Uprooting the Culture of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces through

Uprooting the Culture of Sexual
Assault in the Armed Forces through
a Gender Aware Perspective
By Cheryl Abbate
Statement of the Problem
Diagnosis of the Problem
Solution to the Problem
Part 1: The Problem
The Problem
26,300 (approx) occurred in 2012 in the military (up
34.5% from 2010)
Only 3,000 (approx.) were reported
Only 300 (approx). were prosecuted; there is a .9%
conviction rate
23-28% of women will be sexually assaulted while
serving their country (this is twice as high as the
civilian sector); 11% will be raped
53% of these crimes were MALE on MALE assaults
◦ Only 14% of victims who report their assaults are males
**Source: SAPRO 2012 Annual Report
So, No….
Sexual assault in the military is not:
◦ A result of “confusion about consent”
◦ A result of “out of control hormones”
◦ A crime that happens after someone has too
much to drink
◦ A woman’s issue; it’s not about the “damsel in
There is still a misperception that this is a
women's issue and women's crime. It's
disheartening that we have such a differential
between the genders and how they are
choosing to report.
◦ Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser
for the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention
Proposed Solutions
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO)
2013 Strategic Plan:
Pentagon: August 2013 Memorandum from Secretary of
Defense Chuck Hagel:
Bystander Intervention
Victim Reporting
Holding Commanders more accountable
Punishing wrongdoing
Victim Support
improved victim legal support
expansion of victim rights
enhancing protections
enhancing pretrial investigation
ensuring investigative quality
◦ Military Justice Improvement Act (Senator Kirsten Gillibrand)
 Put the authority to investigate and prosecute sexual assault crimes into the hands of
qualified legal experts with legal training.
Inadequacies of the Proposed Solutions
Only addresses what has happened after
assault has occurred (response), rather
than sexual assault prevention.
 We need a reevaluation of military
culture in addition to structural
changes/criminal justice reform.
Part II: A Proper Diagnosis of
the Problem
What we need….
We need to take seriously the
psychological and sociological research
that has been conducted on gender,
specifically masculinity, and how
masculinity is connected to sexual
violence and other anti-social activities
 …..we need a Gender Aware Perspective
◦ (Christopher Kilmartin)
A note about Gender and Sex
Male Vs Female
 Man vs Woman/ Masculinity vs Femininity
Hypermasculinity/ Militarized
Obsession with bodily strength
 Homophobia
 Obsession with power
 Obsession with domination
 Disdain for the emotions
 Disdain for the feminine
My Focus
A critical reflection of the of the
hypermasculine culture of the military,
which is connected with a desire to
dominate “feminine others” through
aggressive and violent means.
◦ Hypermasculinity= a recipe for sexual assault
Hypermasculinity and Vice
Bodily Strength and Domination
◦ Dominating one’s bodily weaknesses
Physical exertion, lack of sleep, and
exposure to climate variation
 Performance of physically grueling
activities regardless of exhaustion, pain, or
 Pain is weakness leaving the body
Dehumanization and Dominance
Dominating one’s emotions; disabling
one’s empathetic responses to killing
 Soldiers are formed into individuals who
are able and willing to kill other human
beings in order to protect the nation
◦ Mechanisms of moral disengagement
 “Target acquisition”
 Derogatory names such as “gook” “zit” “towelhead” and “faggot”
Violence and Dominance
Desire to dominate others through aggression and
 Basic Training Traditions
◦ “What makes the green grass grow?”
◦ “Blood, blood! Blood makes the green grass grow! Kill kill
Cadences that glorify killing and violence
◦ Bodies Bleeding Bodies:
Load another magazine, in my trusty M16.
Cuz all I ever wanna see is bodies, bleeding bodies.
Throw another hand grenade!
Should have seen the mess I made.
Cuz all I ever wanna see is bodies, broken bodies.
Stab em with the bayonet!
If he squirms you're not done yet!
Cuz all I ever wanna see is bodies, cut-up bodies.
Violent Cadences
Captain Jack:
I’m gonna be a killin’ man
A cuttin’ man
A shootin’ man
A stabbin’ man
The best I can
For uncle Sam.
Down by the River:
Down by the river; took a little walk; ran into the enemy; we
had a little talk;
I didn’t like their attitude; didn’t like the way they walked;
So I pushed ‘em; I shoved ‘em; I threw them in the river;
laughed as they drowned.
