The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto dismissed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, claiming that efforts to address the growing problem contributed to a "war on men" and an "effort to criminalize male sexuality."
In May, the Department of Defense released its "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military," which found that up to 26,000 service members may have been the victim of some form of sexual assault last year, up from an estimated 19,000 in 2010. The report also found that 62 percent of victims who reported their assault faced retaliation as a result. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded to the report by calling the assaults "a despicable crime" that is "a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people," and General Martin Dempsey affirmed that sexual assaults constitute a "crisis" in the military.
In an effort to address this longstanding problem, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has blocked the promotion of Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, who granted clemency to an officer found guilty of sexual assault, in an effort to obtain more information about why the officer was effectively pardoned. As The Washington Post reported, an Air Force jury found the officer guilty of sexually assaulting a female lieutenant in the back seat of a car, and sentenced him to 60 days behind bars, a loss of pay, and dismissal from the Air Force.
Helms' decision to effectively pardon the officer "ignored the recommendations of [her] legal advisers and overruled a jury's findings -- without publicly revealing why." The Post explained that McCaskill has not placed a permanent hold on the promotion, but is "blocking Helms's nomination until she receives more information about the general's decision."*
Taranto, a member of the Journal's editorial board, dismissed these facts to claim that McCaskill's effort to address the growing problem of sexual assault in the military was a "war on men" and a "political campaign" that showed "signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality." He also claimed that the female lieutenant who reported that she had been assaulted acted just as "recklessly" as the accused attacker, apparently by doing nothing more than getting into the same vehicle as him.
But McCaskill is not trying to re-litigate the case; she is trying to determine why Helms ignored her legal advisers and overturned a jury of five Air Force officers. As the Post explained, advocacy groups charge that "any decision to overrule a jury's verdict for no apparent reason has a powerful dampening effect," contributing to a culture in which the majority of sexual assaults in the military remain unreported.
The Department of Defense report on sexual assault found that while 26,000 service members said they were assaulted last year, only about 11 percent of those cases were reported. The findings listed several reasons why individuals did not report the assault to a military authority, including that they "did not want anyone to know," "felt uncomfortable making a report," and "thought they would not be believed." The report also noted that concerns about "negative scrutiny by others" keeps many victims from reporting their assaults.
Taranto's dismissal of the victim's accounts and his insistence that they were equally responsible for the reported assault is a form of victim-blaming -- the very type of stigmatization that the Department identified as encouraging victims to remain silent about their assault.
While speaking out against the growing epidemic of sexual assaults, Defense Secretary Hagel noted that the Department of Defense should "establish an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual assault is not tolerated, condoned or ignored." But Taranto's victim-blaming approach -- and insistence that efforts to address this growing problem are attacks on men and male sexuality -- is a perfect example of the rhetoric that contributes to the very culture and environment the DOD seeks to eliminate.
UPDATE: Taranto doubled down on his claim that the effort to reduce sexual assaults in the military is leading to a "war on men" on The Wall Street Journal's webshow Opinion Journal Live.