HENDERSHOTT: The Pentagon has issued a flawed report on sexual assault

Panicked prosecutors and military leaders do not send a message of strength

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Citing a non-scientific survey of sexual assault in the military, the Pentagon issued a flawed report, which claimed that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year. Panicked prosecutors and military leaders have responded by initiating some of the most preposterous prosecutions we have seen since the tide of false sex abuse allegations on college campuses reached its height a decade ago.

Promoting the panic in Congress, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York demanded that the military chain of command be replaced with civilian legal processes in cases of sexual harassment and assault. Claiming that the military leadership is unable to deal with issues of “violence and power,” Ms. Gillibrand sent a powerful message to military leaders that convictions are necessary — and the “good soldier” defense is dead.

Although the Gillibrand bill has been stymied, the panic persists. Most recently caught up in its effects is Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair. Facing life in prison if he had been convicted, Gen. Sinclair had been charged with sexual assault, sodomy, having public sex and abusing his government credit card in pursuit of a three-year sexual affair with the same female officer who accused him of sexual assault.

In a military courtroom at Fort Bragg, N.C., last week, the accuser tearfully testified that she continued to have sex with the general for two years after she says he threatened to kill her. Gen. Sinclair maintained that the accuser was angry because he refused to leave his wife. Her private journal confirmed this. In an attempt to avoid the life sentence that is a real possibility in any moral panic, Gen. Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery and lesser charges.

The Gillibrand effect on the trial was strong, though. Concerned that Gen. Sinclair might not be treated harshly enough, military officials rejected the plea. Last week, the presiding military judge, Col. James Pohl, ordered the jury dismissed — citing new evidence indicating that “political concerns may have improperly influenced military officials’ rejection” of Gen. Sinclair’s original plea. Col. Pohl told the jury that he found “unlawful command influence in officials’ decision to reject the plea bargain.”

In the end, Gen. Sinclair received a reprimand and fine of $20,000 on Thursday.

Politics always plays the pivotal role in any moral panic. Exaggerated claims by advocates like Ms. Gillibrand and her date-rape industry supporters are coupled with incendiary headlines in the media. Promoting the panic, the New York Times editorialized that the sexual assaults are the result of the “military’s entrenched culture of sexual violence.”

Those who dare to question the extent of the military’s epidemic of sexual assault are vilified. Following the publication last month of a Wall Street Journal column suggesting the possibility of a panic surrounding sexual assault, Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, called on the newspaper to fire author James Taranto because he is “determined to maintain or even deepen the rape culture that pervades campuses and indeed much of U. S. society.”

Responding to the panic, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act in December, which limits military commanders’ authority to overturn verdicts and provides more legal assistance to victims.

The real problem with the expanded definition of “sexual assault” is that it actually ends up removing power from women. It creates instead, female children unable to stand up for themselves and in need of protection by the now-entrenched sex codes created by college campus feminists, which have now been deployed to promote the panic in the military. As long as victims of sexual assault are venerated, it should not surprise anyone that allegations will continue to increase — and that the accusations will be confabulated.

Mother Jones’ reporter Stephanie Mencimer recently published an investigative piece, which has concluded that Jamie Leigh Jones, a young employee for a defense contractor in Iraq, lied in 2007 when she claimed to have been gang-raped by her defense contractor colleagues so brutally that her breast implants ruptured. Ms. Jones, also claimed that she had been locked into a shipping container and held at gunpoint by officials of the defense contractor because they feared publicity over the rape allegations. In an article published in Slate, Amanda Marcotte wrote that Ms. Jones’ accusations “touched on already hovering concerns about powerful defense contractors and the general atmosphere of brutality that stemmed from the war. It felt symbolic of everything that had been going wrong in Iraq.”

It is likely that this moral panic will continue to grow as the sexual assault-industry will help to create an unending supply of female victims in the military. There will always be soldiers behaving badly — but instead of receiving the message of strength and independence that the military has always promised, women in the military will be reminded of their fragility and vulnerability.

Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

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