#MeToo Versus the US Military: An Uphill Battle for Victims of Sexual Assault

The #MeToo movement has turned into a monumental moment in history that may signal that next major wave of feminism. However, there are still plenty of institutions where the #MeToo movement has yet to make the same kind of impact it has had in the entertainment, political and corporate worlds. The military has long been a bastion of masculine supremacy where the boy’s club has been reluctant to accept women. Military members simply haven’t been held to the same standard when it comes to their treatment of female colleagues and women are forced to suffer in a culture of silence or risk their careers. #MeToo may not be enough to help victims who have experienced sexual assault in the military.

A Culture of Silence and Abuse of Power

The same type of tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse that has been exposed by the #MeToo movement is at play in the military, except at a much higher level. In an institution that relies on a hierarchy and chain of command, sexual assault often occurs from a superior officer, which puts the victim at risk of retaliation. Assailants use their position of power to intimidate victims into silence.

In fact, 62% of service members who actually reported their sexual assault experience some sort of retaliation. They were professionally and socially punished for their actions and some were even discharged for trumped up charges like “personality disorders.” As a result, many victims make the painful choice to stay silent in order to preserve their careers.

A Pervasive Problem

Just how many cases go unreported? Approximately 25% of women in the military have been assaulted and around 80% have been the victim of sexual harassment. In 2012, the Pentagon conducted an anonymous survey and found that 26,000 members had been assaulted, but just over 3,000 cases were ever reported. However, that ratio may not be that surprising when only 238 cases result in a conviction. These numbers send a clear message to victims that they are on their own.

Protecting Their Own

Often times, “good soldiers” are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to accusations and the military is more concerned with preserving the legacy and career of the member than protecting the victim. Commanding officers even have the authority to remove sexual crimes from a member’s record and reverse jury rulings to make sure the member can receive promotions.

In 2016, the Pentagon reported the highest number of sexual assault cases in military history, but they were billing this as a good sign. In the past, victims were either too scared to come forward or they felt that their cases wouldn’t be taken seriously. An increase in cases may not be a sign that more people are being assaulted, but that more people are coming forwards because they have faith that the military system will protect them and provide them with some sort of justice.  

Study after study shows that sexual assault is a rampant problem in the military. The Pentagon has readily acknowledged this fact and recognized it as one of the institution’s biggest challenges. Just what they will do to fix the problem and whether the #MeToo movement will be able to gain momentum in the military remains to be seen.