How the Military Can Change the Culture of Assault

Instead of more training, the U.S. Army needs to overhaul how it promotes its leaders

  • Share
  • Read Later
Michael Nagle / Getty Images

West Point's 2010 graduating class

Over the past decade, the U.S. military has faced controversies surrounding soldier suicide, cultural sensitivity in theater, veteran unemployment and now sexual harassment and assault. To me, the most recent scandal — the revelation that Sergeant First Class Michael McClendon allegedly filmed female cadets in the shower at my alma mater, West Point — illustrates an inherent problem in how the military handles such matters.

(MORE: Peeping Sergeant First Class (First Class, Indeed))

Having served in the Army through many of these scandals, I know that it will likely respond to the latest crisis by implementing training programs. But the truly horrific feature of these recent incidents of sexual harassment and assaults is that very few are peer on peer; many involve a leader (or counselor) targeting a female subordinate, exercising an outrageous abuse of power. One suspect, a sergeant at Fort Hood, was even a coordinator for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. McClendon, the suspect in the West Point case, wasn’t some impressionable 18-year-old kid. He was a grown man with a decade of military experience in charge of 140 other cadets. A training session would not have stopped his actions, nor will it stop future incidents from happening.

The only way to keep bad leaders from sexually harassing and assaulting their subordinates is to keep them from being leaders in the first place. This requires an overhaul in how the military selects and promotes its ranks. Currently, most officers and noncommissioned officers are on “autopromote” based on time in service. In the few instances where candidates are further screened, they’re given an Officer Evaluation Report that assesses only operational and training fitness. The reports don’t assess a leader’s relationships with peers or subordinates. More important, there is no context in which a peer or subordinate can officially provide input on a leader’s performance that will follow them through their career. So it would be very plausible that a soldier performing decently well could retain his poor character as he (or she) climbs through the ranks, and potential sexual predators are promoted simply because their time has come.

(MORE: The Roots of Sexual Abuse in the Military)

Disturbed by officer misconduct, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has recently proposed implementing 360-degree performance evaluations whereby subordinates would be able to weigh in and a candidate’s character would also come under scrutiny. Making tough calls in the face of adversity is something our military does very well, and I hope the U.S. Army will leverage that fortitude in curbing this and other cultural plagues. The challenge is that culture cannot be “issued” to subordinates like a uniform; institutional culture is something that builds from bottom to top. Implementing 360-degree evaluations will fly against centuries of military tradition, and would inherently call foul on the promotion mechanisms that elevated our current leaders in the first place. But it’s the only way for our soldiers to bring forth the problems they see in our ranks that senior leaders cannot.

45 comments
valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

to rpearlston.....

You are right......some women are so ugly that I would not touch them with your own drong......I would get a soft on.....

valentine, comedian....lol

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

I HEARD SEVERAL YEARS BACK....THAT BLACK DI INSTRUCTORS WERE RAPING FEMALE RECRUITS IN MARYLAND.....THE AIR FORCE ACADEMY HAS A BIG NUMBER ALSO.......PERSONNEL SERVINF IN IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN AFGHANISTAN RAPED BY THEIR COLLEAGUES.......

            WHY IS THIS HAPPENNING??????????.......WHEN YOU PUT FEMALES IN A MALE SITUATION.....THE YANG AND YIN HARMONY HARMONY BECOMES IMBALANCED......MEN GET HORNY.....THEN THIS IS THE RESULT.

SIMPLE COMON SENSE........

valentine, comedian, lol......it is sad

sundownr
sundownr

Here is my take... Give all military women an emblem and an oath.  The oath states that the bearer of the emblem is a friend to humanity and will prosecute sexual abuse immediately and without question.

I believe such a short and direct message will be heard by all Americans.

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

Procedures might be different, but the mentality argued for in the article would be a healthier adaptable mentality for society at large. The scope of such an idea far outreaches the realm of possibilty, as much as victims of the more serious assaults being able to survive and move on with their lives in the first place. Not a pretty picture.

Alex Valbuena
Alex Valbuena

Do what brits and aussies do, all officers should be prior enlisted for at least two years. Weed out the weak ones.

