"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Gender Violence

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There is one arena where apparently opponents of gay service and advocates of openly gay service agree. That is on the seriousness and prevalence of sexual and gender violence in the military. This was one interesting take-away from the July 23, 2008 testimony by Elaine Donnelly and Brian Jones, Sergeant Major US (RET), before the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. As the public voice for opposing gay service, both Donnelly and Jones shared their overwhelming fear of what they described as homosexual sexual predation and heterosexual victimization to forward their case against openly gay service. Both pointed to anecdotal evidence of lesbian aggressivity referring to "black lesbian gangs" (circa mid-1970s) and to a "band of lesbians" (circa 2003) and incidents of "severe homosexual bullying, threatening, and groping of heterosexual women by lesbian soldiers" as reason to support the need for an overall ban on openly gay military personnel.

But on the scope and nature of the problem of sexual and gender violence the two sides are miles apart. While Donnelly and Jones chose to perpetuate stereotypes that equate all homosexuals with sexual predation, they ignored the wide-spread and well-documented incidents of male assault on female servicemembers. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., called this an "epidemic of assault and rape against women in our military" after the General Accounting Office found that occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported by half. At the 14 installations GAO visited, investigators found 52 percent of service members who had been sexually assaulted over the preceding 12 months had not reported the assaults.

There is reason to believe that the ban on openly gay service members contributes to forms of abuse rather than staying it, as Donnelly and Jones speculate. Newly released Pentagon data shows that gay discharges climbed last year to 627 and revealed that the ouster of women was far out of proportion to their numbers in the military. Nearly half of Army and Air Force expulsions were of women, according to the data, even though they make up only 14 and 20 percent of those branches respectively. One reason for this is that the policy can be leveraged in a form of harassment known as 'lesbian-baiting.' This can take the form of sexual harassment where a male servicemember threatens to accuse a female subordinate of being gay, if they refuse their advances. This is likely one reason for the disproportionately high discharge rates of female servicemember under DADT.

Donnelly and Jones however remained silent on growing evidence of an epidemic of violence against women by men in the military and failed to show how a policy that requires homosexuals to lie about their identity would help curtail sexual harassment or assault in the military. While the two incidents of abuse that Donnelly and Jones described to the subcommittee, if true, are serious, they offered no evidence to support the existence of a pattern of homosexual abuse of heterosexuals. Further, they ignored the fact that existing conduct rules are in place exactly to address instances of abuse regardless of the gender and sexuality of the perpetrator or victim, as Congressman Patrick J. Murphy pointed out.

Much fun was made at Donnelly and Jones' expense after the hearing. (See Jon Stweart's The Daily Show). But all laughter aside, there are serious issues at stake here. No one should dismiss sexual exploitation or gender violence in any form, and there needs to be more research and attention to these issues. However, the evidence shows that most of the violence in the military is not perpetrated by homosexuals against heterosexuals, not by a long shot. It would be gratifying to see Donnelly and Jones offer their bluster to the issue of violence against women in the military and stand up with equal vigor to comment on H.R. 3990, The Military Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Act.

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