A recent disturbing report from the Defense Department shows that more than 20 percent of women in the U.S. military have experienced unwanted sexual contact. Speaking to the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy Friday, President Obama urged the future leaders of the military to eliminate sexual assault from their ranks.
“We must acknowledge that even here, even in our military, we’ve seen how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide,” Obama said. ”Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong. That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes. Because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”
When it comes to women in the military, the numbers don’t exactly reflect reality. Women currently make up only about 15 percent of military personnel, while they make up about 51 percent of our broader society, says U.S. military veteran Paula Broadwell, author of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Watch Broadwell talk about why we need more women in the military, plus the challenges they face getting there:
The military isn’t just a man’s world; it can provide great leadership skills to both men and women, and women can make vast contributions to the military, Broadwell says.
However, there are still challenges preventing women from rising to the top of the military, some of which stem from the combat exclusion policy that has long barred women from being assigned to ground combat units. Recently, the Pentagon overturned portions of the policy; although, with other parts still in place, it is impossible for women to gain the combat experience necessary to reach the high positions, for example,The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We’re really facing a brass ceiling, if you will, unless we get rid of some of those barriers to the top,” Broadwell says.
The Pentagon survey on sexual assault released in May is “deeply troubling,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who will introduce a bill to take felony crimes out of the chain of command so that rape victims can report violent assault without fearing repercussions from officers higher up. The Pentagon report showed a 6 percent increase in sexual assaults in just one year, with only a small percentage – 238 of the 3,192 reported incidents – resulting in a conviction.
Meanwhile, in a Senate hearing on May 7, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh blamed an increase in sexual assault in the military on the “hookup” culture prevalent among young people. Saying 20 percent of female recruits report being assaulted before they joined the military,” Welsh said “they come in from a society where this occurs.”
The report comes as the Defense Department prepares to formally integrate women into combat.
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