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*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

May 26, 2013, 9:00 pm

How the Military Talks About Sexual Assault


Does the Pentagon know what “zero tolerance” means?

Military leaders have been claiming for at least 20 years that they have “zero tolerance” for sexual assault in the ranks, during which time the epidemic has raged on, infecting every branch of the service and spurring arrests, convictions, resignations, investigations, Congressional hearings, bills, speeches, reports, recommendations and, recently, a chilling documentary, “The Invisible War,” which will make any parent think twice about encouraging a daughter to serve her country in uniform.

“Zero tolerance” appeared most recently on Wednesday, when Jay Carney, press secretary for the Commander-in-Chief, said that President Obama had “zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military.” The statement was prompted by reports that a West Point sergeant had been videotaping female cadets without their consent, sometimes when they were undressed in the bathroom or in the shower.

Really? Zero?

On May 7 the Pentagon released a report estimating that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010. The Times article noted that the report came “two days after the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.”

On May 14, we learned that an Army sergeant who served as a sexual assault prevention and response coordinator at Fort Hood, Tex., had been accused of abusive sexual contact and assault.

Then came West Point.

The phrase, in the military sex-assault context, dates back at least to 1989, when Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett 3d declared that his branch had “zero tolerance” for sexual assault. It appeared in The Times in 1992, the year of the Tailhook scandal, in which Navy pilots drunkenly assaulted women at a Las Vegas convention. Mr. Garrett was there, sipping drinks with pilots on an outdoor terrace near the hallway where 26 women, 14 of them officers, were brutalized.

In 1997, then-Army Secretary Togo West Jr. told Congress that the Army was a safe place for women despite numerous reports that drill sergeants at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and at other Army bases had raped or harassed dozens of female trainees. The Army, he explained, had a “zero tolerance” policy.

A Pentagon spokesman cited “zero tolerance” in 1998, after the Army’s highest ranking woman, Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, filed a sexual harassment complaint against another Army general, accusing him of groping her in her office.

I could provide more examples, but you get the point. It’s gotten to where the current defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, finally said on May 17, “It’s not good enough to say we have a zero-tolerance policy. How does that translate into changing anything?”

How indeed. If the military could agree to stop using the phrase, and start reforming itself instead, that’d be great.
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