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Today's Mad Men

June 26, 2013 · · Originally published in OtherWords

The military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.

I remember when I first started watching Mad Men. Like most of America, I got hooked. How could I not? The glitz and glamour of 1960s Manhattan was irresistible. But from the very first episode, I knew there was something deeply wrong with this world — the business-as-usual, casual attitude towards sexual harassment.

As a modern "working gal," I can't imagine being productive in that kind of environment. In fact, I know I wouldn't be. I'd be uncomfortable and unhappy, and my performance would suffer. We may not have equal pay for women yet, but at least workplace sexual harassment is no longer considered playful banter.

Aren't we mostly past the Mad Men era? Not if you're in the armed forces.

Deirdre Boyer/FlickrOur military men and women risk their safety everyday — but not in the ways you might think. The most recent Pentagon survey revealed that out of the estimated 26,000 sexual assaults that occurred in the military in 2012, only 3,374 cases were reported. That brings the report rate to a meager 13 percent, compared with the national average of 46 percent.

With all the progress women have made in the military, why is the sexual assault reporting rate so low?

The answer is clear: Military commanders have created an environment where women are afraid to stand up to their attackers. Of the women who reported instances of sexual assault, 62 percent suffered retaliation. The current system forces survivors to make an impossible choice: career or due process? It looks like the military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.

And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand agrees. The New York Democrat proposed a bill that would remove prosecuting power from the military chain of command. She wants to replace this outdated system with a new one that would inspire confidence through accountability.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Not to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Instead, Levin agrees with the top brass that the prosecution of assault cases should be kept within the ranks.

This won't work. It's already failed.

And James Taranto isn't helping. The Wall Street Journal writer offers living proof that misogyny remains alive and well today. Taranto wrote that any attempt to address the military's sexual assault problem is the equivalent of declaring a "war on men" and an "effort to criminalize male sexuality."

Really? Justice for sexual assault survivors threatens your sexuality? Tell that to the 70 women and men who are attacked every day.

I think we can all agree that this hasn't been the best year for women. First, there was the media sympathy toward the Steubenville rapists. Then came the news that the already overwhelming number of sexual assaults in the military had increased yet again. And recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 24 weeks.

It's unrealistic to expect that the sources of these problems — the media, military, and the misinformed — can, or will, develop constructive solutions.

I understand that military commanders want the opportunity to reform from within, but the time for Mad Men style, backroom meetings is over. When Gillibrand reintroduces her bill later this summer, Congress needs to give change a chance.

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