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Sexual assault is rampant among the police, military and UN peacekeepers, too

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NORMAN, Okla.-- While mainstream media outlets have rightfully focused on the culture of sexual assault within Hollywood and now politics, other institutions have received far less attention for their culture of rape and assault than they deserve, namely, the United States military, the police, and the Peace Corps.

The Department of Defense just released a report on sexual assault within the military, and the numbers boggle the mind.  In fiscal year 2016 alone, the Air Force had 1,043 sexual assaults, the Marine Corp had 825, the Navy had 1,825, the Army had 2,205, joint base installations saw 670, and “combat areas of interest” saw 125 sexual assaults.  The total comes to 6,153 in a single year.  The report also states that only an estimated 32 percent of those who experience sexual assault within the military even report it:

“Since 2005, the DOD has put policy in place to encourage more Service members to report sexual assault, regardless of when the incidents occurred. As a result, the percentage of Service members who choose to report the crime has increased over time. Prior to FY14, 15% or fewer military victims reported a sexual assault to a military authority each year. For FY14 and FY15, DOD estimates that nearly 25% of the Service members who experienced a sexual assault in those years reported the incident to either SAPR program personnel or military law enforcement. In FY16, the DOD estimates that about 32% of Service members who experienced a sexual assault reported the incident to either SAPR program personnel or military law enforcement.”

The report paints a damning picture of behavior that creates thousands of victims every year who are reportedly subjected to rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual contact and persistent attempts to commit such crimes.  The low number of victims who come forward is probably due to the fact that many who report sexual assault in the military are retaliated against, with a 2014 investigation finding that 62% of sexual assault survivors who reported the incident experienced retaliation.  While there have been attempts made to address the situation, the rigid structure of the military creates power dynamics that create the perfect environment for rampant sexual assault.

The military isn’t the only gun-toting arm of the US government with a history of sexual assault.  In 2014, The Nation ran an article titled “The Police Violence We Aren’t Talking About”, that reported on the string of sexual misconduct committed by officers against the public they’re purported to serve and protect.  In 2010, 9 percent of police misconduct reports involved sexual assault.  Sexual assault is the second most-reported type of misconduct among law enforcement, behind excessive force.  Former Oklahoma officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting 13 women over the period of several years, preying on women with criminal histories to extort sex. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable to predatory police.  A recent Reason article identified the police as the ‘Harvey Weinstein’ of the illegal sex industry, using their position of power to coerce sex from those in the most vulnerable positions.

Another organization that creates dangerously lopsided power imbalances between their employees and the people they serve are UN Peacekeepers.  In an extensive, four-part series, Al Jazeera scrutinizes sexual assault committed by UN Peacekeepers against the poor populations they are sent to help.  Between 2004 and 2016, the UN received over 2,000 complaints of sexual abuse and exploitation against the peacekeepers.  Again, the power imbalance is key.  First World big-shots descending into poor, Third World communities creates the perfect atmosphere for exploitation, which in the case of the peacekeepers involves using the local female population as their personal brothel:

“In the International Organization journal article Peacekeeping, Compliance with International Norms, and Transactional Sex in Monrovia, published in late 2016, researchers found that more than 50 percent of women surveyed in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, had engaged in transactional sex. "A large majority - 75 percent - with UN peacekeeping," the report found.

Widely touted as the first quantitative study of the association between a UN peacekeeping operation and transactional sex, the report stated: "Transactional sex with UN personnel is a ubiquitous life experience among young women in Monrovia."

"The actions of UN peacekeepers are undermining the UN's broader peace-building goals in Liberia," it continued.

"When UNMIL (UN Mission in Liberia) withdraws, it will leave behind a distorted economy in which more than half Monrovia's young women will have been making their livelihoods by selling sex."

The focus has lately been on Hollywood cretins, and is now shifting to political figures, but more attention needs to be directed also at these three pillars of authority and submission.  This is the perfect moment to create real change and accountability among institutions that command widespread, and too often, unconditional, respect.  The lesson is that, where power exists, the opportunity for abuse and exploitation also exist.  It should be assumed that plenty of people will take advantage of that opportunity.  

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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