Power and Dominance
Military’s Hierarchical structure
 Top-down authoritarian structure which
fosters a master/slave dynamic between
subordinate soldiers and superiors who
have unlimited authority that
subordinates must accept without
 Unquestioning obedience
 Absolute authority
Conclusion: Militarized Masculinities
The “military virtues” which are assumed
to be necessary for effective fighting are
the following:
Stoicism; non-femininity
Emotional detachment
Domination through violence and aggression
Consequences of Military Masculinities
Disdain for the feminine
◦ Those who are not real “men” should submit
to the power and demands of the truly
A sense of entitlement
◦ Soldiers are indoctrinated with the same
lesson that motivates sexual aggressors: a real
man has power and control, a real man
dominates; a real man is on top.
A sense of inferiority or frustration
How is this related to sexual assault?
Institutions, like the military, that endorse masculine
norms are found to have higher rates of sexual assault
and harassment than other organizations (Gutek 1985;
Gruber 1997)
Sexual violence is usually motivated by violence and a
desire to conquer and control the victim (Groth 1979;
Hunter 2007, 19; Kilmartin 2005)
◦ Hypermasculinity= a recipe for
sexual assault (and other anti-social
The psychological thesis
Sexual assault is often a response to a feeling
of powerless: society has defined a “real
man” in such a masculine way that certain
males hit a wall of despair trying to achieve
this masculine identity without success
Men attempt to overcome their
inadequacies and express their masculinity
through means of sexual aggression: finally
they are able to control at least one thing in
their life, namely, their sexual conquests
Psychological Thesis, Continued
When soldiers are unable to live up to the often
unobtainable hyper-masculine ideals of military
combat soldiers, they experience a sense of
masculine inadequacy and anger
 This response is inevitable when we consider the
typical attitudes of men to constraining
environments, such as the military which is
authoritarian in nature: with such a rigid structure,
subordinates are prone to foster anti-social behavior
in order to protest such a constraining environment
 Sexual aggressors, then, are often insecure, men who
are motivated by a desire to dominate or exert
power over another being (male or female!)
Restatement of the problem
Can we train Soldiers to be effective killers
without indoctrinating in them vicious,
hypermasculine character which gives rise to
a culture of rape and sexual violence?
Is there a dichotomy?
Effective fighters, with a culture of sexual
 Ineffective fighters, without a culture of
sexual violence
Part 3: Possible Solutions
Solution 1: A philosophy of killing
Martial arts (Aikido), with a focus on the
meditative component, into military training.
• Such training will help soldiers remain less
aggressive and violent, humble, and in
touch with their emotions, thus countering
hypermasculine tendencies of aggression,
violence, domination, and power seeking.
• Allows individuals to “vent negative
emotions in a healthy way, lest they are
otherwise repressed and later manifest in
even darker ways” (Haffner & Vogel 2010,
Aikido: A Philosophy of Killing
Self Defense
“No first strike”
Techniques to counter someone else’s initiation
of violence by blending the motion of the
opponent and redirecting the force of the attack
 Neutralizers the attacker without using strength;
abandons the idea of fighting with “brute
 Emphasizes “soft techniques- the art of
blending with an attacker’s vital energy,
redirecting that energy in order to harmonize
with it and so render it harmless” (Raposa 2003,
Lessons from Aikido
We should eliminate fighting techniques that
are excessively violent and destructive
 We should avoid violence and to approach
conflict with minimal force
 We should control violence
 We should use violence only as a last
resort, thereby preventing him from
initiating demands for dominance or an act
of aggression, like sexual violence, in the first
Solution 2
Can we soldiers be trained to kill without
cultivating hypermasculinity?
◦ Are there ways to effectively conduct military
operations that do not require military
personnel to foster anti-social traits?
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles
Unmanned systems, unlike soldiers who fight in
ground combat, are immune to frustration,
boredom, and anger which makes unethical
conduct less likely (Lin, Bekey, Abney 2008)
 Arkin (2009: 30): combat soldiers often act on
emotions such as anger, fear, frustration and
revenge which often causes them to disregard
military regulation and the laws of war. ….the use
of emotionless UAVs might, in fact, eliminate the
atrocities that stem from unraveling emotions
caused by the direct experience of killing others
under the condition that they lessen civilian casualties and save lives
[email protected]
A Final Word About Victim Blaming
"We have to fight the cultural stigmas that
discourage reporting and be clear that
sexual assault does not occur because a
victim is weak, but rather because an
offender disregards our values and the
law," Hagel said.