16 May 2013

It's Almost Like Someone Actually Thought About It For More Than 6 Seconds

Sadly, when the news broke that the military had a ridiculously high percentage of sexual assault cases that have all gone pear-shaped my response was a mere "yeah, that checks."  People put in charge of running sexual assault prevention used their power to sexually assault strangers and subordinates?  Not really a shock to anyone who has been even tangentially been involved in the military.  I am no less disgusted than anyone else, but I am tragically underwhelmed by the fact that someone outside of the military's secret circle of ineptitude finally noticed.

Thankfully Ms. Gillibrand (D-NY) finally made a move to correct the obvious problem with the military's system of dealing with sex crimes: make sure the in-house chain of command is not the governing authority for in-house cases. (Trigger warning: the depth of misogynistic stupidity in the comments on the article might make your head explode, you have been warned.) Maybe, you shouldn't expect members of the same workplace hierarchy (all with something to gain or lose depending on how the case goes) decide the fate of  such cases.  Seems obvious when you say it out loud.  The equivalent of expecting a fraternity's ruling council to properly investigate an accusation against a fraternity brother seems like awfully poor policy. Now just do the same thing with a eleventy-trillion-dollar-federally-funded organization tasked with national security.  What could go wrong?

Additionally you have to consider the military culture.  In the military, the entire management hierarchy is based on the premise that you are no longer a human being*.  (While I can only speak directly about the submarine force, I hear that this is not a unique phenomenon.) You are not worthy of sleep, or time to eat, no vacations or holidays, no sick days or time to see your family.  You are a cog in the machine, your job is to do what your superiors tell you, no questions asked, and then take the fall if it goes downhill.  (This was certainly true in my personal experience and the closest I ever got to "serving" was acting as a volunteer family liaison with Chris' command.  It was a nightmare.) You show up every day, get verbally and psychologically abused by your superiors while working for hours that are actually considered criminally negligent by any other industry. 

Now when you get sexually assaulted by a ship-mate, possibly even a superior, you have to report to a superior (who has probably made your life a living hell) and trust that now, by some miracle, you will be taken seriously and helped**.  Sure, that will be great.  Add in that the higher up the food chain you are, the more ferociously you defend the idea that your command is running perfectly with no problems and well, you can be damn sure that the current figured for screwed up/delayed investigations is pretty much the tiniest tip of the iceberg.  The commanding officer whose career depends on things going smoothly should not be the final arbiter of criminal investigations involving two subordinates.  This is legal theory 101 people.

The point here is that the current system by which the military handles sexual assault cases is really screwed up.  While fixing this system won't fix the larger problem of our military's personnel management issue that has led to the sexual assault issue, it might help cut down on the number of military members raping and sexually abusing other military members. Hopefully it will at least mean that when this happens, and it will based on how the military self-selects for certain personality types, there will be a system that does the right thing for everyone involved.  The take-home message here is that no one gets a fair shot when your entire investigative system is run by people burdened with a major conflict of interest.  Again, seems pretty obvious when you say it out loud.

*Chris's comment was that military management skill is based on the same dehumanizing principle of abusive relationships.

**Granted it is a little more complex than this, there are point people within each command to handle this issue, and they can theoretically operate outside the normal chain of command, but when in a closed environment like a submarine, where the point person is only handling these claims as collateral duty, there is no way to avoid the word spreading like wildfire.  Add in that the commanding officer still signs off on the point person's evals...well, would you risk rocking the boat for the sake of some subordinate who is now adding more work to your already overburdened day?  It makes you a bad person, but I can see exactly how one might make the choice to be "less than helpful" so as to preserve their own good standing.  This is what the military system of management has created.

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