RussellAllenMiller
RussellAllenMiller

I wouldn't want to create situations where the dishonest word of a single subordinate, or a subordinate and a crony or two, could ruin someone's career. However, I do think it's a good idea to record feedback from subordinates and peers, much the same way that professors at universities receive anonymous course evaluations from their students. So long as people are receiving feedback on a regular basis, a small group of liars could not have that much of an impact, but if a pattern emerges, it will carry some weight. I knew my share of abusive leaders in the military. The greatest harm they do is convince their subordinates that the military as an institution is fundamentally abusive and no one cares, hence, one would be a fool to pursue a career in the military.

RobinDonaldDeVallon
RobinDonaldDeVallon

Oh.. and yes... at "parties" and "celebration" we put the girls´heels and footprints on the cealing... even if she was in higher command... Us gents got out ties soaked in liquor and eaten until just the knott...  Great times that will never come back... for me.. Donah..//

RobinDonaldDeVallon
RobinDonaldDeVallon

When I was in the military.... the British Royal Air Force, to be specific... we had to sleep head to toes on our bunks... which was to distract homophobes (which it never did) but a clear sign:- Hey...  we don´t want queers in our ranks... okay !! 

We had the WAAFs in seperate quarters to fill similar or other specific duties women are good and better at.. but never in private off-duty.... There were only the NAFI canteens and officers quarters (or our hotels ... on off-duty weekends)....

Personnaly I never heard of any hassle.... Maybe I was too yount to notice... !!   Donah..//

RobinDonaldDeVallon
RobinDonaldDeVallon

Sure the US Military is at fault but it´s not the military`s but every country´s powersick dingoes in command ever since the creation... there should be a line of command and there is in the animal world so naturely in the human world... 

Now, if you´re gonna upset and change that then you have to root out every single sick brain in the universe... 

Have a cigar, general....   Donah..//

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

What other moral deficiencies are tolerated as part of the military culture?  Is lying OK.  No.  Is stealing OK: no, if you don't get caught.  Look, this is not a subject that commanders want to have to deal with.  So create a structure to take it out of the chain of command.  Straight men and women, and homosexuals who want to serve in the military should not have to be fearful of their officers or peers in the commission of their duties.  Those sexually abusive behaviors are generally not tolerated in the civilian sector, by law and by custom (now, gradually).  They should not be tolerated in the services, either.  And there should be vigilance, vigilance, vigilance for now on to make sure that this is so.  If not, the consequences won't be supportive of a more efficient and effective military.  Let's face it:  this has gone on too long, and it must be stopped from top to bottom.  Period.

Agustin Ucab
Agustin Ucab

Muslims and Christians r alike... f provoke they fight for their survival

Shattered4103
Shattered4103

The easiest, best, and most effective way to solve this would be to stop mixing men and women together in the military. There was a reason why the military didn't engage in the practice before Obama. A unisex pro-homosexual military will always have these problems.

Givemeliberty
Givemeliberty

You said " the only way is to evaluate leadership".    Another way would be to teach the military  MORALS--some things like sexual harassment, abortion conducted at military hospital , suicide , hinderance of  the pastoral duties of  chaplains are morally wrong.

BrianStephens
BrianStephens

"The only way to keep bad leaders from sexually harassing and assaulting their subordinates is to keep them from being leaders in the first place".
The only snag with this, and the writer admits it, is that a sexual predator could conceal his behaviour until the time comes when he has sufficient seniority to dominate those under his command. All he has to do is bide his time after the promotion by service  rule is removed. How does one detect sex offenders in advance?

Vijay Banga
Vijay Banga

More and better training is the right answer, how will only promotional avenue improve. this is military not a Government office

Leonor Arango Lrr
Leonor Arango Lrr

i am not a friend of war. but I daid our kids are brave and.not recieving the honor snd backing if they come home. they deserve. blessing to families and those by God grace are back. leonor

Grace Monie
Grace Monie

Don't open images on Facebook no matter which application you use on your phone, Mahometan have stepped up hacking mobiles to pin point your location, to hear what you say n even know all your activities n passwords. The best thing to do just read text on Facebook. Furthermore don't open emails from strangers on mobile or desktop or whatever you use, because it gives them ability to compromise your computer know your location n even install spyware.

