Sexual Assault and Harassment in the United States Navy

Having attended hours of sexual assault and sexual harassment awareness training over the last week, I can attest that I am well-trained in this field. I can spot both types of abhorrent behavior and know how to handle or report it.

As part of my command’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) team, I can honestly share that there has been no incidents in three years at my San Diego command. (That is not to say that one occurred and went unreported.) Of course, I am at a very senior Navy base, with few young Sailors, so this may skew our sexual assault and harassment statistics.

I’ve always thought the civilian world and my jobs out there were far more harassment-friendly than the Navy workplace. (I am not excusing any perpetrator in either location of these crimes.) Gail Heriot, in the Weekly Standard, agrees with my comparison of the military and the civilian world:

There is just one problem: Precious little of this story has any basis in fact. Contrary to what many assume, there is no evidence that the military has a higher rate of sexual assault than, say, colleges and universities. Indeed, what paltry evidence there is suggests the opposite. Congress needs to stop, take a deep breath, and avoid adopting legislative remedies it will regret once the crisis atmosphere dies down.

Any institution home to a disproportionate number of young adults will likely have higher than average rates of what the military delicately calls “unwanted sexual contact.” That doesn’t excuse the behavior—which can range from a provocative pat on the bottom to forcible rape—but it does provide much-needed perspective.

The two most recent studies of campus sexual assault—The Sexual Victimization of College Women(2000) and The Campus Sexual Assault Study (2007)—both show colleges to be worse than the military when their figures are annualized to make them roughly comparable to the military’s. At least one older study, The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students (1987), makes the military seem like a Junior League garden party.

To be sure, each study asked different questions and collected responses differently, making precise comparisons difficult. Nevertheless the bottom line is clear: There is no evidence that the military is uniquely dangerous to women. Lawmakers who argue high sexual assault rates can harm the military’s morale and recruitment efforts are right, but their own overwrought reaction to the 2012 survey can also be harmful.

Of the three worst sexual harassers I’ve seen in the military, two were female officers. One was a loudmouth in the wardroom who would feast on young, male Ensigns with her bawdy quips. Another one was a bull Warrant Officer who had serious personal issues. She was an alpha female, brutal to other females and emasculating to the males. Curiously, she was competent at her job, so she continued along her naval path, leaving detritus as she went.

The last sexual harasser was an Ensign, a Limited Duty Officer (LDO), who trained me when I flew. He was narcissistic, loud, and (also) competent. I told him on more than one occasion: I can’t wait until I qualify when I can tell you exactly how I feel about you. Passive-aggresive, yes, but it got my point across how loathsome I found his behavior. Six months after I qualled, I caught wind that he had been kicked out the Navy. Fourteen years in and he wasted it all. Four kids and a wife and the Ensign got drummed out. For what? Sexually harassing a female Petty Officer.

As for the talk of Congress taking over UCMJ privileges from military leadership, I’ve heard all sorts of responses. Is this a ploy by our civilian leadership to “de-fang” the military? That they are using this issue to get their foot in the door to weaken us? Never let a good crisis go to waste and all that? (This may or may not be my opinion, I am merely repeating what I’ve read in some blogger circles.)

For all you sexual harassers and assaulters out there in the Navy, we won’t abide by your deviance. We will find you, punish you, and kick you out. Good riddance to bad Sailors. Still, I don’t think the Navy any worse than the civilian world…

A Person of Consequence

Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings. –Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Marine Sgt. Kimberly Nalepka and Lance Cpl. Victoria Rogers speak to students at a local school in Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 30. Nalepka and Rogers, members of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Female Engagement Team, visit medical clinics and schools on a regular basis.
Marine Sgt. Kimberly Nalepka and Lance Cpl. Victoria Rogers speak to students at a local school in Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 30. Nalepka and Rogers, members of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Female Engagement Team, visit medical clinics and schools on a regular basis.

My Biggest Mistake While Deployed on an Aircraft Carrier

Life on an aircraft carrier is busy. Sometimes I would charge around, looking to speak to this person or get to this space. Only, I had no clue how to get there. I was lost until I figured out the lay of the land.

Since I am adventorous, I like to find my way around. It was a goal to visit most spaces on the ship, but for obvious reasons, this was not possible. At lunch, I even once asked the nukes, the folks working on the reactor, if I could see it. It being the Reactor.

I was met with amused glares. No, they said. And the gave me two good reasons why not. The first was INSURV. And anyone in the Navy knows this is a big deal. (INSURV is a major inspection.)

Okay, I replied.

One week into my tour, I needed to get across the ship And I was on a level I was not used to traveling on. Bear in mind, I am usually crouching over part-the-ways too. So what I am about to share is an honest, although bone-headed, mistake.

I hang a left through a door I have never been through. It is quiet and peaceful in the space. And I smell something nice. Like trees. Remember, this is an aircraft carrier and the common smells are either food or jet fuel.

It is a berthing area and a remarkably clean one. Not only are there no running shoes on the top of the wall lockers, like the other berthing areas I have clomped through, the place gleams.

Then it hits me, it is a FEMALE berthing area. I turn around and hightail it out. I do not check the door to make sure, I do not collect 200 dollars. . .

I Am Not a Whinger

I like words. New ones especially. Different ways of speaking, sure. So when I read this article on the highest ranking female in the British Army, I listened to how Brigadier Nicky Moffat described her experience:

I don’t feel that gender has been an issue for me. I don’t care if you are male or female, or black or white, gay or straight, right side of the tracks or the wrong side. I care what you deliver. To be fair, some people have been discriminated against, but I have not felt this applied to me. You are only going to get on in life if you push the door a bit and work hard and you overcome challenges and barriers. I am not a whinger. You don’t get on in a team if you are a whinger.

Brigadier Nicky Moffat: I am not a whinger!

I am not a whinger either. Errrr, a whinger is a complainer, right? Going over to Google. One sec. Ah yes! We have a winner. Whiny and complaining. . .