BY: LINDSEY KELLOGG
The issue of sexual assault in the military became prominent in the news earlier this year with the release of a Pentagon survey that estimated that 26,000 people serving in the armed forces were sexually assaulted in 2012, up from 19,000 two years before. According to the same survey, only 13 percent of the estimated cases were reported. Of the politicians who hastened to address this issue, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) was one of the most adamant and forceful voices in speaking out against military sexual assault and the systems in place to address it.
“Our servicemen and women should not have to worry about their personal safety on bases in the U.S. and around the world while they are bravely serving to protect our nation’s safety,” Hagan said in a statement the week the Pentagon survey was released in early May. Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, soon went with other like-minded politicians to discuss ways to prevent military sexual assault with President Obama in a White House meeting on May 9.
Some steps towards reform were soon taken, such as the creation of congressional investigations and of the Department of Defense’s Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, a nine-person committee dedicated to investigating the judicial systems used in prosecuting reported cases of sexual assault. Military courts used for such prosecutions have been criticized as victim-blaming, lacking transparency, and too ingrained in the units they are supposed to be judging to be impartial.
However, reforms to prevent future military sexual assaults and revamp the military justice system have stalled. Bipartisan bills signed onto by Hagan, such as the Combatting Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013, have become stuck in the congressional morass. Since the government shutdown in early October, Hagan and other members of Congress who were actively supporting military sexual assault reforms have moved their political focus elsewhere and haven’t recently spoken publicly on the issue.
Cases of sexual assault in the armed forces still continue to come to light, and now receive more news attention than ever. Over the summer, a case of alleged rape by three midshipmen of a female midshipman at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) brought together the issues of sexual assault in the military and sexual assault on college campuses. The female midshipman reported that she was raped by her fellow midshipmen while unconsciously drunk at an off-campus party in 2012, a situation that seems familiar to students constantly warned to about the dangers of alcohol and sexual violence if they choose to party during their college years.
While political reform of military sexual assault issues stagnates in DC, a new generation of officers graduating from ROTC programs may have a positive effect on changing military sexual assault culture.
Students at Carolina who are in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the college military program whose graduates become commissioned officers, are educated about sexual assault prevention and assistance from the moment they arrive at college, according to Lieutenant Colonel Megan B. Stallings, a professor of military science in the Army ROTC program. The Army’s Sexual Assault/Harassment Response and Prevention (SHARP) program “teaches sexual harassment and assault scenarios all four years the students/cadets are enrolled,” Stallings said, noting the program’s focus on prevention and discussion. “They get training involving both scenarios from college life and military scenarios,” she added. Air Force and Navy ROTC do not use SHARP but have similar educational programs.
Stallings emphasized how important sexual assault prevention training is to the Army overall, and how important it is for students in the ROTC program, as they will soon be officers in charge of approximately forty enlisted soldiers. SHARP training covers how to deal with and report sexual assault suspected among troops, as well as aiding victims. “A large part of the SHARP program is not just preventing sexual assault but taking care of the victims of the crimes, whether they be in or outside of the ROTC system,” Stallings said. SHARP exists in all college Army ROTC programs.
Despite all of the good done by ROTC programs to educate their students, some women still feel apprehensive about joining the military due to the sexual assault issue. “I was worried at first when joining ROTC because I saw the Invisible War documentary which is really bad press for the military when it comes to how they treat sexual assault,” said a female UNC junior in the Air Force ROTC program, referring to a 2012 documentary exploring the prevalence of sexual assault among the armed forces. “I don’t know for sure how they treated sexual assault before I joined [Air Force] ROTC a year ago, but we have lectures on it all the time.”
“By the third year, we have two in depth classes with various scenarios on the topic and we talk about our resources if it should happen and the consequences of these actions,” she said. “On top of the lessons we have in class, we have briefings throughout the year and lectures by guest speakers skilled in sexual assault prevention. Trust me, they really beat it into us before we even enter the active duty.” The junior, like Stallings, also emphasized how important it is for future officers who will be leading enlisted members to be knowledgeable and in control when it comes to suspected sexual assaults.
No ROTC students have been involved with any alleged sexual crimes in Carolina’s recent history, and, as Stallings mentioned, may be among the most qualified to help victims of such crimes. Stallings underscored how students in the ROTC system aren’t officially part of the military yet, and so if they were to commit crimes or transgressions, such things would be dealt with through the university and the civilian justice systems.
As capable students graduate from ROTC with full sexual assault prevention training and officially enter the military as officers, the military programs’ goals of changing military culture regarding sexual assault might just come to fruition.
This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s Winter 2013 issue. For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!