Washington Times Op-Ed: Focus On Military Sexual Assault Makes Women “Weaklings”

The Washington Times published an op-ed that downplayed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military and called efforts to curb assaults “emasculat[ing],” ignoring reports that confirm sexual assaults are indeed a crisis in the military.

Amid recent reports that “sexual assault in the military increased sharply during the last fiscal year,” a November 17 op-ed in The Washington Times titled “The feminist campaign to make weaklings of America's warriors” claimed that recent efforts to curb sexual assault in the military “emasculate[d] men” and “objectif[ied] women” who want to be in combat units. The article opened (emphasis added):

Feminism is trying to yank the U.S. military in two directions at once. While claiming that women have no problem meeting the rigorous standards of the SEALs or infantry, advocates of opening these branches to women argue that female members of the military must be protected from the male sexual predators that, we are assured, are widely represented in the military. However, they can't have it both ways. Are women “hear me roar” Amazons, or are they fragile flowers who must be protected from “sexual harassment,” encouraged to level the charge at the drop of the hat?

While author Mackubin Thomas Owens noted that there “was no excuse for sexual assault,” he continued to downplay sexual assault statistics, claiming that the focus on curbing assaults objectified women as “weaklings who have no place in the military” (emphasis added):

The data cited by the Pentagon creating widespread panic within the military are rendered suspect for two reasons. The first problem is methodological: The numbers -- some 26,000 active-duty service members out of a population of 1.4 million claim to have been sexually assaulted in 2012 -- are based on an anonymous survey. This number far exceeds reported cases of sexual assault.

The second and more significant problem is that the survey uses the term “sexual assault” in a way so broad as to render it nearly meaningless. Indeed, much of what is now covered by the Pentagon's sexual-assault rubric represents the de facto criminalization of normal relations between the sexes of the sort that come about when young males and females are thrown into proximity.


One of the ironies of the focus on sexual assault in the military is that it serves to objectify women, not as sexual objects but as weaklings who have no place in the military. It diminishes the significant contributions that women have made to the nation's defense, serving honorably, competently and bravely during both peace and war. The fact is that the vast majority of women in today's armed forces are extremely professional and want nothing to do with Elshtain's two wings of feminism. Yet they are being infantilized by the Pentagon's focus on sexual assault.

If the United States insists on opening infantry and special operations forces to women, the focus should be on upholding high standards, no matter the outcome. Instead, those who want to open these heretofore restricted military specialties to women insist on stigmatizing males as sexual predators and women as childlike victims whose only protection is to charge sexual assault. The result will be a less effective military, rent by dissension.

But Owens' critiques of recent reports are unfounded. The “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” 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. In addition, the Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program explained that the military of definition of sexual assault is “unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct or fondling” and added that sexual assault is a crime:

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.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called the assaults “a despicable crime” that is “a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people.” Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John Campbell explained that “Like suicides, with sexual assaults, if you have one, it's too many,” and General Martin Dempsey stated 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.”

In publishing this op-ed, The Washington Times continued the right-wing media pattern of downplaying the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military, despite measured evidence and statements from military leaders.