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Violence Against Women in the Military

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Gender violence is a serious issue, and the military is home to many sex-based crimes against men and women. This sample criminal justice paper explores trends of sexual assault against women in the military, as it is a serious issue that warrants investigation on the part of military officials.

Gender bias and violence in the military

While gender-based violence applies to both men and women, victims of violence and assault are predominately female. This trend of sexual assault, particularly as it pertains to women serving in the military, has recently been evaluated in congressional hearings and addressed in political forums, increasing awareness and public inquiry.

Currently, there procedures in place to report and address the issue of violence and sexual assault, however, they lack accountability and constitute a glaring conflict of interest on behalf of the chain of command. Women who are sexually assaulted in the military lack sufficient support, and are often ignored or unfairly blamed as a result of a flawed reporting and accountability system.

The fear of retaliation, a culture of sexual double standards, and sexual assault significantly hinders the ability of the military to sufficiently protect its victims and provide consequences to perpetrators. The following will address gender-based violence in the military as well as how to repair the broken system.

In order to fix gender-based violence in the military, personnel must be exposed to increased public accountability and allow for an external reporting system that will reduce the conflict of interest that results in an organizational cover-up. They must also incorporate a streamlined protection system to mitigate fears of retaliation that lead victims to remain silent in order to ensure support, as well as manage the adverse culture and hostile environment related to victim reporting.

Military policies already in place to protect women

Current military processes that address gender based violence and sexual assault are insufficient to support victims. According to the Department of Defense more than 19,000 men and women are sexually assaulted each year in the United States Military (Dick et al). As staggering as this number is, history shows that 86% of those who are assaulted fail to report it.

Currently, reporting processes require victims of violence and sexual assault to report to their direct commander, who is charged with addressing the issue and moving the complaint up the ranks and the chain of command (Army 1). However, this process leaves room for immense conflict of interest, especially when the commanding officer is friendly with the perpetrator or wishes to cover up assault claims in his division.

Outside accountability and fear of retribution

Without some form of outside accountability, private complaints can easily become ignored or manipulated in a way that further shames the victim (Department of Defense 31). This process does not support protection for victims who come forward and leaves the process in the sole hands of a commander who may or may not be a victim advocate.

Historically, victims who have reported sexual assault are themselves blamed or retaliated against in other ways. Ideals regarding gender roles and stereotypes have also compounded the issues. As a result, many women who experience sexual violence in the military fail to report it out of fear that they will be accused of lying, labeled as a trouble maker, or demoted in rank. Some women who have reported sexual assault have been further victimized by being dishonorably discharged and charged with adultery (Dick et al).

While this is publically unacceptable, the privatization many military processes allow for little accountability and awareness of these unfair practices. The process of reporting violence and sexual assault to a direct commander forces the victim to fully depend on an individual to address the issue and hold the perpetrator accountable. Unfortunately, because many commanders have failed to properly address the issue, victims feel uncomfortable taking a chance that they could be further victimized by being blamed.

Congress debates sexual assault in the military

During a recent congressional hearing in June of 2013, military generals acknowledged the severity of the problem, yet continued to assert that following the existing chain of command is favorable compared to allowing a third party lawyer to address assault claims.

The generals also claimed that removing commanders from the investigative process would “undermine their troops trust in them” (McLaughlin 1). T

his idea is self-serving, as the very reason that congress is addressing the issue is because troops already lack sufficient trust as a result of their mishandling of complaints.

While admitting that there is “peer pressure against reporting," these same generals and commanders attempt to make the argument that following the status quo chain of command could improve chances that a victim will be supported and the perpetrator will receive consequences (McLaughlin 1).

Despite this assertion, the acknowledgment that there is peer pressure against reporting is sufficient enough to show that the current culture is ill-equipped to effectively handle claims of violence and sexual assault. Sometimes this peer pressures expresses itself as a bias towards women serving in combat, the belief they should accept the treatment, and the men are just being men.

Peer pressure in the military is supported by top-down directives, making a commander’s involvement in the process an extreme conflict of interest. As a result, commanders should not act as the sole determinant of whether an assault case is filed and addressed or not. In order to fix this broken system and reporting process, a third party prosecutor would prove more effective because of the transparent public accountability and the absence of interest conflict.

