To label the government's recent address of sexual assault in the military a 'hot topic' would be an understatement. To brand it a 'war on men' would seemingly beg for a controversial flood of media backlash. For the Wall Street Journal's ever-opinionated James Taranto, the latter was proven true this past week when he likened Senator McCaskill's latest move to a political effort calculated "to criminalize male sexuality".
The current debate was sparked when the Department of Defense released its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military last month. The Pentagon's report revealed that up to 26,000 service members may have been the victim of sexual assault last year – a 37% increase from an estimated 19,000 sexually assaulted service members in 2010. Perhaps the most startling statistic shown in the report: 62% of victims who reported their assault faced retaliation as a result. Of course, these numbers are highly skewed and based on data collected as part of a flawed sociological study of college campuses in the 1990s – but that is a discussion for another day.
Based on this misinformation, national leadership spewed forth a flurry of statements.
General Martin Dempsey tagged these shocking findings 'a military crisis'. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel deemed the assaults not only "despicable" but "a threat to safety and the welfare of our people". Even President Obama weighed in when he declared sexual assault in the military a crime having "no place in the greatest military on earth". In his no-tolerance approach, Obama further made clear that mere speeches, awareness programs, and training alone are inadequate responses to the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, as he endorsed a process of prosecution, courts martial, and dishonorable discharge as the only sufficient solution.
McCaskill's course of action arguably had the furthest-reaching effect, however. In what would become a divisive move, the Democrat Missouri Senator placed a permanent hold on General Susan Helms' nomination for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command in response to Helms' granting clemency to Captain Matthew Herrera. Herrera, an officer under Helms' command, had previously been convicted by a court martial of aggravated assault; a claim brought by two fellow servicewomen – both members of the Air Force.
There seem to be two stances in the wake of Taranto's provocative editorial; one in cautious support of his views, one very much in opposition of it. The former seemed to pale in comparison to the storm of tweets, Facebook statuses, social media posts and major news articles posted in opposition of Taranto and his 'war on men', which these critics were quick to define as imaginary. In fact, the antagonistic reaction was such that WSJ published a follow-up Taranto piece the very next day. In it, Taranto reminded his naysayers that while there are servicemen who do commit acts of sexual assault worthy of severe punishment, there are also those who fall victim to false accusations at the hands of overzealous prosecutors. Taranto continued to defend Herrera, attributing his case to ambiguity – such that no fair trial could establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Taranto further reminded his readers of the due process protections afforded to both servicemen and civilians alike – that any U.S. citizen accused of a crime is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, and the right to appeal a guilty verdict. He even went so far as to offer the proverbial olive branch in suggesting that maybe sexual assault in the military actually does constitute a serious problem requiring new administrative or legal remedies. He challenged his adversaries, however, to refrain from selective fact-representation when describing sexual assault cases – so as not to distort them beyond recognition – and vehemently defended Helms' rejection of the court martial's guilty verdict.
As the issue of sexual assault in the military continues to evolve, so will our discussion of it here.