LOS ANGELES—You didn’t hear it during this week’s congressional hearings on the U.S. military’s escalating problem with sexual assaults, but pornography was mentioned during a reccent Senate hearing on the same issue. It was in fact mentioned last March one time only, by one person, but that person—Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine officer (1999-2004) who is currently executive director and co-founder of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN)—happens to be someone in a position of high visibility who is once again making the news network rounds to talk about sexual assault in the military and what needs to be done to stem it.
More to the point, though, her quote implicating pornography as a factor in military assaults has been resurrected during this week's rekindled debate in the aftermath of the release of the Pentagon’s latest report on rape and assault in the military. Whether it takes hold and becomes an actual talking point remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if it eventually does.
The larger issue, rape and sexual asault in the military, is of course a very real problem. “According to the latest available figures,” wrote Amy Goodman yesterday on Truthdig.com, “an estimated average of 70 sexual assaults are committed daily within the U.S. military, or 26,000 per year. The number of actually reported sexual assaults for the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2012 was 3,374. Of that number, only 190 were sent to a court-martial proceeding.”
The percentage of assaults amounts to an “epidemic," but it was about to get worse. The “situation blew up this week," wrote Goodman, "when the head of the U.S. Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was himself arrested for sexual assault. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, 41, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a parking lot outside an Arlington, Va., strip club. This comes after a recent case where a senior military officer overturned the sexual assault court-martial conviction of an officer under his command.”
Goodman then quotes from Bhagwati during the hearing last March, when she told senators under oath, “During my five years as a Marine officer. I experienced daily discrimination and sexual harassment. I was exposed to a culture rife with sexism, rape jokes, pornography and widespread commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls, both in the United States and overseas.”
In her media appearances this week, of which this writer has seen several, Bhagwati has spoken mostly about the broken nuts and bolts of the military legal system, which she believes contains an “inherent conflict of interest” when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases. She has not, however, mentioned pornography per se when discussing the “mindset of the military,” as she did this week on MSNBC.
But she did tell host Chris Jansing, “There’s a huge cultural problem."
She also added that having more women in leadership positions will help change the culture of “sexual harassment and discrimination every day,” but clearly her focus this week was on big structural changes that need to occur within the military criminal justice system.
That’s all well and good. No officer at any level should be able to disenfranchise a jury’s verdict or be able to circumvent justice. But a lot of the talk this week was also about the, as Goodman called it, “systemic rape culture presided over by the Pentagon.” Though hard to refute in light of the latest numbers, those are somewhat harsh Dworkin-like words that appear to take no prisoners. So we'll see what happens when the good senators start to seriously pick through the best ways to fix the military's systemic rape culture. Just don’t be surprised if “pornography” and the “widespread commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls” become officially synonymous.