RCASA’s Wednesday Outreach: Sexual Assault and Military Culture

In Fundraisers, Sexual Assault Awareness on November 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm

This week I am headed up to Quantico Marine Corp Base to present to their victim advocates. This brings up the subject of how different life is for our service people. The Military has a culture all its own, and those of us who work to help victims of sexual assault need to be aware of and sensitive to this culture. In the military you work closely with your “unit”. These are not just your closest co-workers; they are people you trust with your life. One thing we have to keep in mind about sexual violence is that the victim may be in the same command as the perpetrator. Can you imagine being a victim and having to face your perpetrator every day? To work with them, to live near them– even more, imagine you are a million miles away from home and fighting a war. Everyone else around you may know what happened. The rest of your unit may even be taking sides. “The key to understanding military culture and how it impacts survivors of sexual assault is appreciating the role of command discretion. It is commonly understood that military culture is based on a system of hierarchy called the chain of command. Broadly, the chain of command gives higher ranked persons authority over lower ranked persons. As such those entitled to utilize command discretion in regard to the legal system are more than just individuals with a higher rank (or the highest rank) – they are individuals who are in command of the entire unit, units or base. Thus the commander may be responsible for both the victim and the offender, in command of both or either of their units, or the entire base or ship where the assault occurred. More specifically, command discretion empowers commanders to decide if the case goes forward to court martial. They determine which JAG officer will serve as prosecutor and which as defense counsel; who oversees the investigation; they may serve as the convening authority in court martial; and determine any disciplinary action. All of these functions are given to the discretion of one person. In a state or federal court, several different entities would be involved with the above functions. Thus the great deference afforded command discretion raises legitimate concerns about conflicts of interest and the potential for abuse of power.” – Understanding Sexual Assault in the United States Military Culture by Courtney Mullins There are two options of reporting for a victim of sexual assault in the military: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted reporting can be done to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), a military victim advocate, medical personnel or a chaplain. This allows the victim to obtain medical treatment and counseling with his or her command only being given limited information such as: an assault occurred, rank, sex, etc of those involved. Unrestricted reporting goes through the chain of command, the commander is given all the details and decides from there what to do. If anyone at all other than those listed in restricted reporting is aware of the assault, it is automatically unrestricted. One fear of unrestricted reporting is collateral damage. Victims may choose not to report for fear of being exposed for doing something they might not want others to know, such as underage drinking or not being where they said they were. In the military victims may be afraid of actual punishment for their actions. They may also fear that their security clearance may be affected. They may also feel that they will be perceived as weak if they were unable to fend of their attackers or be afraid that they may be judged as fragile if they seek counseling. As you can see, privacy is a huge concern for our service members. Here at RCASA we are considered health professionals and are not part of the military system; therefore, we can offer much more privacy to our service members. It is important that the on-base advocates can refer clients to us where they may feel safer to heal. It is also important that our staff here receives training on all the specific issues listed above. At RCASA we are committed to helping all people heal from sexual assault, no matter what culture or background they come from.

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by RCASA102: RCASA’s Wednesday Outreach with Corey: Sexual Assault and Military Culture: http://wp.me/pAwr3-1X

  2. Nice post on services to outreach the military.

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