Low conviction rates connected to women's fear

Adding to fears of retaliation or peer pressure to not report violence or sexual assault crimes is the extremely low conviction rates of perpetrators. Of the estimated 19,000 military assaults, there were only 191 convictions relative to the 3,192 official investigative reports (Dick et al).

These numbers reflect a 5.9% conviction rate of violent and sexual predators within the military. As a result of a historical lack of accountability for violence and sexual crimes against women in the military, victims are more often unfairly retaliated against than perpetrators are convicted.

When the military commander is the rapist

Another issue related to addressing the nearest chain of command while reporting violence and sexual assault is those who are victimized by their chain of command have few alternative options. Even restricted reporting can eventually be channeled to the commanding officer, despite military documentation that it is on a confidential basis.

Further, restricted reporting also further restricts the ability to assess consequences, because an official investigation is not completed under these conditions (Marines 66). Unlike civilian courts, the regulations of civil and criminal law within the military doesn't allow for free-flow of information. In addition, while unrestricted reporting may offer an investigation, details regarding the incident will be shared with the chain of command on the premise that is necessary for him to know.

Sexual assault in the military

Having to report the offense directly to the perpetrator who has the power to retaliate can create extremely stressful circumstances for a woman victimized by violence and sexual assault. Even commanders or sergeants who work with the sexual assault prevention have been found to exploit their power and position.

The Fort Hood sexual assault case

In Fort Hood, Texas, an army sergeant first class is being investigated for abusive sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates (Ford 1). Despite his position of trust and authority, as well as his training related to sexual harassment and gender-based violence, reporting sexual violence and sexual misconduct to him was not a suitable option. His lack of restraint reveals his perception toward women, and speaks to his ability to be fair and measured when approached with sexual misconduct claims.

Air Force officer accused of groping

Another Air Force Officer who worked within an assault prevention unit was accused of grabbing and groping a woman was subsequently charged with sexual battery as a result of his lack of restraint (Shaughnessy 1). These investigations point to a breakdown of military standard and commander discipline, which further supports the idea that a third party prosecutor would be better equipped to handle victim complaints.

Congress and the Pentagon's misdirection of sexual assaults

While military generals and commanders advise that instances, where commanders ignore advocate general advice, are extremely rare, the continuous stories of victims who were ignored or blamed tell otherwise. Misconceptions about why violence and sexual assaults occur have also impacted the military’s ability to successfully resolve the problem.

In 2012 Senator Saxby Chambliss, who is a U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence ranking member asserted that because of the military’s young entrants, “the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur” (Ford 1).

By blaming the military’s sexual assault woes on hormones and sexual behaviors of young adults, rather than a lack of restraint and a poor reporting and lack of a proper consequence system, Chambliss’ statement fails to explain the problem in a comprehensive and solution-oriented manner. It is possible that even well-meaning military generals and commanders are too close to the problem to establish a viable solution.

The lack of accountability and commitment to victim protection is apparent. By removing the chain of command from controlling investigation and prosecution claims, the military can mitigate the problem of gender-based violence. Claims would be addressed and consequences would be established with the use of a third-party lawyer, setting a strong standard for procedure and prosecution.

The Army's “Sexual Assault Response and Prevention” program

Recently, the Army implemented the SHARP program, which stands for “Sexual Assault Response and Prevention." This program provides prevention methods and outlines red flags to be aware of. It also provides answers to various questions and is a resource source for those who have been victims of assault, those who wish to prevent assault, and training resources for leaders (SAPRO 15).

According to the SHARP handbook issued to all members of the Army, a phone number is provided where a counselor can be reached by phone 24 hours a day if a victim of violence or sexual assault wishes to file a complaint, get counseling, or begin an official investigation. While this trove of resources and information can be helpful, they are insufficient to actively change and monitor the culture of the military that blames or retaliates against victims.

There is still a lack of procedure which actively protects sexual assault victims from being demoted or charged with adultery based on an individual commander’s response. Even if victim were to follow SHARP procedure, there is nothing protecting him or her from retaliation. In addition, because SHARP is specific to the Army’s complaint process, it lacks public accountability for how complaints are handled.

