Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Men In Uniform Behaving Badly - The Sad Parade Continues

This sad looking fellow is a face that should live in military infamy. It belongs to a Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who was in charge of the US Air Force's program to prevent sexual assault until he, well,ummm, oh dear, this is awkward, until he sexually assaulted a woman in a Virginia parking lot. Judging from the mug shot, he got the worst of it, which is in itself not a bad thing. When news of this story broke recently, the US Secretary of Defence announced that he would take a personal interest in seeing Krusinski was properly punished, which pretty much guarantees the acme of military career flameouts.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Following revelations that the number of reported sexual assaults in the US military had risen six percent from 2012, going from 3,192 to 3,374, several other military men charged with the safety of their female peers and subordinates in uniform have also been accused of the very offences they were charged with preventing. Last Friday, Tom Ricks mordantly proposed a new competition, asking "Has your base's sexual assault czar been arrested yet?", in response to stories that two other US servicemen with duties similar to Krusinksi's had been relieved of duties and charged. One was accused of stalking his ex-wife, the other was accused of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates." The issue has become sufficiently prominent that NPR's Tom Ashbrook recently dedicated an hour to it.

Lest I come across as being smug at the expense of the US military, I should note that a Canadian Forces base commander was recently relieved of his command and "faces a charge of sexual assault and two charges under the National Defence Act — disgraceful conduct and drunkenness". It is not the first time in this officer's career that he has been in trouble for sexual misconduct. While I don't have any current data for the prevalence of sexual assault in the Canadian Forces, the Ottawa Citzen reported in 2011 that the number of sexual assault complaints made in the CF in 2010 was 176, slightly up from the 166 complaints made in 2009.

I think we are seeing several trends happening here. The first is that as western militaries cease to be exclusively male preserves, and as lawmakers and elected officials charged with military oversight now include prominent and outraged women, we will see fewer excuses for male soldiers to behave badly. The second is that the current approach to fighting sexual misconduct in the ranks is now revealed as being badly flawed. It will no longer be enough to create a program aimed at preventing misconduct and giving it to an underperformer to administer. In my own experience in the military, I've seen examples of posts and programs aimed at making people virtuous, such as the Unit Ethics Officer, given as secondary duties to nonentities because no one else wants them. Making ethics or sexual assault prevention the responsibility of one person, especially someone whose career has stalled, is pretty much a guarantee that the idea behind that program won't be taken seriously.

Another trend, and I'm surprised that no one has mentioned it in this context, is pornography. Perhaps its the elephant in the room, but I think it needs to be discussed in relation to the issue of how women are mistreated in the military. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the military culture tolerates, and even encourages, the consumption of porn. In the case of the Canadian officer I mentioned above, his earlier misconduct seems to have been linked to porn. Feminists have been saying for decades that the consumption of pornography encourages men to objectify and dehumanize women, and I agree with this basic argument because I see it in my military peers. I don't see a way to make pornography magically disappear, but I don't see any way forward for militaries composed of men and women until we can start talking about it.

4 comments:

Krista Johns said...

I agree with your last statement, Padre. From my experiences as a military wife, it all rings true. I think though that we should not forget that life at home and the attitude there regarding pornography contributes a great deal to the consumption in the field. For single young men it's different of course, but those officers charged in your article didn't get to be Lt. Cols because they were nice guys. The culture then would suggest that there is a stigma that pornography must be hidden or secreted away like the dirty socks under the bed. If we adopted a healthier, more open attitude about women and objectification at home, I think you would find that it decreases the risk of eventual assault.

Michael Peterson said...

Thanks, Krista. I think this is a subject on which army wives are especially well qualified to comment and to teach us. Unfortunately, I don't think the military culture requires that pornography be that hidden. I was driving a car recently while my three passengers, all officer peers, were viewing a video and critquing it as if they were Cannes film judges. :/

R.R.Jones said...

The thing is, men will and have always seen the fairer sex as sexual objects.
What exactly is the main preoccupation with any "healthy" man? Women, (and sport, beer etc.)
Pornography is the tip of the iceberg, if you want to change things you're going to have to rewire 50000 years of genetics.
I'm not saying women have it coming blah blah blah, what I am saying is that if a nice looking female offered to sleep with ten men, no strings attached, they all would.
If a nice looking chap did the same, that definitely would not happen.
It's the catch 22 of sexual politics, men find it relatively easy to gain respect in society by simply acting normally. However, you have to be extra ordinary to gain a lot of partners, which is what the majority of normal young men want.
Women find it easy to find sexual partners by simply being a woman, but respect, that thing most desired by womenfolk besides a baby or a millionaire, comes hard.
Obviously that is not a hard and fast rule, but it does cover the majorities.
That's how I see it anyway.
BTW, yes, I have seen porn, yes, I liked it now and then and yes, I did have a hard time finding lots of sexual partners, lol :-D

Michael Peterson said...

Hey R.R.
Thanks so much for your thoughts. I agree that male sexual response is hardwired, and that it works differently from that of women, and that's not a bad thing. Male sexual response has helped pass on our genetic material for 6000+ years.
I guess the point of my post is that male sexual response can be controlled. We do it every day in social and work situations. Miltiaries are built on teamwork, trust, and the chain of command. For better or worse we have accepted women into that situation and we have to make it work. For a male superior officer to betray his command responsibility to look after the troops and keep their trust, and to abuse a woman under his command, is just that, a betrayal of the military ethos. There are no excuses.
As for porn, I've seen it too. Lots of men, myself included, have complicated relationships to porn. I don't think porn can ever go away, and I don't think it should. I just think adults need to be aware of, and critical to, the lessons that porn wants to teach us.
Cheers,
Mike

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.

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