Sexual Assault – a Nasty Side Effect of Army Gender Policies

by | 21 Apr, 2017 | 14 comments

The tragic reality – a female soldier is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed in combat.

In June 2013, General Ray Odierno testified before the Senate that, “combating sexual assault and sexual harassment within the ranks is our number one priority.” Call me antiquated, but I’ve always thought that closing with and destroying the enemy in battle ought to be the military’s number one priority, but he had no choice. Political pressure to address the growing realization of the sheer extent of sexual assault in the ranks forced the hand of military leaders. Yet, despite the frenetic attempts by Army leaders to address the issue, a singular fact undermines their efforts – Army gender policies foment sexual assault.

For two years, my duties have afforded me a front-row view of senior Army commanders attempting to get their arms around the problem of sexual assault. Commanders assemble monthly at the sexual assault review board (SARB), a mandatory forum to discuss each sexual assault case to ensure it is being handled properly. Victim care and advocacy take center stage as well as thoroughness in seeing the case to completion. Each commander must give an account and explain what he is doing to address sexual assault within his formation.

“We’re really getting after it, Sir” each commander will affirm to the general, followed by a list of vague actions they’ve taken to “get after” sexual assault. Innovations such as having squad leader-led discussions during physical training or hiring civilian agencies to teach the soldiers that rape is wrong or putting up posters in the barracks typify the discussion.

Sexual assault has become big business. The Army created an entire cottage industry to assist commanders in “getting after” the problem. Known as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program or SHARP, each base’s program is led by a senior Army officer, a lieutenant colonel. As part of the program, we’ve flooded units with legions of experts, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Unit Victim Advocates (UVAs), to assist in administering the program.

In 2008, the Army launched I. A.M. Strong, it’s campaign to combat sexual assault. Other leaders developed their own supplementary programs such as the “Not in My Squad” or the “Take Back the Night” campaigns. SHARP folks plaster posters, banners, and displays across unit common areas declaring unwavering commitment to the program. It’s almost Orwellian. We’ve designated April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and my post is recognizing it with events such as a scavenger hunt and a SAAM motorcycle ride.

And the sad fact is that none of this will likely prevent a single rape.

In fairness, we’ve become much better in responding to sexual assault but not one of the specialists or programs or campaigns even scratches the surface of cause. The issue is that Army gender policies contribute to the problem.

Each month, I’d sit in the SARB listening to our hapless attempts to treat the symptoms of a problem while we lament the actual problem. Each month I’d leave the meeting furious.

It came to a head at last month’s SARB when I could no longer bite my tongue.

There are essentially two types of sexual assaults that occur in the military. There is the actual predator, the pedophile, the pervert, the depraved soldier who rapes his neighbor or his wife or his child or his special needs child. These are in the minority but they exist. Unless the accession process identifies and eliminates them before getting to the unit or a vigilant leader can identify him before he acts, the military or civil justice system is left to clean up the mess.

Mostly though, young male soldiers rape young female soldiers, usually under the influence of alcohol.

There is no trend. There is no deviation. This is the vast majority of Army sexual assault cases and has been ever since the Army started keeping records a number of years ago.

It goes like this. The soldiers find the club, drinking and partying as soldiers do. At some point, a young man starts to feel randy and slices the young lady away from the herd. They end up in the barracks or at a buddy’s home downtown. The young lady doesn’t like the way things are going and attempts to put on the brakes. The young man, inflamed by lust with inhibitions lowered by alcohol, takes what he desires by force – two lives destroyed in an instant.

Back to the SARB, the senior NCO in charge of the program stood and lamented the fact that despite the units “getting after” it, he’s seen little effect over the course of three years.

I raised my hand and suggested that perhaps the problem was that we’ve taken young men who have no regard for young women and housed them with those same young women. Throw in binge drinking and who would’ve thought there’d be sexual issues. I further suggested that if the program was having no effect but the problem persisted, would it not be prudent to at least consider another course.

You’d have thought I suggested mass castrations, the literal pin drop. The general sat in silence. The SHARP lieutenant colonel immediately jumped up and affirmed that “we’re all just soldiers” and the other commanders stared blankly, though I imagined a few subtle nods.

