The 1991 Tailhook scandal exposed the U.S. military's rape culture.
Tags: crime/law/deviance, culture, gender, organizations/occupations/work, prejudice/discrimination, violence, war/military, masculinity, rape, rape culture, sexual assault, sexual harassment, 11 to 20 mins
Access: Retro Report
Summary: Long before two boys from Steubenville High School in Ohio raped a young woman and bragged about it on social media, the U.S. had a rape problem. A recent Centers for Disease Control survey now estimates that in the United States about 1 in 5 women are the victims of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives, but such national statistics mask what happens within particular institutions. In the U.S. military, 1 in 3 servicewomen are sexually assaulted, and in 2011, 22,800 violent sex crimes were reported. What this means is that military women in combat are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, and adding insult to injury, the soldiers who commit rape have an estimated 86.5% chance of keeping their crime a secret. They have an even better chance— 92%—of avoiding a court-martial. From the Tailhook scandal in 1991 to the recent arrest of Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski—the chief of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office—the above video from The New York Times tracks the history of sexual assault in the U.S. military. In order to make sense of the prevalence and persistence of such assaults, sociologists argue that we need to face the fact that the problem is entrenched and systemic; the assaults need to be examined as manifestations of rape culture, which refers to "a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women" (Buchwald, et. al). Thus, as reported in the video, when a senior officer dismisses reports of sexual assault at the Tailhook Convention by expressing the belief that, "That's what you get when you go down the hall with a bunch of drunk aviators" (at the 3:20 mark), the officer can be understood as drawing from a repertoire of myths that collectively characterize a rape culture—namely that such assaults are inevitable and perhaps natural. Similarly, when the officer leading the Tailhook investigation remarks that "some of these women were kind of bringing it on themselves" (at 4:30 mark), he is effectively blaming the victims for their assaults. The fact that these remarks were spoken by men with formal and legitimate power is added evidence that the sentiments run deep within the military, but it is also significant that these remarks are somewhat compatible, and taken together, formulate a relatively coherent logic. The video can be used to illustrate a pernicious thread of thinking from the military's rape-cultural repetoire: First, servicewomen who do not learn their places in male-dominated spaces will inevitably be raped, and second, their rape will be no one's fault but their own. On this score, Germaine Greer's famous observation has a certain resonance: "Women have very little idea how much men hate them." (Note that The Sociological Cinema also takes up the concept of a rape culture here, here, here, here, and here)
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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