Like most other male-dominated professions, women in the military experience a number of disadvantages and hardships they’re forced to confront in order to simply do their job. Unfortunately, one of the major inequalities women in service face is sexual assault. Despite the fact that rape and sexual assault is a widespread problem among military members, apparently, that hasn’t stopped recruitment of women. In fact, Politico reports that there hasn’t been a decrease in young women signing up to serve, even since sexual assault in the military has garnered more attention in the news.
The four branches of the military — the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force — have all reached their intended recruitment goals in recent years, with women making up about 15 percent of service members enlisting.
According to a recent Pentagon survey, up to 26,000 service members were on the receiving end of unwanted sexual contact in 2012 but only 3,374 incidents of assault were reported.
So, why hasn’t this sobering reality for women in the military affected enrollment? As it turns out, the U.S. Defense Department has a pretty great PR staff.
The Air Force said in a statement:
The marketing strategies in place are geared toward inspiring young women and getting them to think about what is possible; and that the Air Force is a place where they can achieve their life goals. The advertising inspires and drives them to seek out more information.
In addition to specifically targeting women with advertisements on TV channels like E! Entertainment Television and Bravo, there’s an element of class that plays a role in some women's decision to enlist. The generally unpredictable and bad economy makes the military an appealing option for those seeking opportunities in higher education and a stable career.
Back in June, John McCain told a mother during a public hearing that he couldn’t give his “unqualified support” when it came to her daughter enlisting. McCain told Politico that even though he would encourage the presence of women in the military, there’s still a larger issue that needs to be addressed.
“They said, ‘Would you give unqualified support?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t give unqualified because there’s a problem with sexual assaults in the military,” said McCain. “I still support young women joining the military and I’d recommend it. But I would also point out there’s an issue that we’re working hard on that needs to be resolved.”
Government officials are currently working on laws to protect military-enlisted victims of assault, and other individuals are working to increase awareness of this blatant issue. In an article for the Daily Beast on the issue, Kayla Williams pointed out:
Most people aren't saints; they're humans, with flaws and foibles. That's why we need an honest conversation, to help build strong leadership and institutions that set the tone on what is unacceptable, improve command climate, increase reporting, vigorously prosecute offenders, and work to drive down rates over time.
While it’s important to pass legislation that pressures attackers and perpetrators, it’s also clear the entire culture around sexual assault and gender imbalance in the military needs to change.