Jesse Ellison's article, recently posted on The Daily Beast, “Male Rape in the Military Being Confronted,” as brilliantly written as it is?is by and large—misguided. While her incisive piece sheds much-needed light on a subject of great importance (since it impacts of the state of readiness of our military to carry out its function of protecting the nation) her conclusions are specious at best.
Ellison's article is based on the conclusions found in a new book, Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America's Military, by Dr. Mic Hunter. The book's premise is there's a fairly high—and underreported—incidence of male-on-male rape in our armed forces, and that military leaders have known about it and have done nothing for years.
Ellison graphically details the life-long suffering some men have had to endure due to the sexual assaults they experienced while attempting to serve their country. Any human being with an ounce of compassion would have sympathy for this group of failed warriors.
In the article Ellison writes, “Like in prisons and other predominantly male environments, male-on-male assault in the military, experts say, is motivated not by homosexuality, but power, intimidation, and domination.”
She right, and while I've never been in the military I have been in prison on more than one occasion, and common sense, along with an understanding of male culture, informs me that pretty much the same set of interpersonal dynamics is at play in both environments.
In both cultures, when you're new and unknown, some dude is liable to “try” you, to test you, to see how far you're going to allow him to go before you stand up for yourself. And if you don't stop the bully he will often go all the way and take your manhood — making you his “bitch” if you allow him to do so.
Ellison and I suppose Dr. Hunter (admittedly, I have not read his book and have no plans to do so) both suggest the remedy is for those in command in the military to do their jobs better, which, in turn, will pretty much curtail the practice.
This is where they lose their way. For a soldier to run to a superior officer for protection from the bully proves what the bully suspected or knew all along: The sniveler is a coward and a weakling … and now all of the other soldiers know it too. And the cold, hard truth is no amount of reporting of such behavior is going to effectively put an end to it.
Military commanders, just like prison officials, know this.
They can't be everywhere, and written policy and the threat of sanctions are only going to do so much to stop what essentially is human nature: the strong preying on the weak.
Military commanders innately know that protecting weaker troops really isn't their job. Running an effective, capable fighting organization is their charge. But what they actually can do is to ensure America's military is accepting of qualified women and gays.
By “qualified,” I mean those men and women who are up to the challenges and rigors of military life. Certainly not everyone is. And it has less to do with gender and sexual orientation than one might imagine. Many folks, for a variety of reasons, simply are not well suited for military life. I damn sure would never have volunteered since I have a real aversion to someone barking orders in my face.
In the case of homosexuals in the military the confusion arises over the difference between “gay and “fey.”
All men that are gay are not fey, and vice-versa. Indeed, both in and out of prison I've known gay men that are physically and psychologically as tough as nails … dudes you really, really would not want to lock ass with.
In fact, in the boxing game, which I know quite a bit about by the way, it's a generally accepted fact that 25 percent of the men participating in the sport are gay (a much higher percentage than in the general population)… including more than a few world champions. Their attitude is …”you want to make something of it? I didn't think so.”
The same logic should apply to women in the military. If they are fit and tough enough to do their jobs they should be left alone, and they almost always are. It's called having a “military bearing” and some women naturally have it. Weaker women — those in need of protection — really don't belong in the military in the first place.
In both institutions (prison and the military) there are three ways to deal with the problem of bulling and potential rape: Accept it and become some strong man's (or woman's) “wife” so they will protect you from others; remove yourself from the situation (in the military you can demand a discharge, and desert if you're not given one; but in prison the only out is to “PC-up” ask to be placed in protective custody — a very lonely existence, albeit a safe one).
Or, you can fight back … which, in many cases is all the bully is attempting to find out — how willing and eager are you to engage in battle? After all, this is what you signed up for isn't it: to fight when and if it comes down to that?
Obviously some men and women make a mistake by joining an organization where fighting—or the willingness to fight, which serves to keep the peace—is the reason for its existence. The potential rapist, in testing for strength, is attempting to determine: “who do I want to be in a foxhole with?”
All war is about domination, and if a soldier's own team members can dominate them, just image what an enemy can and will do to them, thus jeopardizing not only themselves, but the other squad members who are depending on each other. No one wants a weak link in their chain when his or her life might depend on it. The thinking, no doubt, is that it's far better to find out before a firefight, rather than during one, just how much guts a fellow soldier has.
The motto “Death before Dishonor” is very real to warriors, and it has always been so.
So the only effective response, when a potential predator starts dropping lugs, making comments designed to test a new recruit's manhood, simply has to be: “Choose your weapon m***erf***er and meet me out behind the barracks. I don't care if it's pistols at 30 paces or bayonets hand-to-hand, but before I let you go up in me, before I allow you to take my manhood … one of us is going to die … now, do you understand that?”
And any soldier not willing to make such a declaration—and not be as serious as a heart attack about it—really is not fit to wear the uniform of his country or any other.
Bullies and potential predators in armed forces serve to weed out the weak. Military commanders know this, and, indeed turn a blind eye simply because to allow weaklings to remain in uniform damages the overall organizational structure, and to knowingly weaken your country's capability to defend itself is, in reality, tantamount to treason.
But, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men “we can't handle the truth!”
Mansfield Frazier, a regular blogger for The Crime Report, is a native Clevelander who serves as the executive director of Neighborhood Solutions, Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on myriad issues of importance to the urban community. A published author, he served as editor at a number of Cleveland weeklies before semi-retiring and changing over to Internet journalism in 2005. His column can currently be seen weekly on CoolCleveland.com and The Cleveland Leader. He also occasionally contributes to The Daily Beast. Frazier is the co-publisher of Reentry Advocate, a magazine that currently goes into all Ohio prisons, select prisons in the State of Michigan, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He welcomes reader comments.