The U.S. Armed Forces have a problem. Particularly since the advent of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the incidence of sexual assault within the armed forces is high. Perhaps more disturbing, the majority of these assaults are perpetrated by fellow soldiers. As this link indicates, in the middle 00s 6 of 10 women in the military were victims of sexual assault or harassment.
The government recognized this was a problem. Donald Rumsfeld held investigations. Recommendations were made and applied. Most of the recommendations made were designed to make it easier for victims to protect themselves and to report assaults when they occurred. Unfortunately, it didn’t obviously work. Reporting of assaults has gone up, which is good because it appears that the vast majority were never reported. However, it is difficult to tell if there has been any change in the rate of sexual trauma over this time. The military remains dangerous place for a woman; she has to be particularly wary of her fellow soldiers.
The Army recognizes that this is a tremendous problem. It has also recognized that, inadvertently, it has promoted a rape culture. It didn’t intend to, but what it had, nevertheless, was a culture where sexual harassment and assault were tolerated. If a fellow female soldier was threatened by the enemy, these men would no doubt save her life, but they often couldn’t be trusted around her at a party with alcohol.
I was recently treated to the Army’s new Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program (I am a civilian employee of the Army). In it, the Army specifically is trying to step back and restructure its culture so that rape isn’t a part of it. Watch the following video and you’ll get a sense of their approach: (warning: this video features disturbing material and language (definite PG-13)).
The Army is taking the onus for preventing rape off the female soldier and placing it on Army culture at large. Everyone is responsible for preventing rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Everyone is responsible to be on the look-out for warning signs. No-one is an innocent bystander in this understanding. (This next video is also PG-13. Warning: language and bad jokes)
In this second video, note how the initially sexist soldier takes it upon himself to teach his squad mate. For that matter, consider the whole outlook that this video adopts. The soldier’s unit is more important than any individual within it. The individual loss caused by an assault is terrible for the soldier, but it is equally bad for the unit. Creating tension due to sexual harassment or sexism in general hurts the unit. The loss of the sexual assaultee and the sexual assaulter hurts the unit. Sexual comments and unwanted sexual advances hurt the unit. Bad jokes don’t necessarily hurt the unit, but bad sexual humor does.
This is a brand new program, so its effectiveness is still unknown. But it seems like a step in the right direction. Instead of trying to teach women to live within the existing rape culture, it is teaching the well-intentioned to alter the culture itself. I think this will only be to the good.
Imagine if we adopted something like this approach within our church units. Not that I think that rape is a particular problem in the church or that we have a toxic culture, but it is clear that sexism is prevelant. What if we taught each other that sexism is bad, because it makes everything harder, it hurts the unit. It drives away our women. It reduces trust and places obstacles to communication. Do you think showing similar videos to our leadership and our members would be a good idea?