The military has long been scrutinized by the media for the way it deals with sexual assault. I talked to active-duty male Marines about the accusation of tolerating sexual predators in their ranks, and to get their inside perspective on allegations of rape in the military.The opposing views on how victims’ claims are managed were played out recently on national television with the story of eight military women filing a lawsuit against Navy and Marine Corps leadership for allegedly failing them.
The Associated Press reported that the women allege they were raped and harassed, and are accusing the military of having a “high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks” while fostering an environment that discourages victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
The Marine Corps released a statement providing evidence for challenging the women’s claims, as well as challenging the news reports suggesting the military doesn’t take the subject of sexual assault seriously.
The Marines who talked to me revealed an honest picture of a culture frustratingly reported in the news from the outside.
Fear of “the rape card”
“Right now the attitude of guys is to be extremely cautious with girls because they are afraid of them pulling the ‘rape card,'” said one Marine. “The military will never say this happens, because they will run off of statistics of court martial convictions. The military has no way of knowing who actually was raped.”
Why would someone pull the “rape card”?
Attorneys Richard Stevens and Frank Spinner defend military cases. Through their work navigating the military justice system and defending the accused, they’ve seen a number of motives for false rape claims:
“Guilt and confusion after a night of drinking. Avoiding a boyfriend or husband’s reaction to unfaithfulness. Shielding oneself from the consequences of one’s own misconduct. Protecting one’s reputation from the ‘promiscuous’ label. Anger over a sexual encounter not blossoming into a long term relationship as expected,” are listed in their experience as court martial lawyers.
You can look up military cases where alleged victims retracted their stories, are exposed for lying, or apologized to the accused in court. False claims not only put innocent people in a damaging position, but they also offend true victims.
The active-duty Marine continued, “A lot of people don’t believe women will do that, but they do. Of course, not all of them do and, as with anywhere in society, rapes happen. And those who are raped are offered probably the most decisive way of bringing your rapist to justice the country has seen. All you have to do is say it happened, and that Marine is taken to court martial.”
He said, She said
The Marines who spoke to me said the military court martial is a place where he said-she said thrives. They feel accused men and women are subject to a “guilty until proven innocent” prejudice. You don’t want to be in that position.
Furthermore, “Everyone sits through the mandatory training on sexual harassment and assault, and the culture is that you don’t want to rock the boat by making a stink about sexual stuff.”
Mandatory sexual assault briefings teach service members that if alcohol is involved, consensual sex is impossible. That seems over-cautious and could be the military’s overcompensation for not being aggressive enough about assault allegations in the past. This rigid stance on alcohol as a bona fide determinant of rape can lead to questionable convictions.
One of the Marines confirmed, “Yes, it’s true. If alcohol is involved and the woman alleges a rape, its like an automatic guilty for the guy. It’s messed up, if both of them are intoxicated it’s still a rape if allegations are made.”
Rush to judgement
There are many more males than females in the military, so one Marine agrees that there is a level of discrimination because this used to be an all-boys gun club. He admits though, that since he enlisted in the Corps, many women give credence to the stereotype of females in the military being “loose” and “slutty” because of their actions. That’s a rough image to shake.
It will be interesting to see how this week’s lawsuit fares in the future. And it’s worth noting that a lawsuit is a civil action, meaning a financial settlement is typically sought.
The Marine told me the general consensus at his workplace was that rape is a criminal offence and it’s a big deal for a victim to face her assailant in court. But with regard to this civil lawsuit, he too wonders how it will be resolved:
“Honestly it’s a tough one, I wish they would keep rape in a criminal court and not civil. I don’t believe people’s initial motives if there is money involved.”
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