Scapegoating gays is not the way to fight sexual assault in the military

In a not terribly helpful article in the NYT, advocates for addressing sexual assault against women in the military have brought out what they consider their secret weapon for getting the attention of the military’s male leadership: the fact that more men than women in the military, they say, suffer sexual assault (at the hands of other men).

The problem?  When you hear about men sexually assaulting men, a lot of people think “gay.”  And who’s already thinking “gay”?  The religious right (see  examples below).  This report goes a long way towards explaining why lead anti-gay religious right groups have recently started blaming the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the military’s sexual assault problem.

Here’s Tony Perkins, the head of the officially-designated hate group, Family Research Council:

“So we’ve seen this rise of homosexual assault since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, so it is this sexualization of the military where sex becomes the focal point and it shouldn’t be. When there was Don’t Ask Don’t Tell nobody knew and that’s the way they preferred it and now it becomes front and center.”

And this from right-wing propaganda organ WorldNetDaily:

wnd-antigay-bs

And the same homophobic lies from another officially-designated hate group, the American Family Association:

AFA-fischer

And more from an email by the Family Research Council:

President Obama is finally admitting that sexual assault is a serious problem in the military–but what he hasn’t conceded is that his policy on homosexuality helped create it. According to a new Pentagon survey, most of the victims were not female (12,000 incidents), but male (14,000)–highlighting a growing trend of same-sex assault in our ranks…

How could this happen? Well, for starters, the Obama administration ordered military leaders to embrace homosexuality–completely dismissing the concerns that it could be a problem to have people attracted to the same sex, living in close quarters. What’s more, explains Marine Capt. Lindsay Rodman, the statistics aren’t reliable and may be hiding thousands more cases of service-based abuse. “The truth is,” she writes in the Wall Street Journal, “that the 26,000 figure [of victims] is such bad math–derived from an unscientific sample set and extrapolated military-wide–that no conclusions can be drawn from it.” Except one, perhaps, which is that groups like FRC were right to be concerned about the overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

When you read between the lines, it seems these assaults could just as easily be examples of anti-gay bias in the military – i.e., straight service members using faux-gay sexual assaults to haze other service members (jumping into bed with them, pretending to have sex with them from behind, etc.)  But the NYT article doesn’t bother mentioning that fact until you click to the second page, more than half-way through the entire story.  And the explanation is more than a bit qualified:

Many sexual assaults on men in the military seem to be a form of violent hazing or bullying, said Roger Canaff, a former New York State prosecutor who helped train prosecutors on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon. “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he said.

Seem to be.

The only direct refutation of the notion that the perpetrators are gay comes from a victim, who offers no proof whatsoever:

“A lot of people say this problem exists because we are allowing women into the military or because of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” he said, referring to the ban on openly gay service members. “But that is absurd. The people who perpetrated these crimes on me identify as heterosexual males.”

So one assault out of 10,000 wasn’t gay.  That’s helpful.

I’ve written repeatedly about the problem of sexual assault against women in the military.  It’s an issue that must be addressed.  But if the wrong class of people is being blamed for these assaults, then you risk the assaults never being addressed, and the true perpetrators never being brought to justice.

It’s not rocket science to have predicted that this data would be misinterpreted.  A year and a half after the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy ends, people are putting out data suggesting that man-on-man sexual assault is the real problem in the military.  Sounds gay to me.  And it’s certainly going to sound gay to people who have a vested interest in hating gays.

Sadly, there is nothing even attempting to dispel this myth – this slander, really – on the home page of the lead group dealing with the sexual assault issue, Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), other than a link to the NYT story which basically perpetuates the slander.  Nor is there any mention of the perpetrators not being gay in SWAN’s fact sheet on the issue:

SWAN-homophobia

More from SWAN’s executive director, Anuradha K. Bhagwati, via the NYT:

“I think telling the story about male victims is the key to changing the culture of the military,” said Anuradha K. Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group that has sharply criticized the Pentagon’s handling of sexual assault. “I think it places the onus on the institution when people realize it’s also men who are victims.”

No, it places the onus on gay men who are probably more likely to be the victims of this hazing. Talk about blaming the victim.

Ironically, the only one who got this story right was the horrifically anti-gay, GOP propaganda organ, Washington Times.  In their stories on this issue, they at least bothered to include a quote from a known expert saying the “gay” angle was bunk:

Aaron Belkin, who heads The Palm Center, which studies gays and lesbians in the military, said “very few” male-on-male perpetrators are gay, saying such incidents are “somewhat similar to prison rape.”

“It is important to try as hard as possible to eliminate sexual assaults from the military, but I don’t think that procedural reforms will do much to lower the incidence rate unless military culture changes dramatically,” said Mr. Belkin, whose 2012 book “Bring Me Men,” included a case study on male-on-male rape in the military.

