Last week, the US military services announced their plans to
integrate women in combat specialties. Although it may sound
counterintuitive, the full integration of women in the armed forces -
in all roles, at all levels, and in far greater numbers - will do
more to stop sexual assault against them than any other measure.
It will help more, for instance, than creating a new cadre of
lawyers (called "special victims counsels") to assist service
members who say they are victims of sexual assault - a program now
underway in the Air Force. It will help more than reforming the
prosecution of sexual misconduct cases so that victims do not fear
reprisal from commanders - an issue the Senate Armed Services
Committee has grappled with.
Both of these efforts are worthwhile, but they address the
effects of the scourge. They do not get to its cause, which is the
hyper-masculine, male-dominant culture of the military. To do that,
the military must create a far more welcoming atmosphere for women,
who make up only 15 percent of the armed services. It must welcome
and value them as equal partners, and it must greatly increase their
As Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey commented
in January, when the Defense Department lifted the ban on women in
combat, having "separate classes" of male "warriors" and everyone
else creates an environment ripe for sexual assault and harassment.
The more that the Pentagon "can treat people equally, the more
likely they are to treat each other equally."
In May, the Pentagon said that the number of sexual assaults
reported by service members increased to 2,949 last year, more than
double those reported in 2004 - perhaps reflecting more willingness
to report under the Pentagon's sex-assault prevention and response
program, which began in 2005.
Many more incidents go unreported. According to a Pentagon
survey, last year about 26,000 service members (6.1 percent of
females and 1.2 percent of males) said they experienced unwanted
sexual contact - which may range from rape to abusive sexual
And yet, we are stunned by the leadership's continued
misapprehension of how a "culture change" could happen. Too many
generals seem to think the solution starts with the rank and file,
when it must start at the top - with them.
In a recent Washington Post commentary on the need to reform
military culture, Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales concluded that "so
long as the culture of the rank and file rejects the presence of
women as their professional partners, nothing will change."
Similarly, it was disturbing last week to see Maj. Gen. Bennet
Sacolick, of Special Operations Command, haltingly discuss the
integration of women into elite services such as the Navy SEALs and
Full combat integration is now required across the services by
2016, with exceptions having to be approved by the secretary of
Defense. Yet Major General Sacolick was not able to commit to any
integration in the elite forces. He wants first to survey the rank
and file on "social implications," and "behavioral and cultural"
aspects of integration.
The only reason to hold back women soldiers - whom Sacolick at
one point called "young girls" - is a specific finding that they
cannot do the job. Resistance from the rank and file has no place in
a decision to keep an occupation or unit closed to women.
It is much easier to look for external sources of a problem than
to examine ourselves. …