Our Heros – the movie they didn’t make

kate smurthwaiteA very interesting Alternet article looks at the recent Department of Justice study in the US which shows that ex-servicemen commit rape and sexual assault at much higher rates than those who have not served. Funny how the homecoming scenes in war movies always go for the spinning-the-faithful-girlfriend, petting-the-puppy, cue-sunset-pan-out, rather than muffled screams and then her in tears in the local police station.

The information is all well and good but it raises more questions than it answers. Is it that the military “belittles” the enemy by feminising them? Is it that nasty potential rapists are drawn to join the military? Is it that rape and sexual assault are commonplace in the military and the culture stays with servicemen after they get home? Is it that life in the military means being away from women for long periods of time and so media messages about women are not counter-balanced by experiences of real women? Is it an expected result of big groups of men hanging out together? Is it that all the training boosts testosterone levels and sex drive? Is it that the military is so disorientating, and doing awful, awful things is taught as being “correct” to the point that judgment is permanently impaired?

The answer is clearly some of those thing to varying degrees and some other things too.

And the solution is… complicated. One thing that really would help, though, is more women in the military. It would change the atmosphere in camps, it would leave male recruits training alongside women, it would result in military leaders being unable to “feminise” the enemy, since their own troops included many women. And – here’s the biggie – it would massively cut rape and sexual assault in and out of the forces because women, in or out of uniform, commit those crimes at a tiny fraction of the rate men do.