Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Gen. Edward A. Rice, Jr. testified before the House Armed Services committee on Wednesday, trying to explain how sexual assault in the Air Force got to be so widespread. The two commanders were responding to the well-publicized scandal at Lackland Air Force base in Texas, where 32 instructors have been accused of sexual assault against at least 59 female recruits. These young women were volunteering to serve their country, to fight our enemies, and they were being thanked with molestation and rape at the hands of their superiors.
One would think that the focus of a hearing on rape in the military would be on the 32 men who felt justified in abusing their position of power and assaulting female subordinates. One might want to wonder how these types of monsters got to be in leadership positions within our military. One would think the Air Force would ask itself how it trained and promoted men who feel entitled to take advantage of women. One would think… and one would be wrong.
Somehow, in a feat of mental gymnastics that I cannot even begin to understand, these two men sat in front of a Congressional committee and placed the blame for this base’s complete lack of respect or security for females on the shoulders of the females themselves.
According to Welsh and Rice, the problem is not that the Air Force employs men who are capable of raping women. The issue that created a culture of sexual assault belongs to the females who didn’t step forward and report their rape, for fear of retaliation. Gen. Welsh explained to the committee:
“Why, on the worst day of their life, don’t they come forward? That’s the heart of the problem. People don’t feel comfortable coming forward, and they do not routinely report either sexual assault or sexual harassment, and that is one of the biggest problems we have.”
The lack of responsibility is almost astonishing. The biggest problem is that the Air Force does not protect and support women who come forward. The Air Force does not create an environment where women who just went through hell feel able to trust in their supervisors. After all, in most cases, it was their direct supervisors and instructors committing or perpetuating the abuse.
But most of all, the real problem is that there are rapists and molesters in the United States Air Force. There are men, and apparently a large number of them, who feel like it is acceptable to take advantage of women, and we’re patting these guys on the back and sending them our teenage girls to assault.
If the men in charge at the Air Force really don’t understand the difference between, “Why aren’t these victims coming forward?” and “Why aren’t we creating a system that protects and supports victims?” then the problem in this branch of the military can only get worse. If they do not see that the biggest problem with rape is that there are men who feel like it is acceptable, not women who aren’t being properly protected, then they will not succeed in addressing the disturbing problems facing women in the military.
These are teenage girls we’re sending off to these training facilities like Lackland. These are girls who are committing themselves to defending our country. And not only are an astonishing number of them becoming victims of sexual assault, now we’re saying that it’s their fault the problem hasn’t been solved.