To stop sexual assault against women in the US military, add more women
The US military must change the culture that leads to sexual assault by genuinely accepting women as fully capable and by greatly increasing the number of women. Change must start at the top, beginning with more admissions of women in the service academies.
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It is much easier to look for external sources of a problem than to examine ourselves. Today’s military generals helped shape and lead an institution that enables sexually abusive men, that glorifies a culture of male dominance, and that has only allowed women in at the margins and in support roles.Skip to next paragraph
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Numbering only 200,000, compared to 1.2 million men, women in the armed services face exclusionary practices by the dominant group. Those practices range from name calling, to misogynistic jokes, to more extreme behaviors such as harassment and assault. Token groups move away from this condition when they reach a “critical mass” – 33 percent of the total population, according to experts.
Prof. Robin J. Ely, at the Harvard Business School, says that when women reach this level, the organization stops seeing them as women and begins to evaluate them on the basis of their capabilities. She finds that critical mass must also be achieved at the top level for its benefits to be realized – a point that the military’s top brass must understand and act on.
Leadership must move swiftly to fully open up the service academies that train officers. While women outnumber men at almost all colleges and universities in the United States – as of 2011, women received 56 percent of all bachelor’s degrees – the number of women with bachelor’s degrees from the four military taxpayer-funded academies is remarkably low – because admission rates are low.
Only the Coast Guard Academy breaks the “critical mass” barrier, with women accounting for 36 percent of its admissions last year. Female admissions for the other academies has changed little from the first integrated classes: 24 percent at the Naval Academy, 23 percent at the Air Force Academy, and 16 percent at the Military Academy at West Point.
West Point officials have been saying that their classes must mirror the Army’s population, which is comprised of roughly 15 percent women. But this is no way to lead the necessary cultural shift. For guidance on how to make an improvement, West Point need only look at the Army ROTC program, where 21 percent of the cadets in 2011 were women. In high schools, about 45 percent of the JROTC program is female.
If the military truly hopes to solve the problem of sexual assault, then the leadership must genuinely and publicly accept women as fully capable and must actively seek to increase the number of qualified women in the services. Women’s full integration in combat and greater recruitment are not problems to be solved, but an opportunity to be celebrated.
Only then will the military culture change to one in which all servicemembers are valued team players.
Army Col. Ellen Haring is on the staff of the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn. Last May, she filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Washington D.C., demanding that the Defense Department allow women in combat. Her lawsuit remains open. Anne Coughlin is the Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Va. In 2011, she founded the Molly Pitcher Project, whose research led to the filing of Col. Haring’s lawsuit.