By Wendy Murphy
Friday, February 24, 2012
When Fox News' Liz Trotta tried to comment on the rise of rape in the military she turned herself into a laughing stock. Wendy Murphy would like to follow up with some serious ideas about who does and doesn't belong on the front lines.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Fox News Channel's Liz Trotta has by now taken plenty of heat and ridicule for expressing the idea that rape, for military women, is inevitable.
Comedy Central's Jon Stewart has skewered her on the Daily Show, online activists are circulating a petition to stop blaming military rape survivors, and plenty of other columnists have added their own angles of derision.
But before the dust settles on this particular media faux pas, I'd like to add a few deadly serious facts to the discussion of who rapes and suffers rape in the military and who does and doesn't belong in the military.
Trotta made her incendiary comments in response to a Pentagon report showing a 64 percent increase in violent sexual assaults in the military since 2006. Trotta said the uptick was to be "expected" and that rape occurs because "there is a difference between men and women."
Hardly insightful about body parts, Trotta's comments left out serious facts.
Trotta neglected to mention that 50 percent of the military's sexual assault victims are males. She apparently doesn't realize that many rapists are opportunistic and will exploit any available orifice irrespective of gender.
Trotta also failed to note that 70 percent of rapes occur far away from battlegrounds. Military sexual violence most often happens on base, in social situations and in military housing complexes.
Soldiers are trained to be aggressive, and to kill, and to act on instinct. But they are also trained to protect their fellow soldiers. They are literally brainwashed to save each other on the field of battle and to keep the strength of the unit in tact. This mentality means that good soldiers are even less inclined to rape, compared to the general population, because they are entirely dependent on one another for survival.
In turn, soldiers who rape other soldiers are particularly inappropriate for front-line fighting because they put all soldiers at risk by disrespecting the importance of mutual protection.
In short, it is the rapists who should be denied front-line status, not their victims.
When Trotta had a chance, this past Sunday, to correct her initial remarks, she again declined to express concern for rampant sexual violence.
She opted instead to repeat her opinion that women have no place in combat. "Political correctness," she said, has "infect[ed] the Pentagon … resulting' in silly and dishonest fairytales about female heroism."
Then she cited the Jessica Lynch story as an example of a "dishonest fairytale," which is preposterous. Lynch was injured on the front lines while fighting in Iraq. That her story got spun out of her own control hardly detracts from her conduct.
It's true that American media routinely distort our collective understanding of war
But Trotta is wrong to say there's a gender-based spin machine in place meant to romanticize war only when the story involves women soldiers. Indeed, the story of how Pat Tillman died was initially written in classic fairytale style when it was reported that the football star died at the hands of enemy combatants in the mountains of Afghanistan. The Pentagon later revised the story when reports proved Tillman died by friendly fire.
When Trotta bemoans the money spent on services for rape victims, however, she might have a point. All relevant studies show that swift and serious redress by law enforcement officials is the best way to reduce incidence rates. Counseling is fine, but not as a substitute for justice.
Trotta also writes that "the niceties of male, female interaction fade" in the arena of war, and on this point, I hope she's right.
Women don't need fellow soldiers holding open the door to a tank for them when they're all jumping out to fend off enemy fighting. Whether due to testosterone or just good training, the instinct to fight should trump all social graces. But being an instinctual soldier is not the same as being a rapist because most of the fiercest soldiers with the highest levels of testosterone never, ever rape anyone.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has it exactly right. He believes the answer to the pervasive problem of military sexual trauma is better training, improved response to reports of sexual violence and more support in general for women's equality in the military.
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Wendy J. Murphy, a contributing editor to Women's eNews, is a law professor at New England Law/Boston.
Petition to fire Liz Trotta: