Not a word about military sexual violence in last night’s State of the Union

*Trigger warning*

mstNot a word. Lots of words about the armed forces. Several words about the need to keep our deployed troops as safe as possible and to keep our promises to our deployed troops. Here’s the bulk of what President Obama said:

As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.

Then, he told the very moving story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was nearly killed in Afghanistan, where he was on his tenth deployment, and is now slowly recovering from his many injuries. Remsburg, who was seated between his father and the First Lady, received the longest applause of the evening – over a minute and forty seconds – everyone on their feet and acknowledging his service. It was really very touching.

But at no point did the President mention sexual violence in the military. Despite the fact that a woman deployed in a combat zone is more likely to be sexually attacked by one of her comrades than she is to be killed by the enemy, he said nothing. Despite  the fact that the  number of acts of unwanted sexual contact reported in the military rose in 2013, to a total of about 26,000, he said nothing.

Obviously, the State of the Union can’t cover everything. But this is a pretty glaring omission. It’s not like the President isn’t aware of the problem: it’s garnered an enormous amount of media attention in the last year, there have been multiple legislative efforts to begin fixing the military judicial system so that military sexual violence is actually prosecuted and punished, and in his address on ending sexual violence around the country last week, the President mentioned the armed forces in addition to college campuses as places where sexual violence happens sickeningly often.

So why not mention it in the most high profile speech he’ll make all year, the one in which he lays out his top priorities for the next twelve months? Why not say that we want to keep our troops as safe as possible, from enemy fire and from sexual predation by their comrades? Why not say that one of the reasons returning vets need mental health care is because the rate of sexual violence is so high in our armed forces?

One has to conclude that preventing military sexual violence simply isn’t high on his list of priorities. Which breaks your heart, and makes your blood boil, in equal measure.


Avatar ImageChloe Angyal came out of the womb opinionated.

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Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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