Liz Trotta: Thanks for the Laughs, Now a Few Facts

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(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.

Trained Also to Protect

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.

No Gender Spin Machine

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.

For more information:

Petition to fire Liz Trotta:

Jon Stewart on Liz Trotta:

4 thoughts on “Liz Trotta: Thanks for the Laughs, Now a Few Facts

  1. Sorry, but Liz got it right. We enjoy her thoughts on issues of importantance. Did you really listen to her with your ears open or only hear what you wanted to.

  2. I appreciated this article for bringing up valid points on women serving in the military. This is a tricky issue and one that I have spoken to male friends who are in the military about this issue. I asked them, why did they believe that females were not allowed to serve on the front lines? One answer was this: for any soldier they served alongside with, there needed to be no doubt in their minds that their fellow soldier would have their back if need be. Any doubts, would lead to a question in their mind, when their mind should be focused on the mission at hand. While, as a female, I did not like this answer, I understood it. There is no way to ignore certain biological issues of why this may be. I, being a 22 year old, reasonably fit female, would not be able to lift a 200 lb. soldier, in all their gear, and carry them to safety if need be. My 22 year old, fit male marine would be able to do so. However, I have not trained to be in the military for the past 4 years of my life, and my male friend that is a marine, has.

    Certainly some females would be able to perform all the necessary physical tasks that go along with serving on the front lines. Certainly, some males would NOT be able to perform all the necessary physical tasks that go along with serving on the front lines. Instead of preventing females from serving in those roles, I would like to see a physical fitness test, where men and women are held to the same standards, to determine who serves on the front lines.

    The second part of their answer addresses another question that was brought up in the article. There is some worry over social graces in war. How would it look if a male soldier saved a female soldier? I’d say the male did his job, but others (like the media) might romanticize this.

    The military puts such a strong emphasis on maintaining no “fraternization” between male and female soldiers, and I feel like that is a double-edged sword. On one end, you have the military saying the relationships between male and female soldiers should remain strictly professional. On the other end, you have the military pointing out differences between males and females. Females are not getting any special favors with this; in fact, I feel it pushes the males to not see the females as equals. Males and females in the military will not have the same sense of “brotherhood” that male soldiers have with other male soldiers.

    With the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal of this past fall, it will be interesting to see how the military deals with openly gay, male soldiers. Will they be subjected to these anti-fraternization policies that the females have been? What about the female, lesbian soldiers?

  3. Trotta’s assertion that the differences between men and women are the reason that rape occurs, specifically in the military is vague, broad and not accurate.

    Opportunities for heterosexual offenders to assault victims increase as more women enter the military. Offenders who did not previously have the opportunity to act out and suppressed their violent, sexual tendencies/fantasies will have additional occasions to attack. Men are subject to a high volume of sexual assaults in the military. By increasing the size of the military and increasing the number of women serving in the military, more opportunities for sleeper offenders to act will arise, in addition to assaults directed toward men. This does not have to be the case if proper psychological screening, protocols and procedures are put into place. Trotta did not appropriately manage her message, if this is what she was trying to convey.

    Although, as Wendy Murphy points out, 50% of sexual assault victims are males, women compared to men are more likely to report that they have been assaulted. There is a deep misunderstanding of who can claim to be a victim of sexual assault. Many individuals, men and women, believe that men cannot be sexually assaulted, that they can either adequately defend themselves or “want” the sexual advances. Victims, both men and women, are sometimes thought to “deserve” or “want” violent, sexual attention based on their actions, whether it is the way they dress or the situations in which they put themselves. I believe Trotta’s comments show that this deep-seated belief that women “want” to be assaulted because they are putting themselves in the military and on the front line. No one “wants” or “desires” to be assaulted. The presence of women in the military alone does not create an atmosphere ripe for rape. The presence of rapists in the military alone creates an atmosphere ripe for rape. I agree with Murphy, “it is the rapists who should be denied front-line status,” and not just front-line status, but a place in any part of the military and society. Offenders should be denied acceptance in society as a whole, regardless of gender.

    Rape is not inevitable. I thoroughly resent that assertion. Proper protocols, screening, and response procedures should be put in place on the battlefield, on bases, and in every part of society in order to eradicate any acceptance and allowance of these barbaric attacks. Although we may never be able to eliminate violent, sexual assault, we can take steps to reduce opportunities for these tragic events.

  4. This article, along with Liz Trotta’s comments, demonstrates how prevalent beliefs about traditional gender roles are deeply embedded in American society.

    First, Trotta is resorting to victim blaming saying that women should expect to get raped if they join the armed forces.When I watched Trotta speak on Fox News it sounded like she was saying that women who go outside the norms of their gender and into fields usually dominated by men should not be surprised if they are raped. In fact it seemed like she was suggesting that rape is a natural offense that women have to protect themselves from, thus women should avoid serving in any type of military role because then they are putting themselves in a situation where they are allowing themselves to be abused by men. Secondly, Trotta’s comments also make rape seem like something men normally do. This is insulting to men because it insinuates that men, by nature, do not have control over their actions and are slaves to their baser instincts. By stating that rape is a normal occurrence and should be expected, Trotta is stating that men lack rationality, self-control, knowledge of right and wrong, and to do what is right and respect to protect others.

    And while Trotta’s logic assumes that men are prone to rape, Murphy states that men who are good soldiers are “less inclined to rape”. I find this problematic due to the fact that recent statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) state that two third of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knew. To say that men are wholly bad or wholly good, or less inclined to do something does nothing to stop rape or sexual assaults from occurring. All these fallacies show us is that there is a deeper cause for the persistence occurrence of rape in our society and armed forces that needs to be dealt with.