“Well, we can’t roll back Army policy so…” the general finally responded and just like that, we moved on with the meeting as if I’d never spoken. The general and the SHARP lieutenant colonel perfectly summarized the issue. The Army policy of “we’re all just soldiers” ignores reality and places young women at the rapist’s mercy.

On January 24, 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Martin Dempsey, announced the lifting of the Combat Exclusion Policy that barred women from serving in direct combat units. As Panetta declared, “If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation.”

With that, the Army eliminated the last discriminator between male and female. We’re all just soldiers…or are we.

Here is the problem. In their sin, men excel at the oppression of women. From the curse in the Garden, all men have the disposition to rule or dominate women in an abusive fashion. (Genesis 3:16) Men must be taught to treat women well. Young men have to be taught to be nice to young women. I didn’t have to teach my young sons to be mean to my granddaughter. They automatically know how. I am currently teaching them to be nice to her, to cherish her, to treat her with regard.

The Army teaches exactly the opposite. Take a young man with no father to teach him how to treat young women, an increasingly common scenario. This young man goes through basic training alongside a young woman. He lives with her. He works with her. He suffers alongside her. She is just like him, or so he is taught. She is a fellow soldier and even a combatant as the Modern Army Combatives Program makes no distinction for gender. Upon arrival in the unit, they share a hallway in the barracks and when they go to the field, they share a tent and over and over, it is reinforced that they are all just soldiers.

There is nothing special or distinctive about this young lady! She is just another soldier. This is official Army policy.

So when they are drunk together, why wouldn’t he take what he wants from her? Young men take things from other young men all the time and he has no special regard for her. His sinful flesh readily yields to his lustful desires. Absent the common grace of the Gospel or the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, he does what men have always done.

And what is the Army’s response but to attempt to co-opt the pervasive hook-up culture. We’ve even hired a civilian firm to train our soldiers how to safely hook up. The Got Your Back program teaches soldiers how to negotiate the hook-up and how to tell when the hook-up is diverging toward an assault.

I find it shameful and had to walk out on the training.

As we are confined to the secular, we are left to exactly this, to treat symptoms of this issue. Because we cannot speak of the sin of men, we may not address the sin of men, and we find ourselves attempting to coerce godly behavior from the godless apart from God, a futile endeavor indeed.

Army gender policies have set the perfect conditions for rape. The only thing more we could do would be to buy their drinks for them or make the barracks rooms co-ed (something that I fear is already on the way).

The only solution is to quit this ridiculous notion that men and women are identical. Why must they be? Why must the God-given uniqueness of our gender somehow render us incompatible for service? Why must an acknowledgment of our differences yield discrimination?

Sadly though, we’ll continue to muddle about and “get after” the problem while every weekend, another young lady’s life is shattered by the horror of sexual assault.

**The opinions contained are the personal opinions of the author. They express no official policy or reflect no official stance.



  1. tom

    And not much has changed over the years even until today. The general hit the nail on the head in describing the root problem, which runs counter to every PC thought in today’s culture –

  2. Virginia

    It’s not just women, men get raped too, I myself was raped while I’m the army I just recently started to speak of it. MST is real and awareness need to spread.

    • Bradford Smith

      Ma’am, is awareness really the issue. I think that most people are aware that rape is wrong. We should actually do things, stop behaving as if men and women are the same. Honor our God given differences and protect our young women.

  3. Pancho

    I agree with the first portion of your article. SHARP events are not necessarily driven to prevent anything; they only serve to make it appear as if though the military is doing something about the issue, which I doubt. Most of the service members are primarily annoyed by these mandatory events given that this only applies to a small demographic. However, given your stance on how religion is the answer is completely ridiculous to me. Religion doesn’t and hasn’t solved any world problems and it is t going to solve this one. Perhaps by applying your faith, you, as an individual can find solace and peace and know the difference of right and wrong. However, far to many individuals of faith contribute to this problem, so “God” is highly irrelevant in this argument. Perhaps raising children, the way you are with your little ones, faith based or not, can make a significant difference down the road. I will agree with you that we are merely here to respond to the problem, not prevent it. Perhaps we need to recognize this and not fool ourselves about what we are actually doing.

