And so it begins. Staff Sgt. Luis Walker faces Court Martial for 28 counts of aggravated sexual contact, including rape, and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He is the first of 12 instructors facing investigation to reach this point. And 9 of those 12 men were in the same squadron.
As I have been writing about Military Sexual Traumaover the last few weeks, I have made a constant connection between command and rape. It is a connection I learned about when I first saw the film,The Invisible War, and it is a connection that is abhorent to all who hear about it.
Most officers don't want to acknowledge that rape is more likely to occur in units where command is lacking. Most officers want to believe that the command structure is there to support and help victims of a crime. Most officers want to believe in the three core values of the Air Force. After all, it's what they have trained to do:
The Air Force has three core values, and they're drilled into recruits from their first hours of basic training.
As they march at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, they pass signs saying, “Integrity,” “Service before self” and “Excellence in all we do.”
“There is a reason there are three core values,” said retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman, who created the ethos for his service in the wake of a series of disciplinary problems during the mid-1990s. “You can remember them.”
These officers who believe in the core values are those that would follow up on any allegations and procede with investigations - which may be why it is those commanders that have fewer problems with incidents of rape in the first place.
Commanders need to stop kidding themselves - sexual harassment and sexual assault are not isolated incidents that happen here and there. They are happening all over and are hidden and secret because there is great fear on the part of the victims. It took a serious investigation at Lackland to convince women to finally speak out - only 1 of 31 came forth without prompting.
It is time for commanders to seriously back Zero Tolerance. Before they can do that, they need to have all the information at hand. I have proposed that the film The Invisible War could give our commanders the information they need to make better decisions when faced with cases of sexual assault in their own commands. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta knows the impact that this film could have - he has seen it and reacted to it himself. He should give his commanders the same benefit and make the film available to all of them. Not next year, but now.