JoeMartinez
JoeMartinez

Our culture of nudity exposure has created a false secure impression on women coupled to the theory that women all she has to say is no and all will be fine. Unfortunately such is nature and women revealing as much as they can get away with is an open invitation for men to look at how sexy they are but don't touch me. Men is the hunter don't loose sight of this fact and women is the natural prey. I'm a retired air force man and in the 70,s we resisted mixing the sexes in the same barracks, but we lost the battle and this is the results. Am I implying that women are to blame, you bet submit your rebuttle but keep in mind what I said about men being the hunter versus the prey. Try and separate these two facts.

Grace Monie
Grace Monie

No I think he is wrong, firstly we have edge over enemy because of all the technological innovations n surprises that they never expected. I think the solution is to work at many ends, training her youth to be brave, courageous n innovative leaders of tomorrow, innovating military weapons, harshest training for leadership, education n right tools for people, using the people at whatever they are best at naturally. Striving to make every aspect of system, society n technological n educational front better is the key.

Ahmad Rouleau
Ahmad Rouleau

Islam is the only true religion. anyone who want scientific proof of god that your terrorist zionism rothschild media hide, contact me or add me if you re open minded

bearcat96815
bearcat96815

Author has 3-4 years in (maybe) and knows how to change things....?  Give me a freaking break....

caiusKeys
caiusKeys

Assault occurs less frequently in the military population than it does in the civilian, but hey, why let that stop your bashing? 

DrorBenAmi
DrorBenAmi

The military reflects the civilian population. There are over 250,000 child sex slaves in the USA servicing an average of 20 adults a day. Obviously these 5 million johns are not all Japanese tourists. Americans have lost their sense or right and wrong. How can a country barely notice when bill and Hilary kill 500,000 Iraqi children, yet become hysterical when 3 people are killed in Boston? It is all about the abuse of power and Americans know how to abuse their power better than anyone on earth.....

rpearlston
rpearlston

@valentine.godoflove  That's a pile of bull.  YOu seem to think that just being around a woman, any woman, makes every man into a monster who doesn't care whom he hurts.

You may be a Neaderthal, but that's not true of most men.  It's time that you grew up so that you can learn to abandon you stupid and infantile view of women and instead treat them as the equals that they are.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@sundownr But how would this benefit women who are NOT in the military?  Too many men don't see rape, any rape, as a crime because they don't believe that rape is real.  This is a change that has to take place in the whole of society, not just in the military.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Shattered4103 Your thesis is crap.  This did happen be Obama, you simply weren't paying the slightest bit of attention.  Abuse of power is abuse of power, and that has always been with us.  It takes many forms (see, for example the movie "A Few Good Men"), but it's still abuse of power.  And rape is not about sex but about power.  THis, too, is something that you fail/ don't want to grasp.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Givemeliberty How about teaching that lesson from kindergarten on.  It's just as applicable in civilian life as it is in the military.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@BrianStephens THere are some standard personality tests that are administered and scored by psychologists trained in this particular area.  The way to detect potential sex offenders/abusers of power (that's the root of this) is to administer these tests to everyone.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@JoeMartinez Bull.

You're finding ways to blame the victim instead of blaming the abuser.  That never works,  In fact, it only allows the abuser to feel more and more as though s/he can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want, and get away with it.  

Nor is this the result of mixed troops, even mixed barracks.  This is about the abuse of power, nothing more and nothing less.  Your POV is that of a dinosaur.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@JoeMartinez  Congratulations, you came up with a different spin on boys will be boys and she asked for it, she deserved it.

The majority of men have learned to control themselves in your hunter vs. prey scenario. 