Steps the military can take to eliminate sexual assault

Despite the military’s SHARP program, and their external compliance with congress, not enough is being done to fix the problem of gender based violence and sexual assault in the military. As a result of investigative reports and underground victim stories, the plight of the sexually victimized woman in the military has garnered increased awareness.

Military officials have been forced to address these crimes that have previously been covered up. Despite the military’s insistence that the process is best handled through the chain of command, the culture of retaliation and peer pressure to not report assaults speaks for itself regarding the military’s ability to adequately address the problem.

Assigning an independent prosecutor to investigate

The problem is best fixed by allowing a third-party prosecutor to address the gender-based violence plagued by the military. Without a conflict of interest related to rank and order, a third party is able to be more objective and understanding of victim needs. In addition, an outside party will require additional accountability, helping to ensure that victim claims are processed and the case is addressed accordingly. This additional transparency and visibility will allow commanders to focus on managing other aspects of their unit.

In addition to allowing a third party prosecutor to address conflicts of interest, the innate culture of the military needs to be addressed. The peer pressure to not report violence and assault has to be mitigated from the top down. An additional layer of transparency and accountability must be established in order to monitor unfair retaliation and protect the women's rights. A protective process needs to be established that covers victims of violence and sexual assault from being demoted in rank or being further victimized in any other way.

This protection should be automatic at the time of the report, and will cover the victim while the investigation ensues. To maintain a fair investigation, the third-party prosecutor and lawyer will assess the claims and determine how to proceed. While there should be not an outlet for lying or slander, this process will allow the process to proceed fairly while maintaining the dignity and protection of the alleged victim.


In conclusion, the military is ill-equipped to address and eliminate the problem of gender based violence. Current processes alienate victims and fail to protect them from retaliation. In addition, a severe conflict of interest results in improper handling of complaints and a very low conviction rate. By investigating and prosecuting claims outside of the standard chain of command, the conflict of interest that results in a cover-up can be eliminated.

The culture of peer pressure to not report gender-based violence and sexual assault based on potential retaliation can also be mitigated by creating a standard of protection for victims. A third party, rather than military personnel is best equipped to address the problems of gender-based violence and assault.

Works Cited

Army. Prevention of Sexual Harrassment aR600-20 ch7. 2008. http://www.sexualassault.army.mil/files/Chapter%207%20Sexual%20Harassment.pdf

Commanders Handbook: Processing Equal Opportunity and Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints. n.d. http://www.2ndmlg.marines.mil/Portals/67/Docs/CommandersHandbook.pdf

Department of Defense. Report of The Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services. 2009. http://www.sapr.mil/public/docs/research/DTFSAMS-Rept_Dec09.pdf

Dick, Kirby, Regina K. Scully, Jennifer S. Newsom, Tanner K. Barklow, Amy Ziering, Thaddeus Wadleigh, Kirsten Johnson, Doug Blush, and Derek Boonstra. The Invisible War. Sausalito, Calif.: Distributed by Roco Films Educational, 2012

Ford, Dana. Army investigates sergeant for alleged sexual assault. CNN. 15 May 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/14/us/army-sexual-assault-investigation

Ford, Dana. Representatives knock Sen. Saxby Chambliss' comments on sexual assault. CNN. 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/04/politics/chambliss-sexual-assaults

Hansen, Christine. “A Considerable Service: An Advocates Introduction to Domestic Violence and the Military.” Domestic Violence Report. 2001.

McLaughlin, Elliot. Military chiefs oppose removing commanders from sexual assault probes. CNN. 5 June 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/04/politics/senate-hearing-military-sexual-assault

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. 2009. http://www.sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/Department_of_Defense_Fiscal_Year_2011_Annual_Report_on_Sexual_Assault_in_the_Military.pdf

Shaughnessy, Larry. Air Force officer makes court appearance in sex case. CNN Pentagon. 11 May 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/09/us/air-force-sex-assault



Ultius, Inc. "Violence Against Women in the Military." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 13 Jul. 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/violence-against-women-in-the-military.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Violence Against Women in the Military." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 13, 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/violence-against-women-in-the-military.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Violence Against Women in the Military." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 13, 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/violence-against-women-in-the-military.html.

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