Fairness For The Fairer Sex (Jeanette)
EDITORS NOTE: The print edition of this piece incorrectly states that Nidia Sandoval wrote this article. The correct author of this Jeanette Reveles.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it was lifting the longtime ban on women in combat. This announcement has caused quite a stir among political circles, with supporters saying it is a huge step towards gender equality in the military, and with opponents citing issues like “physical abilities” and claiming that the presence of women will affect unit cohesion.
Some try to argue that not all women are fit to serve in the military because of physical abilities. Of course, not all women are physically fit enough for combat, but are all men?
No. In preparation for combat, men have to undergo intense physical training.
Women preparing for combat will obviously have to do the same, and already do. No one is born physically prepared enough for something like that; it has to be achieved through hard work. Let’s be honest — in spite of the ban, women have been unofficially serving in combat for about a decade. Women have been on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not exactly a new concept. Has the strength of the armed forces diminished drastically in the last decade?
I am definitely in support of the lifting of the ban, and while I do agree that it is a step toward gender equality in the military, there are still many, many miles to go. True gender equality in the military will be achieved when sexual assault is not the rampant problem it is today. According to US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 3,191 sexual assault cases in the military were reported in 2010, but he believes the total number amounts to about 19,000 every year. Although men in the military can also be victims of assault, the vast majority of victims in these attacks are women.
The majority of these cases are committed by other, often higher-ranking, service members against their subordinates.
According to the critically-acclaimed documentary, The Invisible War, female service members in combat zones are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.
A study conducted last year by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs surveyed over 1,100 female service members who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. According to the study’s findings, 48.6 percent reported to having been sexually harassed, and 22.8 percent reported to having been sexually assaulted.
Let’s keep in mind, however, that statistics may often be higher than what is actually reported because some survivors do not come forward.
The alarming majority of these cases go unreported due to things like fear of reprisal and intimidation. And for those that are reported, the overwhelming minority are prosecuted. According to NBC News, only about eight percent of these reports result in convictions. The survivors who do choose to come forward are sometimes subjected to unfair consequences, such as involuntary discharge.
There are many that disagree with the idea of women in combat. But that’s not what this discussion should be about. The Pentagon chose to (finally) lift the ban. There are women who are willing to serve. We are in the 21st century.
That should be the end of it.
The real discussion should be about finding ways to end sexual assault within the armed forces. It shouldn’t be about whether women are qualified or not simply based on gender. The controversy should be about why it is that some high-ranking military officers sweep these issues under the rug when they are brought to their attention.
The controversy should be about the culture of impunity that unfortunately exists in the military when it comes to these cases. All the groups outraged about the lift of the ban should really be outraged about the fact that sexual assault happens so much.
The alarming rate of sexual assault within the armed forces may be used by some as yet another argument for why women do not belong in combat.
But the fact that it is framed this way dismisses it as something that “just happens.” This argument normalizes it. It strips the seriousness away from these crimes. Sexual assault should not be something that “just happens,” especially at the hands of your fellow soldiers.
Combat and war come with enough safety risks. Colleagues and superiors should not be one of them.
At the end of the day, the true threat to cohesion and unity within the armed forces is not the integration of women into combat. The true threat is the sexual violence that service members enact on other service members. The true threat to cohesion and unity is the fact that some women, and some men, are afraid of those who are supposed to be their allies. And while the lift of the ban is in fact a step toward equality, the true victory will come when sexual assault in the military is no longer the problem that it is now