Quote of the Day: “The military says they have zero tolerance, but in fact that’s not true.”

The recent spate of sexual assault prevention officers arrested has driven home how entrenched the military’s sexual assault problem really is. A few days after the latest scandal–three Navy football players are being investigated for raping a female midshipman at a party last year–some former servicewomen weighed in on the problem over at TPM. Dr. Katherine Scheirman, a retired Air Force colonel, says:

“The military says they have zero tolerance, but in fact that’s not true. Having a sexual assault case in your unit is considered something bad, so commanders have had an incredible incentive not to destroy their own careers by prosecuting someone.

The article, which is worth a full read, touches on some of the factors standing in the way of real change–from the fewer options for recourse available to women in the military than to civilians, to a general culture of commercial exploitation of women, to the fact that women are still such a minority in the ranks and people continue to ask, “Do women belong here at all?”

But while it’s very important to highlight–and address–these unique problems, we should also remember that the military is very similar to other institutions in this country. The rape culture in the military, in sports, in colleges, in high schools–it’s all the same culture, just different flavors. And I think Scheirman’s quote really speaks to that. This is exactly the kind of mentality we’ve seen when it comes to campus sexual assault, too. As Alexandra reported earlier this year, UNC allegedly told employees to underreport rape cases when the numbers were “too high” and then threatened to expel a student who spoke out. It seems we’ve progressed just enough that sexual assault is considered bad enough to cover up–but not bad enough actually to eradicate. As I wrote in response to the UNC story: “being seen as having a rape problem on your campus is considered worse than actually having one.”

Until that changes–not just in the military but everywhere–nothing else will.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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