May 23, 2010

“Will an upcoming class-action lawsuit force the military to face its sexual-assault problem once and for all,” asks an article by Dr. Natalie Wilson in the spring 2010 Ms. magazine.

A 2003 study conducted by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center documents that at least 1/3 of all women veterans were raped or sexually assaulted during their military service. According to Wilson’s well-researched and shocking article, “rape occurs in the military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world, and rates of sexual assalt are even higher in war zones.” In fact, reports Wilson, soliders don’t just attack women in the military, “they commit violence against wives, girlfriends and famlies at alarming rates when they return home from battle.”

In the military, too few perpetrators are punished. A 2009 investigation by the Denver Post reported that numerous soldiers weren’t punished for sex crimes. Some say that the military punishes drunk driving more regularly and harshly than sexualized violence.

This is corporate culture – shocking and dismaying – but culture nonetheless. Group culture means the unwritten rules, the commonly-accepted practices, the way things work, the personality of an organization or group. And that’s the U.S. military: Sexist and sexually aggressive. Insufficient punishment. Too much hiding. Bottom line: A system that doesn’t work hard enough to change its corporate culture.

Yes, the military tries to stop this. But changing corporate culture is hard. And without consequences for inappropriate behavior, it’s even harder to change culture. Soliders report that even basic training still degrades women. Sexist speech still calls women “target practice, walking mattresses, waste of money.”

Carol Burke, military scholar, explains that the military is “one of the last institutions that confers manhood on its members.” The “hypermasculine ethos” promoted in the military doesn’t help either. As we know from research, men and women are socialized to belittle women. That doesn’t mean that all men belittle women. But socialization means that our society has – over generations and generations – inbred the value, position, and privilege of men and placed women as subservient to men. We keep fighting this battle in the courts and we find this battle in our churches, mosques and synagogues, in our corporations, in our government, in our schools.

Read this article, “Culture of Rape” by Dr. Natalie Wilson. Follow what Susan Burke (no relation to Carol), Washington, D.C. attorney is doing: preparing a class-action lawsuit to make the military change how it deals with perpetrators. Write your senator and congresspersons and urge their support.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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