Guest post by Kerry Crawford
On January 25th the Department of Defense (DoD) released a new instruction establishing policy, assigning responsibilities, and providing procedures for investigating cases of sexual assault within the DoD.
Department of Defense Instruction 5505.18 (Instruction) establishes policies and procedures for investigating any case of adult sexual assault linked to the United States military; this includes sexual assault occurring on military installations and cases in which a service member or his or her dependent (over the age of 18) is accused of or victimized by sexual assault. The Instruction outlines clear responsibilities for investigating sexual assault, including provisions for involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and local police jurisdictions when appropriate.
If you are interested in reading the Instruction and its enclosures, you can do so via this link: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/550518p.pdf
Why is this Instruction important? Three related reasons come to mind.
The first is that even the most casual Google search for “military sexual assault” will yield scores of news articles and academic publications discussing the prevalence of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment within and related to military institutions. For just one example, see the Huffington Post news stream. Sexual assault is a sadly common occurrence—but not an inevitable one. Although this is not a problem unique to the United States military, it is certainly one that needs greater attention from DoD and the Instruction takes a step toward addressing military sexual assault.
The second reason is that the DoD just lifted the ban on women serving in combat positions. Now, women have already been serving in de facto ‘combat’ positions for years since modern warfare lacks clear battle lines. Lifting the ban simply allows policy to meet reality and opens an additional 230,000 positions to women. For a veteran’s insight, see the Slate article by Kayla Williams.
The third reason why outlining the specific policies, procedures, and responsibilities for investigating military sexual assault is significant stems from a combination of the first two: with the combat ban lifted, women may hold more positions traditionally held by men and this leads to the question of whether or not sexual assault within the military will decrease or increase. For one scholar’s discussion, see the Columbia Journalism Review’s article.
When discussing military sexual assault, we must be careful not to paint women as victims or as the only victims of sexual assault; the Instruction itself adopts gender-neutral language when discussing perpetrators and victims, and specifies that sexual orientation should not factor into the investigation unless it is an essential aspect of the investigation. Women serving in the military deserve the same respect, honor, and recognition as their male colleagues, and relegating survivors of sexual assault to mere victim status detracts from the esteem they deserve.
We can hope that more consistent recognition of women and men as equal in the eyes of the military and clear, enforced policies and procedures for addressing military sexual assault may lead to a steady decline in the problem.
Lifting the combat ban and issuing the Instruction certainly offer food for thought.