By Ms. Nicole Kirschmann (AMC)April 28, 2017
Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.-- Annually, sexual assault costs the U.S. more than any other crime: $127 billion according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Each rape costs approximately $151,423. While it is not possible to measure the intangible damage of sexual assault, the financial costs are considerable. The RAND Corporation, a non-profit think-tank that researches the military, estimated that the fallout from sexual assaults cost the military $3.6 billion in 2012 alone.
During Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Joint Munitions Command provides a two-part series examining sexual assault and, as a primarily-Civilian agency, how employees can do their part to change perceptions of sexual assault in the workplace culture.
The second interviewee in this series works at Rock Island Arsenal. He speaks about his experiences handling sexual assault in the military as an active-duty Army officer. His identity, rank, and position have been redacted because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
Question: Describe how your view of Sexual Assault in the military has changed over time. What were some of the critical events that occurred?
Answer: "I think that one of the largest shifts is one that we see in American culture as well, where we are starting to categorize incidents that used to be considered 'pranks' are now recognized as sexual assault. 'Tea-bagging' is one example. This behavior was very prevalent in male-centric organizations, and the people doing it usually thought it was a joke. Obviously we can't let this behavior persist, even if everyone involved supposedly finds it funny."
Question: When you've been a commander, what were some of the situations involving sexual assault and harassment that you had to deal with?
Answer: "One situation that sticks out in my mind was male-on-male sexual assault accusation that occurred in my unit when we were deployed to Afghanistan. I was made aware of the allegation by a third party, and as commander, I was required to investigate it. Given the sensitivity of such a discussion, my First Sergeant and I conducted initial questionings of any Soldiers who were potentially involved with or witnessed the assault."
"When I asked the alleged victim about it, he denied that anything had happened. In my gut, I felt that something had happened but that he was either in denial or couldn't admit it to me. At that point, I advised him on his options as far as counseling and support. Without knowing exactly how the Soldier felt about the incident, I had no way of knowing the extent of the trauma and felt stuck in the situation. The situation eventually went away since there was no actual complaint, but I felt concerned that we did nothing to address the incident."
"The second extremely serious situation happened to my Executive Officer, who is a female and was the best Lieutenant in my unit. I'd say she was one of the top, if not the top, LT in the Battalion. We all were at a military ball, having a good time. The LT was there with her boyfriend, who is also an officer. At some point at the end of the night, a First Sergeant from a sister company attempted to forcibly kiss the LT. I wasn't with them at the time, so I don't know the details, other than it was unwelcome and very out of line. This particular First Sergeant did not have a sterling reputation, so it wasn't surprising that he got moved out of the leadership position. What was shocking was when I found out why. I really couldn't believe that someone would think it was okay to treat her that way, or that that was the right way for a soldier to act."
Question: Regarding the situation with male-on-male assault, do you think the Army can do more to take away the stigma? How?
Answer: "Talking about it more would help. It's difficult to talk about, especially for men, especially for Soldiers. We're supposed to be tough, we've been through wars, dammit, so it's difficult to acknowledge that rape can happen to us. In some ways, it's like talking about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, another difficult subject for Soldiers to actually face."
Question: As a leader, how did you feel when your female LT chose to come to someone else first with her harassment complaint?
Answer: "Obviously she can and should go to whomever she feels most comfortable talking with. However, I was concerned that maybe I had done something inadvertently to make her feel that she couldn't come to me with it. I worried about that and spent some time thinking about if I failed as a leader in some way."
"I try to create a command climate in which people can come to me with their concerns, whether they are SHARP related or something else. Given that many of my soldiers came to me with all kinds of issues (I once brokered a soldier's car deal in a foreign language, for example), I think I mostly succeeded."
"My wife pointed out that maybe the LT didn't feel comfortable discussing the situation with a male at all, regardless of how she thought of me as a leader and personally. That's probably a situation for the Army to keep in mind, and one reason why it's important to have visible female leadership at every level. The LT had someone to go to, and that's what's important."
"That LT is still in the Army, but I would not have been surprised if that experience had made her decide to get out. Think about that. We could have lost a stellar officer because one substandard Soldier couldn't respect her as a person or as a leader and couldn't follow basic standards of how to treat another human being. I'm sure we've lost other talented Soldiers and officers, male and female, for the same reason. Sexual assault costs us. It costs lives, it costs talent, and it costs money."
Question: As an Army Officer, what do you want civilians to know about sexual assault in the Army, and how it is handled?
Answer: "The Army is a cross-section of America, and we reflect America. Of course any assaults cannot be tolerated and our numbers look bad, but you have to keep in mind two things: one, the Army is actively taking a role in flushing out incidents and predators, so the rising number of reported incidents is a subsequent effect of this effort. [The number of sexual assaults reported to the Department of Defense doubled from 3,109 in FY08 to 6,083 in FY15.] You could argue that the increasing number of reports is a sign of changing the culture, because this means that people feel comfortable enough to report assaults. Two, we are not corporate America. These numbers take into account incidents that happen on and off the job, as we are thought of as a '24/7' workforce."
"Until we change American culture, we have an uphill battle in trying to eliminate sexual harassment and assault in the military. Army officers have to do our part as leaders, but Americans have to do their part, too."
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, there are resources available. Each Army installation and unit has a designated victim advocate. At JMC, you can contact the SHARP program manager Stann Quinn at 309-782-0302. Rock Island Arsenal provides a 24-hour hotline at 309-229-8412. The Department of Defense SAFE hotline is 877-995-5247.
An additional resource is the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). RAINN is not affiliated with the Department of Defense.