Back in the days when it was a discussion worth having, some critics of feminizing the US armed services worried that sexual tensions and jealousies might adversely affect unit cohesion. Others worried about privacy in the field, special needs, and the value added from a strictly military perspective. Still others worried – albeit less volubly – about the boys acting badly, far from home. Not all of them having been recruited exclusively from the ranks of the Vienna boy’s choir. Reports of rape and sexual assaults might give the military a massive public relations problem back at home. Which might in turn lead to a typically top-down, massive over-reaction.
By the time Marine Staff Sgt. Jamie Walton went to trial on rape charges, his accuser had changed her story several times.
A military lawyer who evaluated the case told Walton’s commander they didn’t have enough evidence to go to trial on sexual assault charges. The prosecutor even agreed. But the Marines ignored the advice.
“Everyone knew I didn’t rape her,” said Walton, who was acquitted of the charge last year. “But they went ahead with the trial anyway.”
Walton’s questionable prosecution clashes with the public’s perception of a soft-on-rape military. A McClatchy analysis found that the military is prosecuting a growing number of rape and sexual assault allegations, including highly contested cases that would be unlikely to go to trial in many civilian courts.
However, most of the accused aren’t being convicted of serious crimes.
Such results are provoking cynicism within the armed forces that the politics of rape are tainting a military justice system that’s as old as the country itself.
Rape is a horrendously violating crime, and even one instance among and between service members is one instance too many. So called “blue on blue” crimes absolutely give the services a bloody nose. But it’s hard to see how the concept of “justice” is served by prosecuting someone when even the prosecution agrees the evidence is insufficient to support a theory of the crime.
And the bureaucracy that has blossomed to investigate and prosecute alleged assaults comes with a cost of its own:
The budget for the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office leapt from $5 million in fiscal 2005 to more than $23 million in fiscal 2010. Once administered by a civilian with a doctorate in counseling, the office is now overseen by an Air Force major general with a background in security.
Total Defense Department spending on sexual assault prevention and related efforts now exceeds $113 million annually.
Money well-spent if it deters the crime, and punishes criminals. Less well so, if it begets star chambers and budget props for self-licking ice cream cones.
A significant contributing factor, considering the ages of those away from home for the first time?
It’s often the toxic ingredient of a military rape allegation: binge drinking. Many times, the woman knows the man and was drinking alcohol with him. Lots of it.
As a result, she says she doesn’t remember the entire encounter because she was drunk. Sometimes, she’s not even sure herself whether she was sexually assaulted. The man says it was consensual. No other witnesses can say either way.
Determining what happened can be a challenge for the most experienced lawyer, let alone a jury.
Considering the ages involved, and the first-time access to alcohol, I wonder if anyone has done a demographic survey comparing the military age population with that of their college aged cohort, controlling for the disparity in numbers?
It’d be interesting to see whether the military has a problem, or whether society does.