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You'll Never Believe What Our Nation's Highest Ranking Leaders Said About Porn

Powerful men say the darnedest things, especially when it comes to systemic and rampant rape in the military.

I'd like to acknowledge their feats and award them for the lengths to which they've gone in order to distort the reality of the military's rape problem. They have managed to avoid the obvious causes of and solutions to rape in the military. And they've shown remarkable creativity and imagination in the way they understand it. Coming in third, with the bronze, is General Mark A. Welsh III, a top Air Force commander. This was his insightful response to May's Pentagon report showing that sexual assault had jumped from 19,000 cases in 2010 to 26,000 in 2012: sexual assault happens all the time [jazz hands] outside of the military. I mean everyone [jazz hands] is doing it. So get used to it! And we have hookup culture to blame. I, of course paraphrase, but barely. Here's what he actually said when testifying at a Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military: 20% of women report they had been sexually assaulted, “before they came into the military … So they come in from a society where this occurs … Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it.”

General, I'm sorry your children and their friends are frustrated with their love lives. They must feel just like the women (and men) who are raped by their fellow officers and superiors and then on top of that, face indifference at best and retaliation at worst, if they report the sexual assault.

Then with silver, we have Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who came to Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee. Well, OK, he missed the first session but totally redeemed himself when he showed up at the second session and said that the prevalence and availability of porn was responsible for the high rates of sexual assault in the military: "Mr. Chairman, I’d just add a letter, a document here that was given to me from Morality in the Media. Pat Truman used to be in the Department of Justice. I knew him when he was there. He points out that, a picture here of a newsstand and an Air Force base exchange with, you know, sexually explicit magazines being sold. So, we live in a culture that’s awash in sexual activity. If it’s not sold on base, it’s right off base.There are videos and so forth that can be obtained, and it creates some problems, I think."

Senator, thank you for reminding us of what really matters here: the pornography epidemic. We should definitely spend more time talking about dirty magazines and less time talking about the military's policies which create a culture of rape and impunity.

And, coming in with the gold (though it was hard to beat the formidable competition) was Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, who basically said the Democrats' proposal to take serious sexual assault reporting outside of the victim’s chain of command was doomed because women are in the military and also hormones. Again, I paraphrase, but less than I would like to: “If we’re going to have women in combat, I think the potential for the issue to increase is going to become even greater ... The young folks coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23 ... Gee-whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So, we’ve got to be very careful on our side.”

Senator, thank you for urging caution when trying to reform the military because men are too horny to stop themselves from forcing women to have sex against their will.

Surprisingly, these men have no idea what they're talking about. Let's take Welsh. Attributing sexual assault and rape  to something as amorphous as "hookup culture" is vague, lazy and irresponsible and detracts from the role of the military's complicity in rape culture. It's also that many of the assumptions people make about so-called hook up culture is wrong, as Lisa Wade reveals in her excellent op-ed. For instance, "The typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college. Half of all hookups are with someone the person has hooked up with before. A quarter of students will be virgins when they graduate."

And three-quarters of students will enter a long-term monogamous relationship while in college. But even if a hookup culture replete with one night stands and devoid of any relationships existed, Welsh would be wrong. Because there isn't some slippery slope between having tons of commitment-free casual sex and forcing someone to have sex. The two don't blur together. One is consensual and one is a crime and violation. That's a huge difference, not a fine line.

Sessions is also wrong in linking porn to rape. Studies show that the number of rapes in the United States (overall, not in the army) have gone down. And you know what has gone up? A lot? The availability and prevalence of free porn. In their article in Aggression and Violent Behavior called "The pleasure is momentary ... the expense damnable? The influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault," criminologists Christopher J. Ferguson and Richard D. Hartley write, "Considered together, the available data about pornography consumption and rape rates in the United States seem to rule out a causal relationship, at least with respect to pornography availability causing an increase in the incidence of rape. One could even argue that the available research and self-reported and official statistics might provide evidence for the reverse effect; the increasing availability of pornography appears to be associated with a decline in rape. Whatever the explanation is, the fact remains that crime in general, and rape specifically, has decreased substantially for the last 20 years. Concurrently, availability of pornography has increased steadily in the last 20 years."

Poor old Saxon Chambliss is a little confused too. You see, barring an endocrine problem, everyone has hormones and goes through puberty. But not everyone is a rapist. And, Chambliss conflates sex drive with rape. As the justifiably exasperated Senator (and former county prosecutor in Missouri) Claire McCaskill pointed out, "This isn't about sex ... This is about assaultive domination and violence. And as long as those two get mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be at getting after the most insidious part of this, which is the predators in your ranks that are sullying the great name of our American military." And Senator Gillibrand said, “Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence, crimes of dominance ... More than half of the victims are men. These are not crimes of lust, they’re not crimes of romance, not dates that have gone badly, they’re not issues of the hook-up culture from high school or hormones as my colleague says."

Though the Defense Department estimates that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year. Why? There is a deep institutional bias in the military’s justice system; senior officers can — and often do — intervene to prevent cases from being investigated and prosecuted.

Victims of sexual assault know this well, which is why the source of the problem is staring everyone in the face. The problem isn't alleged hookup culture or porn or hormones. The problem is that the military has a structure in which rape and impunity are allowed to thrive. And one specific policy creating this environment is trying sexual assault cases within the chain of command makes it hard for victims to step forward and accuse their rapists. When people don't make accusations, people don't get tried and convicted. Fewer than 15 percent of sexual assaults in the military are ever reported. Or they report the rape and the complaint goes nowhere. Nobody is charged. Of the 3,192 cases which were actually reported in 2011, an estimated 16% of the actual number of assaults, only 489 people had court-martial charges against them. Or they report the rape, the defendant is charged but not convicted. Fewer than 1% of rapes resulted in a court-martial conviction. Or they report the rape, the defendant is charged, the defendant is convicted and then the sentence is overturned. Or they report the rape or sexual assault, the defendant is charged, the defendant is convicted, but, shockingly, the convicted rapist remains active in the military! One in three convicted military sex offenders remain in the military! There is no deterrent. The takeaway is that you can get away with it. And people do.

That is why Senator Gillibrand is proposing a bill that would take these cases outside of the chain of command. The military in Israel, Australia, and the United Kingdom have all done this. Outrageously, the military and some Republicans are resisting this reform. Though, given the way they talk and think about rape, we really shouldn't be surprised.

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