So, some of you may have noticed I’m not the SHARP rep, and you’re wondering what I’m doing up here talking about SHARP? That’s fair.
What I am is a soldier. “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” What I am is a noncommissioned officer; “My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind – the accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers”. What I am is a person who has known far too many victims of sexual assault in my time on this Earth, and has seen them continually re-victimized by a culture who demands that those who have made accusations of sexual assault be on trial next to those who assaulted them.
This a sensitive subject. It’s not something that we really talk about outside of mandated training, or where we are forced to. As long as we shy away from the topic and only talk about it in hushed tones, as long as we only discuss it when it happens, we contribute to the idea that it is something dirty or malignant, that it SHOULDN’T be talked about. How are we to support each other if we refuse to talk about the subject? How are victims going to know who to trust if we aren’t open and honest with each other about our beliefs?
Recently, a former CNBC broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi, was acquitted of all charges of sexual assasult. Over 25 people, including males and females, accused him of a range of misconduct, from sexual assault and overcoming resistance by choking, to physical assault and sexual harassment. 3 of his victims took the stand on behalf of a fourth, and though “Mr. Ghomeshi did not testify at his trial, and his counsel did not offer evidence to directly counter any of the women’s core allegations … Ms. Henein and her associate Danielle Robitaille made much of inconsistencies in the complainants’ testimony.”(SimonHoupt, The Globe and Mail (https://t.co/V0rChCTYol)
To clarify, at no point did Ghomeshi or his lawyers deny any claims his accusers made. They merely attempted to paint his victims as liars by pointing out inconsistencies in stories of events that took place in 2003.
This is not an isolated event. It is not uncommon for victims to have their entire lives dissected, to be asked questions such as “What were you wearing? Why did you entice him/her? Why are you at a party with alcohol? What did you think would happen in that situation?” etc. Over and over, people want to reframe the discussion into “Why did the victim allow this to happen?” instead of castigating the abuser.
This is why people don’t report. This is why sexual assault is an issue in our society, and specifically in our military. We could go into statistics on percentage of false accusations (very low), or number of successfully prosecuted rape cases (very low), etc. But we are a unit of analysts. We take a plethora of information and we distill it into what’s important.
What is important is that as soldiers, we owe it to each other to take care of each other, to believe each other, and to maintain a formation that is free of sexual assault. The ONLY way we are going to be able to protect each other from sexual assault is if we believe those who shine light on episodes of sexual assault, believe those who step forward, and then we prove our belief by supporting them and not treating them as if they were the ones who did something wrong.
I was given some help on the speech, that unfortunately did not fit into my five minute speech. I very much want to thank Lily Bolourian for her help, and apologize profusely that I wasn’t able to get her notes into this speech.
- People don’t report because it is 1) ineffective (as we see with Ghomeshi, Cosby, etc., 2) forces them to be revictimized by the courts, 3) incarceration has not proven to be a detterent for violent offenders. This is why many people suggest financial compensation as a form of justice for rape survivors — money to allow them to get therapy, move if they need to, take time off from work to heal, pay any legal costs associated with the assault, etc.
- For your last sentence, I would suggest saying that the only way to prevent against gender violence (because sexual assault is clearly gendered) is to divest from ideas of toxic masculinity and to be accountable to survivors who speak up about crimes that have been perpetrated against them. There is also a matter of shunning people who commit sexual assault.