New York Post columnist Arthur Herman called the reported increase in military sexual assaults a “bogus epidemic” because the survey on sexual assaults included all “unwanted sexual contact.” But experts have found that any sexual harassment can degrade military readiness and the survey results are consistent with widely used survey methodology.
The Department of Defense released its “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” which determined that up to 26,000 service members may have been the victim of some form of sexual assault. In a March 31 column published by The New York Post, columnist Herman claimed the report highlighted a “bogus epidemic.” After acknowledging that sexual assault and rape are serious crimes, Herman attacked the parameters of the report, saying “no real solution to any problem can be built around flawed data”:
Yet that's precisely what's really going on here -- starting with that report. First off, it's far from comprehensive or authoritative. It's based entirely on a voluntary survey -- and it's wildly anti-scientific to extrapolate from a self-selected group. And only 22,792 service members opted to respond -- roughly 2.2 percent of a military that's 1 million strong.
Even more amazing, the survey never actually asked about sexual assault. Its questions centered on “unwanted sexual contact” -- which can include any number of behaviors, including trying to slap someone on the buttocks, which may be vulgar or inappropriate but hardly rape.
But the survey didn't measure rape, it measured sexual assault, a term that is given a broad definition by the military. For example, the Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program answers the question “What is sexual assault” by including, among other things, “unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct or fondling”:
Sexual Assault is a crime. Sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Consent should not be deemed or construed to mean the failure by the victim to offer physical resistance. Additionally, consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated, or unconscious.
Sexual assault includes rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault (e.g., unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact or fondling), or attempts to commits these acts. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender, spousal relationship, or age of victim.
This kind of sexual assault is having a significant effect not only on the victims, but on the military as a whole. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the assaults “a despicable crime” that is “a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people.” General Martin Dempsey added that sexual assaults constitute a “crisis” in the military. In a speech to U.S. Naval Academy graduates President Obama addressed the assaults, commenting that the "misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide:
“Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong,” Obama said. “That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they've got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”
Herman also criticized the survey methodology, claiming that having 22,792 service members respond was inadequate. However, the survey noted that the findings are consistent with a study prepared for the Air Force by Gallup, which had a significantly higher response rate. In fact, the report's research supervisor, Dr. David Lisak, worked with Gallup and the Air Force on the earlier study.
NOTE: Thomas Bishop is a current military officer who has served as an Equal Opportunity Leader in the Army Reserves.