The US Air Force Blames Their Culture Of Sexual Assault On… The Teen Girls Too Scared To Come Forward

women in the militaryGen. 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.

(Photo: koh sze kiat/Shutterstock)

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  • Eileen

    I can see saying the fact that rape is underreported is a problem, especially since as we know most rapists are repeat offenders. There should be a culture in which victims feel they can come forward, and even if there isn’t, it would be great if victims kept coming forward until there was. Every victim who has the courage to admit that she was raped makes it easier for the next person to do so as well.

    But…how will that ever be the HEART of the problem of sexual assault? How can anything but sexual assault be the heart of the problem of sexual assault? Generals, your argument makes no sense whatsoever.

  • Susan

    The Air Force does have many programs where women who are sexually assaulted can report the crime in an effort to create a place women can feel safe. Women can choose to press charges or just report that it happened. There is a special group of people, consisting mostly of women, outside their chain of command they can talk to. People in the unit receive regular sexual assault training and the women are constantly reminded they can step forward without fear of retaliation. Their reports are taken VERY seriously.

    How is the Air Force expected to create an evaluation that screens for rapists and molesters? There is no way to know how someone will act in a position of power, male or female. Males get assaulted in the military, too. The problem is further compounded by the fact that many women who enter the military have a history of abuse- I think it is 1 in 4 for sexual abuse. Previous victims are more likely to become victims again and less likely to report it because they think that there is something wrong with them or that they deserve it. So while the generals seem to be skirting the issue of the predator’s responsibility, they are focusing on part of the subculture they can control. They can’t predict or know by performance evaluations who is and isn’t assaulting their subordinates. They can know by the women in their units coming forward when they are assaulted.

  • David

    If the Air Force WANTED to solve the Sexual Abuse Crimes. It Would. If the air force refuses to deal with the Criminal Activity hand the Investigation over to the F.B.I., Crimes on Federal Reservation, and let the chips fall where they may.

  • David

    What’s the point of reporting a Rape if NOTHING happens to the Perp..

  • David

    Oh Susan, Sing it Again. Your set speech is meaningless. It solves nothing.

  • David

    I’ve noticed my comments are being managed, distorted and ignored. So Long, Yahoo!

    • LindsayCross

      I’m sorry but we haven’t done anything to your comments on our end. If you’re having problems, please let us know so I can try to address it with our tech team.

  • justiceday

    The problem with rape in the military is these guys are trained to believe they are entitled to it. We have had marines tell us that, and not in a nice way. The fact that commands haven’t done a thing for decades and this problem has escalated shows that this is their culture. Then they get out and cry PTSD when they continue to rape!

  • SusannahJoy

    I kinda have to play devil’s advocate here. I haven’t read the whole hearing, only the quotes you included and your analysis, but there’s it looks like there’s more to the story. It seems to me like the generals are acknowledging that there is a problem with the reporting process, they’re acknowledging that these women don’t feel comfortable coming forward. And I would argue that that is one of the biggest problems. If no one ever reports the assaults, how on earth are they supposed to prosecute? If they’re not being reported, how do you even know whether or not the actions being taken are appropriate for such a terrible crime? And seriously, what do you suggest that the military does to not hire people capable of sexual assault? In any organization that big, there are going to be people like that. Obviously this is a huge problem, but it has multiple causes, and one of those is that women don’t report because they don’t feel comfortable reporting, so the generals are suggesting that they come up with ways to make them feel safer to report. It sounds like a good start to me. The next step, of course, would be to kick anyone found guilty of assault out of the military.