Why the Pentagon Doesn’t Understand Rape (It’s the Predation, Stupid)

After reading about the hearings on military rape, it’s pretty clear that the U.S. military leadership, like too many men, is very confused about rape. Even among men who aren’t flat-out misogynist assholes (the assholes are self-explanatory), the motivations of rapists are misunderstood. I’ll get to those in a bit, but the fundamental confusion stems from thinking that rapists are like the rest of us.

Most men have been in been in the situation where you thought she was interested, you lean over and CLANG! She wasn’t interested in you that way. If you’re the decent sort, not only is this embarrassing, but you feel like a heel for making her uncomfortable. In their minds, rape is an extension of this phenomenon. Rape is erroneously viewed as either a crime of passion or a misunderstanding of consent (or both). The concept that there are men who want to rape, as opposed to it being a situation that ‘gets out of control’ is, at a fundamental level, alien to most men (which is a good thing, if you think about it).

The problem is that the majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists. In one study, 63 percent of rapists committed more than one rape–and these serial rapists accounted for 84 percent of all rapes (see previous link). In another study, which examined rape among naval personnel (seems relevant), 71 percent of men who admitted to rape* were serial rapists–in this study, 95 percent of rapes were committed by serial rapists. In both studies, the primary modus operandi was a combination of intentionally intoxicating the victim followed by threats of violence.

Put simply, these men are sexual predators who, unlike the ‘usual’ image of sexual predator (assault of children), target adult women:

The military has a problem with embedded, serial sexual predators. According to a 2011 report from the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, 90 percent of military rapes are committed by men with previous histories of assault. These predators select and befriend lower-ranking victims; often they ply their victims with alcohol or drugs and assault them when they are unconscious.

In my film “The Invisible War,” a retired brigadier general, Loree K. Sutton, describes the military as a “target-rich environment” for serial predators. The training and leadership efforts the Pentagon proposes won’t change this environment. It simply isn’t possible to “train” or “lead” serial predators not to rape.

And once we understand that, there really is only one solution:

There is a way to stop these predators: we should prosecute and incarcerate them. But here the military fails entirely.

If serial rapists aren’t caught by the military, then there’s an additional problem:

With so few predators being convicted, a vast majority are discharged honorably, into an unsuspecting civilian population that unknowingly affords them the opportunity to continue their predation in a new “target-rich environment.”

One could make the argument that when the military fails to incarcerate serial rapists–and releases them into the general population without warning–they are failing to protect the citizens of this country. Just saying.

Most rapists are intentional predators–and they commit the vast majority of rapes. For these men, rape in no way is an ‘accidental’ crime of passion or due to a misunderstanding. We don’t say that about men who prey on children, we should stop saying it about men who prey on adult women.

*The rapists themselves didn’t call it rape but the activities they described would be considered rape by the legal system.

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3 Responses to Why the Pentagon Doesn’t Understand Rape (It’s the Predation, Stupid)

  1. Min says:

    The finding that rapists tend to be serial rapists is important. It shows that it is not the case that “things got out of hand” or that there was a misunderstanding. Rapists are different.

    That said, that does not mean that rapists cannot control themselves, and cannot be trained to do so. For one thing, they can be trained to recognize what behaviors are legally rape, since they do not necessarily perceive those behaviors as rape.

    Nor does it mean that there are no situational aspects to rape. Take the general MO of getting the victim intoxicated and then threatening them. Potential victims could be trained to avoid possible rape situations when they are intoxicated and to avoid letting someone they are with who is intoxicated get into such a situation. That may go against the cultural practice of getting stoned and having sex, but we are talking about the military.

    Locking up rapists is only part of the solution.

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