    • Bradford Smith

      Pancho, obviously you and I have different worldviews and that is okay. Glad we can have some dialogue without descending into vitriol. We live in an interesting age when you can believe anything you want as long as you don’t declare it to be true. But I do understand that my faith is foolishness to you. That makes complete sense.

      • Pancho

        I don’t believe we have to far of worldviews, just different ways of applying what we believe. Although I am not religious, I can appreciate when one can find solace in their faith to deal with certain obstacles. I only take issue when ones faith is thought to be the one and only cure to all problems.

        • Bradford Smith

          Well why would I believe in something if I didn’t think it was worthwhile. As a Christian, my convictions are the Jesus Christ is in fact the cure for what ails all men!

          • Pancho

            Well Bradford, unfortunately for people of faith, the military is not going to rely on a higher being to solve all the problems we face. If that were the case, all military Chaplains would be Brigade Commanders of combat units as that would be the sole qualification one needs. I am not attempting to sound rude to your convictions as they are yours to have. But to truly believe that that is all that is needed is nieve and does not allow for reason to play a part in this issue (sexual assault) that we are talking about.

            One issue that your article does not address: male victimization. Why is it that you believe that sexual assault is only synonymous to women and not men? Men are assaulted all the time, but you did not address them. Is there a reason as to why you fail to recognize a demographic that clearly exists in the sexual assault community? Do you acknowledge the amount of sexually assaulted young men that are and have been assaulted over the years by the shepherds of religious congregations?

            It is clear to me that you do not truly believe or understand the SHARP program (which is a shame). The military is trying to make up for decades of sweeping this under the rug. Obviously, given that the program is still in its infancy, there are going to be issues with it (both from supporters and critics), to deny that is just as abhorrent as believing that we can only live a life of moral conviction if one has faith in a diety. Obviously, we are asking military commanders to accomplish something that they can only react to. You and I know not to assault another person, regardless of gender; others coming into our ranks obviously did not have that upbringing. That is not a lack of faith, it’s a lack of proper upbringing, faith-based or not.

        • Bradford Smith

          Pancho, (replying to your comment below), my intent was to respond only to the rape of young women for a couple of reasons but mainly because the rape of young men in the military is nowhere nearly as prevalent as the rape of young women. All rape is bad. Please don’t hear me say otherwise. But in my Division, and I have been doing this at this level for several years, literally almost all are young men on young women under the influence of alcohol and this has been the consistent factor for several years as confirmed to me by the SHARP NCOIC who has been in the position since 2011.

          I understand the SHARP program perfectly well and it is a Band-Aid to treat a hemorrhage. The program is not in its infancy. It is almost a decade old and it has helped how we respond but that is all. It has not helped prevent. And that is because as we have strayed from biblical morality and progressives have pushed a militant feminist agenda full of ridiculous notions, we have unwittingly placed women in peril.

          Again, I don’t expect my faith to make sense to you but can you not see the futility of a program that after nearly a decade and tens of millions of dollars of investment does not produce a shred of difference in prevention efforts? Even fiscal responsibility would seem to invite a serious analysis of the veracity of such an effort.

          Great discussion btw!

  4. Kevin

    “As we are confined to the secular…treating the symptoms of the issue” continually covering up the cancer with a bandaid. Because we cannot speak of the sin of men… well said; and it greatly saddens me that we have to ( if we want to continue service in the military) abide by laws, knowing there is a better way. But you cannot force God on the ungodly/secular

    • Bradford Smith

      Kevin, great feedback. You cannot force God upon the secular but we must point people to Him and leave the rest up to Him!

  5. Allison

    I am proud the Army talked about the sin of rape in this article. We focus so much on the flesh in the Army and this fosters these types of horrifying sexual behaviors. The men behave like beast at times. I will become an Army Chaplain who continues to inform and help by telling my story of Military Sexual Trauma. I have been studying the word of God as a Chaplain Assistant more. I begin my Masters in Divinity in July. We will fix our broken system! I have some ideas how to change the cultural of sexual hazing.

    • Derrick

      Allison, thank you for briefly sharing your story with the group. Could you explain, if you are willing to, how you overcame your assault as well as how your unit (former or current) handled your case within the SHARP realm, and how or if that assisted you in being able to move forward in your recovery? It’s good to know that you are willing to endure more by getting a Masters degree to help our men and women in uniform.


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Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

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Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).


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