actually saying when using the term “jew you down,” and I became deeply ashamed of myself and my ignorance as I learned it. But I learned it. On that topic: only recently was I assisted in appreciating the genesis of “gyp,” a term now no longer in my vocabulary.
We learn as we go; we also teach what we learn.
I’m not one for political correctness for political correctness’ sake. Though, as I continue to make my way through this life and gain deeper appreciation for the disparate wonders of this world, I sometimes find I must let go of points of view that I’d never seen as wrong or inappropriate, before. We get what we get when we get it; sometimes, that with which we have been raised, thus with which we feel quite comfortable, reveals itself to be just wrong … through no one’s fault.
But, once y’know, y’gotta go with it.
Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP