A recent study by the Department of Justice found that military veterans are twice as likely to be incarcerated for sexual assault than non-veterans. When asked about the finding, Margaret E. Noonan, one of the authors of the study, told the Associated Press, “We couldn’t come to any definite conclusion as to why.” The intrinsic and systemic connection between militarism and violence against women, however, makes this finding far from surprising.
Since the beginning of the patriarchal age, women have been considered the spoils of war, invisibilized under the euphemistic phrase, ‘collateral damage’. The result is that many types of violence against women are exacerbated by militarism, including the indirect effects on civilian populations and post-conflict situations. These include:
- Rape/sexual assault and harassment both within the military and perpetrated on civilian populations.
- Domestic violence.
- Prostitution, pornography and trafficking.
Examples are not hard to find—the U.S. and Japanese use of comfort women during WWII, the Tailhook scandal, the sexual abuse problems at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the murders of military wives at Ft. Bragg, NC and Ft. Campbell, KY to name a few. This latest statistic is clearly no accident, it a systemic part of a military culture that not only tolerates but frequently encourages the hatred and belittling of women.
What this study illustrates is that clearly the impact that militarism has on how men treat women does not end when a conflict is over, indeed the effects of militarism during post-conflict periods can also be quite grave. Men returning from ‘war’ frequently transfer their entitlement to commit violence from the battlefield to their own communities.
While the military acknowledges the problem, it has also tried to cast the blame on such factors as the relatively young age of the offenders compared to the population at large and PTSD. But neither explanation holds up in that this isn’t a problem of men beating up men. Nor is it a problem of female vets, many of whom also are young and/or suffer from PTSD (99% of incarcerated vets are male), committing sexual assault. it is a problem of men beating up women.
It isn’t surprising that the DOJ feigns bafflement about these latest statistics. For years now the problem of misogynist violence in the military has been the subject of lengthy reports and hearings, but yet the problem continues, and with very good reason—to cop an understanding of the issue and truly remedy the problem would require no less than a complete re-thinking of the ethos of military violence and how it exacerbates the global pandemic of violence against women.