A Navy Times website article (1) discusses aspects of the sexual assault issue confronting the military. Normally, ComNavOps would not find this type of media-hyped, politically frenzied “news” to be worthy of comment. In this case, however, the article cites a glaring inconsistency.
The article states that 3374 cases of sexual assault were reported in 2012 and goes on to state that the military believes the actual number of cases was 26,000. There are several things wrong with this seemingly simple statement of “facts”.
First, the supposed 26,000 cases is based on extrapolation from surveys rather than actual data. Extrapolation of data is perilous, at best, and hugely misleading at worst. Let’s assume, though, for sake of discussion, that the extrapolation was done under the most rigorous conditions of statistical analysis and projection. Simple arithmetic tells us, then, that 22,626 cases of sexual assault went unreported. Why would 22,626 military personnel, trained and toughened by boot camp, many, presumably, combat veterans, exemplifying the pinnacle of honesty, integrity, and, most importantly, courage, fail to report a grievous case of criminal misconduct? Only two reasons come to mind: fear of retribution of some sort or the belief that the incident did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct.
The second of these reasons for not reporting an incident, the belief that the incident did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct, leads to the second problem with both the reported and unreported cases. Having seen, and taken, many surveys about matters of this nature and related issues, ComNavOps has noted that the surveys are usually written to promote a desired outcome. For instance, a sexual assault survey might ask if one has ever seen a pin-up type picture during the course of one’s duties. If one answered yes, the survey might lump that response into a general category of unwanted sexual atmosphere and, hence, classify it as a sexual assault. Most of us would agree that there is no comparison between racy pictures and physical assault. So, the second point is that reporting statistics without defining the criteria for those statistics, is irresponsible at best and willfully misleading at worst.
Regardless, let’s say, again for sake of discussion, that every reported case of assault and every extrapolated case of assault is non-trivial, and of a serious criminal nature. That leads us back to the question of why 22,626 service members did not report such a criminal incident. Our other reason for non-reporting was fear of retribution of some sort. It could be fear of reprisal from the assailant, fear of reprisal from the chain of command, or simple fear of the unpleasantness of the entire investigative and legal process. While all would be valid fears, fear is not the determiner of one’s actions. Everyone in combat is afraid and yet all are expected to execute their duties and responsibilities in spite of that fear.
I have to pose the question, “If fear, in whatever form, is preventing 22,626 people from reporting a serious criminal incident, are these people suited for their chosen profession?” Will a person who is too afraid to report a criminal incident be brave and steadfast on the battlefield? Will a person who lacks the courage and fortitude to stand up for themself, stand up for their fellows on the battlefield? Will a person who can be intimidated in daily life demonstrate the determination, courage, and integrity to function properly in combat?
I am not at all trivializing the trauma of a sexual assault or the difficulty associated with pursuing such an incident to its legal conclusion. I am, however, pointing out that the harsh reality is that we either have 22,626 service personnel who do not have the courage and intestinal fortitude required for combat and should not be in the military or the military is generating false statistics based on extrapolations of suspect criteria in order to pursue a purely political agenda. I don’t know which is the case but I don’t see a third alternative.