StephenDing
StephenDing

@JoeMartinez Are women to blame for being victims? No. Are they to blame for being natural "prey"? No, because unless a male soldier masturbates or goes off base often (neither of which, I'm assuming, happens too often), his testosterone has to go somewhere. Where better than female soldiers who are on base? I do agree that, if it's what you're saying, it's the culture's fault for promoting female nudity (which promotes, in large part, lust) and a bad policy to mix sexes in the barracks. Correct me if I'm wrong: it's human nature to go for the easiest way to satiate oneself, despite the possible repercussions.

I guess my point is that it's the culture's fault as well as the fault of policy makers for making women such easy targets in the military. Men are simply taking advantage of such flaws in the system

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@caiusKeys  It is estimated that 26,000 people were sexually assaulted last year.  Is that number acceptable to you because it's less frequent than the civilian population?  What do you tell yourself to believe that?

Givemeliberty
Givemeliberty

I only agree with "Americans have lost their sense of  right and wrong.  MORALS  is the proper word

Shattered4103
Shattered4103

@Hollywooddeed West Hollywood I presume? Someone who likes raging liberal politics (and lives the lifestyle to go with it) most likely has no clue about young men and women living together in tight places. Us veterans know that when you mix two million dogs and one million cats together there's going to be problems. It's unavoidable.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@StephenDing @JoeMartinez The safest, easier and fastest way to satiate yourself (as you put it) is to masturbate. No one gets hurt, either.

You're still buying into the concept that men can't/refuse to act like decent human beings.  I know for a fact that you are wrong, and as long as you continue to devalue women, in any manner whatsoever, you will continue to be wrong.

MaxFlynn
MaxFlynn

@Hollywooddeed @caiusKeys Really?

Interesting because that's not what the 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members (2012 WGRA) concluded, at all, in any way.  


"In FY12, the Department completed development of and deployed the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database (DSAID), a secure, centralized, case-level data system for documenting sexual assault reports and managing cases. The Department also continued to standardize case disposition definitions, resulting in a standardized definition for the term “substantiated.” At the end of FY12, the Military Services reported dispositions for 2,661 of the 3,288 military and civilian subjects receiving or waiting for a disposition for the allegations against them at the close of FY12.12 Investigations determined that 947 of the 2,661 subjects were either outside the legal authority of the Department or a military criminal investigative agency determined the allegations were unfounded (false or baseless). 13 The remaining 1,714 subjects investigated for sexual assault were presented to military commanders for consideration of disciplinary action. Of the 1,714 military subjects, commanders could not take action against 509 due to evidentiary problems. Eighty-one of the 1,714 military subjects received no disciplinary action because commanders determined the criminal allegations were unfounded (false or baseless). Commanders had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary action against 1,124 of the 1,714 military subjects. Of the 1,124 subjects, sexual assault charges were substantiated for 880 subjects for whom it was determined a sexual assault offense warranted discipline. For the remaining 244 subjects, evidence supported command action for other misconduct discovered during the sexual assault investigation (such as making a false official statement, adultery, underage drinking, or other crimes under the UCMJ), but not a sexual assault charge. Command actions for sexual assault charges and other misconduct charges included court-martial charge preferrals, nonjudicial punishment, administrative discharges, or other adverse administrative actions. Sixty-eight percent of subjects receiving disciplinary action for a sexual assault had court-martial charges preferred against them."

Shattered4103
Shattered4103

@Givemeliberty The public education system worked hard to destroy them. It's OK to smoke dope and fornicate with both sexes but the God they taught you never existed help you if you're against massive deficit spending, illegal immigration, gun control, abortion, and homosexual "marriage" because then you're a "racist." Everyone's a "racist" if you disagree with them. Lol.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Shattered4103 @Hollywooddeed Cats and dogs are different species.  Men and women are NOT.  OPnce you admit that to yourself, once you admit that women are full human beings, with all of the rights and duties that go with that, you'll be a far better person that you are now.  But the abuse that you heaped on Hollywooddeed is the same tyoe of abuse used within the military.  No wonder you feel the need to apologize for the abusers.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Shattered4103 @Givemeliberty  Give us a break.  Your views are so antiquated and so bigoted that they belong in a different century, say Spain the late 1400's.  

Try again.