More military commanders guilty of sexual misconduct

When we think of sex scandals, we tend to focus on politicians, celebrities, and sports stars. Yet a recent report might have us adding another group to that list–top military brass. Since 2005, among commanders holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above who were relieved of duty, over 4 in 10 lost their positions because of personal misconduct (Yahoo News).

Over the past eight years, over 30 percent of military commanders who lost their positions were guilty of sexual misconduct. In one recent case, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces 25 charges, including forcible sodomy, sexual misconduct and violating orders. If he is court-martialed, he could face life in prison.

Among the specific allegations he faces, Sinclair has been accused of “conducting improper sexual relationships with subordinate female officers and a civilian. Prosecutors say he forced a female captain to engage in sex and threatened to kill the officer and her family if she told anyone. The general, who is married, is accused of having sex with women in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on a plane, in a parking lot and on a hotel balcony. Prosecutors allege that the acts took place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, and on bases in the United States. At an evidence hearing at Ft. Bragg in November, the female captain testified that Sinclair used degrading language to describe other women. When she challenged him, ‘he said he was a general and he could say whatever the [expletive] he wanted,’ she testified. The female captain testified that Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex. Asked by a prosecutor whether the general would have been able to tell that she did not want to participate, she replied, ‘Yes, I was crying'” (LA Times).

A second recent allegation includes the sexual assault of Air Force recruits by their instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Just this week, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force Chief of Staff, testified that poor oversight of instructors at Lackland led to rampant misconduct. During his testimony, he admitted that “’weaknesses developed in each one of our institutional safeguards’ that led to a poisonous culture in which the instructors believed they could easily get away with repeatedly preying on young woman recruits” (NY Times). The Lackland case involves 32 instructors who are accused of abusing 52 female recruits (NY Times).

Among military officers at a rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above, 255 have lost command for personal conduct violations over the past eight years, including sexual misconduct (Yahoo News). And we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the Department of Defense (DOD) admits that approximately 86% of sexual assaults go unreported (DOD Annual Report of Sexual Assault in the Military). Yesterday’s DOD announcement to end the ban on women in combat is a welcome one. Women have been serving in combat roles for years; now they will receive the recognition and opportunity for promotion that they deserve. Critics of this decision are missing the point. The biggest threat to female service members is not the enemy; the biggest threat comes from within their own ranks, and until this hostile culture is addressed, the women who fight for our country will remain at risk.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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