The Issues of Sexual Harassment and Assault of Women in the Military in the United States

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Both men and women in the military work hard and sacrifice a lot for the freedom of their countries. However, women in the military often have to fight two wars. Is there another, less discussed war within the military ranks? Women in the military have a significant chance of being sexually harassed or assaulted during their service than their male counterparts. When a woman experiences this, it impacts every facet of her service and life after leaving the military. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by fellow soldiers or even commanding officers.

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Regardless of the perpetrator, women often struggle to prevent such incidents. This is just one of many issues women in the military must try to overcome in all branches of service. Women have been serving in the military since the early 1900s, yet even today, female soldiers grapple with significant challenges, including sexual harassment and assault, unequal health conditions, ill-fitted uniforms, and gaining respect from male soldiers on the battlefield.

Sexual harassment and assault are problems that are almost impossible to prevent. In recent years, the military has been putting more effort into combating issues. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment or assault, but because the military is male-dominated, women often find themselves easier targets. Crimes involving women occur far too frequently, as corroborated by the authors of “Off the Battlefield, Military Women Face Risks From Male Troops,” who state, “About 19,000 sex crimes take place in the military each year, according to the Pentagon’s most recent estimate. Women who join the military face a much higher risk of sexual assault than civilian women” (Lawrence). Since sexual harassment is so prevalent, it adds another layer of difficulty to the duties of women in the military, forcing them to constantly worry about potential harassment. One woman in the book Undaunted: The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military, provides insights into how prevalent sexual harassment is, stating “it seemed like every five minutes, day and night, Navy and Marine males knocked on the door looking for one of the females” (Biank 19). This example illustrates the lack of respect and boundary understanding by male soldiers.

Harassment does not exclusively come from soldiers of the same rank; it can be perpetrated by commanding officers as well. Women in the military often find themselves worrying about commanding officers threatening them to perform sexual favors under duress of facing consequent repercussions. Even if the female soldier did nothing wrong, commanding officers can resort to blackmail, forcing them to submit to their sexual demands. Beyond avoiding punishment, some commanding officers use their rank to secure sexual favors in exchange for promoting female soldiers. Certain women may not be granted promotions unless they submit to these demands. An article in POLITICO magazine shed light on a woman’s experience in the military, wherein she was sexually assaulted. She stated, “I had no faith in my chain of command as my first sergeant previously had sexual harassment accusations against him, and the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature towards women” (Benedict). This testimony indicates that sexual harassment is an ongoing issue and that it is challenging for women to report such incidents.

Why don’t women in the military report sexual harassment? If a woman is being harassed by a commanding officer, it is harder to report it. They have to report it to the person above their commanding officer, and at that level, the woman is often viewed as a liar. Commanding officers are well-respected, so it is assumed that the female soldier provoked him and is now regretting it. The slim chances of being believed by someone who can do something about the harassment or assault discourage women from even trying to report harassment from their commanding officers. Another reason female soldiers do not report sexual harassment is that fellow soldiers, both men, and women, often view the reporter differently once they file the report. They judge them and are less friendly, acting as though the reporter is the one in the wrong for reporting it.

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The Issues of Sexual Harassment and Assault of Women in the Military in the United States. (2023, Feb 02). Retrieved from