“Knowing better” does not seem to prevent much sexual assault in the military. In May, three individual military sexual assault officials were fired for committing sexual assault.
President Obama announced that sexual assault in the military was a national security risk, a “scourge” on the military. Air Force General Mark Welsh admitted that sexual assaults in his branch of the military typically involve alcohol use and can be traced to a lack of respect for women.
That's great. Really enlightening. But, uh, what is the military going to do now that they haven't already done?
The military has been educating its members constantly. Sexual assault response coordinators train every member of the Air Force every single year about sexual assault prevention.
For the past five years, the Army has been drilling every new soldier with the I A.M. Strong campaign. The campaign teaches ten sex rules that include: “No always means no,” and “silence doesn’t mean consent.”
Those rules are good, I guess. But rules about sex are not necessarily rules about rape. Rape isn't about sex. Rape is about power. Sexual assault is about...what? Is it about sex? Is it about power? Is it about our society?
We are certainly living in a society in which sexual assault is not limited to the military. Every college campus in this country is blighted by the scourge of sexual assault. Sexual assault comes cloaked in shame and silence and alcohol.
So how do you change a whole society? The very idea seems impossible to me. Brilliant academic and political minds have worked on this issue for decades. What can one little person do?
“I am only one person, but I am one person. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Helen KellerI can't prevent evil in the world. Wolves are among us. But can I do something about trying to raise my kids to live in a way that they never commit sexual assault or anything like it? If most sexual assault in the military is related to alcohol and a lack of respect toward women, maybe these are the things that I need to teach my kids:
1.Unconsciousness is not a family value. We’ve got beer in the fridge and a couple of bottles of wine in the kitchen, but we don’t drink to oblivion in our family. I’ve seen my husband drunk maybe five times in 25 years. I have never seen my parents or my in-laws drunk. We are a lucky family that way. I am hoping that my kids absorb the idea that a drink is something that adds to your pleasure -- it isn’t the pleasure itself.
2. Women are smart. I’ve always credited my mother-in-law for my husband’s attitude toward women. She is smart. Really smart. So my husband was raised expecting all women to be brilliant. He is so surprised to run into a not-so-bright woman. I want my kids to grow up with the same idea. I want them to act like people are smart and decent. They know their dad and I expect them to treat others -- especially their mother -- with respect.
3. Sex is for relationships. Most of all, I try to teach my children that sex is something that you have inside a relationship. Sex isn’t a sport. Sex isn’t a sign of your own power. Sex isn’t a secret. Ever since my kids took their first family life course in grade school, I’ve been telling them that sexy stuff happens with someone you love. I don’t want them to know the emptiness that follows sex without love. I don’t want them to believe that sex is something you take whenever it is offered. I want something better for my kids.
I know my kids will never be perfect on any of these “rules.” I probably haven’t been perfect about these rules either.
But if we are going to really change a society, we can’t wait for the military to instill values in people. We’ve gotta get ‘em while they are young. We’ve gotta get ‘em while they are fresh. We’ve gotta start preventing sexual assault at home.