Promoting empathy and cracking down on hypermasculinity may help the Department of Defense to reduce unwanted sexual behavior and improve combat readiness, a new government report on sexual violence in the military says.
Unwanted sexual behaviors ‒ such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence ‒ “undermine core values, unit cohesion, combat readiness, and public goodwill,” says the report, published this month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and signed by Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management.
The report pointed out that “interconnected, inappropriate behaviors” are part of a “continuum of harm” that creates a climate conducive to sexual harassment, assault and violence. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017 expanded the definition of sexual harassment in the military beyond sex discrimination, to make it “an adverse behavior on the spectrum of behavior that can contribute to an increase in the incidence of sexual assault.” Both the Pentagon and the separate service branches have yet to update their policies to reflect this new definition, the GAO found.
The report also urged the Pentagon to incorporate the guidelines for preventing and dealing with sexual violence developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Pentagon is ignoring risk factors identified by the CDC such as “alcohol and drug use, hypermasculinity, emotionally unsupportive family environments, general tolerance of sexual violence within the community, and societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement,” the report says.
Also ignored by the DoD are protective factors such as “emotional health and connectedness, and empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others.”
“CDC’s research has also established that survivors of one form of violence are more likely to be victims of other forms of violence, that survivors of violence are at higher risk for behaving violently, and that people who behave violently are more likely to commit other forms of violence,” the GAO report notes, apparently seeking to make a distinction between violence in authorized military conflict and personal violence.
Noting that the DoD instructed the services in 2014 to develop mechanisms for reporting incidents of sexual harassment anonymously, the GAO said that such mechanisms are not yet part of the department-wide sexual violence policies.