When the Washington Times is doing a better job than the NYT and victims’s advocates in explaining the problem, there’s a problem.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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    Well, yeah. They want us to be returned to the status of property.
    The easiest ways to do this are to make it harder to have a career or to
    expect equal pay for equal work, to deny us access at all to any number
    of career fields, and most of all to make us slaves to our bodies,
    available to be hijacked at any time by some man’s sperm, even if
    unwillingly imposed.

  • cole3244

    the right are running out of groups to hate but i’m sure they will find one if not make one up.

  • nicho

    For the record, pointing out that someone’s shoes are hideous is not “bashing.” How else are they going to learn?

  • UncleBucky

    You know, it’s always somthin’!

    Faux Noise, I am sure, will have a special edition of breeder-bashing stories. Oughta be interesting. ;o)

  • UncleBucky

    They need someone to bash in order to demonstrate their manhood.

    They would shoot horses, too, if they could use that to show how manly they are.

  • nicho

    Just a word of advice. I wouldn’t share that opinion with any of the Turkish oil wrestlers. Or you might get more than your oil checked.

  • Indigo

    Now that gay-bashing isn’t technically allowed, the knuckle-draggers turn to raping women? That’s some military we got there. That does not leave me feeling “safe” or “grateful” for my “freedoms.” Maybe we should follow the example of civilized countries like Costa Rica and abolish the military.

  • Ninong

    I think they invented the “checking his oil” move. LOL

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    If we can cause hurricanes and other natural disasters, we can most certainly cause these attacks.

  • Butch1

    Thank goodness someone had pointed out that in rape cases it was about power and it was ritualistic behavior in the barracks among the straights bulling some of the weaker ones where this was happening and not the gays that were doing this.

  • Ninong

    I can’t speak from anything close to recent experience but I can say that the sort of initiation hazing that took place in the military back in the 1950’s when I was in would definitely qualify as sexual assault even though no actual penetration took place and no actual sex took place. Without getting into graphic details, suffice it to say that it was a group activity involving blindfolds, nudity and extreme hazing but no real sex. By today’s definition, it qualified as sexual assault.

    Even back then the definition of rape was that “penetration, however slight, constitutes rape.” However, if I remember correctly, it only applied to rape of a female. And, of course, back then female service members were in separate branches of the service: WACS, WAVES, etc.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis
  • Ninong

    The “checking his oil” move in wrestling is definitely not motivated by sexual desire.

  • Sweetie

    Also, the “butt drag” move in wrestling, which apparently is pretty common… also seems related to aggression and hazing. Of course, ignorant people will claim it’s an instance of rapacious marauding gays.

  • Sweetie

    I just read about an older teenager who was arrested for “sodomizing” a 12 year old boy with a pencil. A knowledgeable person would see that as a case of hazing. A person who is ignorant would say it was kinky gay sex.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well, yeah. They want us to be returned to the status of property. The easiest ways to do this are to make it harder to have a career or to expect equal pay for equal work, to deny us access at all to any number of career fields, and most of all to make us slaves to our bodies, available to be hijacked at any time by some man’s sperm, even if unwillingly imposed.

    Their push to ban women from the military is just one of the more blatant examples of this intent.

  • Sweetie

    We can thank our Puritanical zeal for the fact that kids in school don’t learn the basic difference between sexual behavior and sexual orientation. Because so many can’t differentiate between the two (e.g. a virgin has just as much of an orientation as a prostitute), the rhetoric is corrupted by illogic.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Those male-on-male sexual assaults were happening long before DADT was repealed, and if ever there was proof that rape isn’t about sexual attraction or gratification, but about power and violence, it was those.

    Because in virtually every case, the perpetrator (or perps in the case of gang-rapes) was heterosexual. The victims may or may not have been gay, but that’s irrelevant.

    Essentially, it was the same criminal syndrome as we commonly see in our gender-segregated prisons. Rape used as a tool for subjugation and dominance.

    The other thing we’ve learned in recent years is that while male-on-female sexual assaults are drastically under-reported and grossly un-prosecuted in the military, the instances of men being raped is reported even less, due to the social shaming and “unmanning” involved.

  • PeteWa

    exactly.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Gay Gangs.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Yeah, those roving gangs of violent breeder-bashers have always been a problem in the Army, and on Christopher Street.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That was the other really sick thing, how the religious argues the attacks are supposedly evidence that women are the problem. Right. Yet they don’t want women in the military because they supposedly “care” about women. No they don’t.

  • PeteWa

    it’s a neat trick how they blame the victims in the one instance:
    get rid of the women getting raped, problem solved!

    and then pivot and scapegoat gays in the other instance:
    male on male sexual assault is framed as ‘gay’ even though we all know better, but… get rid of the ‘perpetrators’ in this case to solve the problem!

    the absurdity is profound, but to be expected when the “reason” employed is thinly disguised hatred.

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