The survey in question asks active duty personnel who have experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in the past year to focus on the most egregious incident when answering subsequent questions. Jumping out immediately is the fact that while the 2012 figure is higher than it was in 2010, results for 2006 are worse (as in a higher percentage of personnel reporting unwanted contact) than they were in either 2010 and 2012. This looks more like random year-to-year variation than an 'epidemic'. Personnel also report higher rates of unwanted sexual contact prior to becoming active duty military than they experienced after having enlisted. Lots of young, adventuresome singles in putatively stressful situations and there's less sexual harassment than there is in civilian life--when the percentage of people one comes into contact with who are potential sexual partners is often much lower than when on active duty--feels like a manufactured crisis to me.
Perhaps apprehensive that access to data broken down by sex of both offender and victim might give homophobes something to ream gays in the service with, data on offenders among female victims is reported but data on offenders for male victims is, inexplicably, not. The report simply reads "results for men are not reportable" (p32). Uh huh.
Fortunately, the data were broken out in 2010, and by employing a little algebra, we're able to glean from the latest report results from surveys conducted in previous years. The ratio of men-to-women who reported unwanted contact was nearly identical in both 2010 and 2012, with the latter showing an uptick of one-third more than 2010 for both men and women, so the following ratios almost certainly hold in 2012 even though I calculated them using data from 2010.
Things you're unlikely to see or hear reported from major media sources or pondered from the bully pulpit regarding sexual harassment among our active duty personnel:
- More men than women are on the receiving end of unwanted sexual contact--10,571 and 8,949 in 2010, respectively. Of course this is in absolute terms--women are still more likely to be victims of unwanted sexual contact than men are.
- According to the survey--conducted by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), operating under the Department of Defense--women are more than twice as likely as men are to perpetrate unwanted sexual contact, at least in situations in which the perpetrator(s) were of the same sex (a situation comprising 85% of all designated worst situations, the other 15% consisting of both men and women in a group making unwanted sexual contact with a victim). It strains credulity at first blush, but working from the tables provided on pages 34-36 and active duty personnel figures, we arrive at 12,326 total male offenders and 4,353 total female offenders* in an active duty service in which only about one-in-seven members are women. That translates to about 1 in 47 female personnel perpetrating unwanted sexual contact compared to just 1 in 95 male personnel doing so. Women are more likely to victimize and to be victimized than men are. Yet another reason that having them serve in the armed forces is such a swell idea.
- Relatedly, one-quarter (26%) of all unwanted sexual contact among active duty personnel involves women harrying men. One-half (52%) involves men getting after women, less than 1% consists of women sexually harassing other women, and the remaining cases (22%) involve men engaging in unwanted sexual contact with other men. I don't want my son's scout leader to be a gay guy or a woman. Heterosexual, please and thanks.
- Parenthetically, even if offending women in the military had a predilection for other female targets for their advances, it wouldn't be widely reported on. However, they don't. Offending women are more than eight times as likely to go after men as they are to go after women.
Beyond causing skepticism about the way the military goes about tracking sexual harassment, there are some potential story lines to go with these results--active duty women have
Even less appealing, the number of active duty men who annually experience unwanted (homo)sexual contact from other men is in the high thousands (extrapolated to 6,307 in 2010, or around 8,500 in 2012). Yes, in our hypersensitive age, some non-trivial amount of identified unwanted contact--across all four offender-victim gender mixes--is innocuous badgering or having fun at someone else's expense, but still, like the priest abuse scandals that have 'rocked' the Catholic Church, there's a very real and very much downplayed homosexual element in play here.
* In reality, some of these offenders surely offended on more than one occasion and offenders may be individuals or members of an offending group, but the victims were not asked to identify the offenders by name, so for sake of clarity and consistency, I'm counting each offender as a separate individual. Consequently, these are lower-bound estimates of reported offender rates by sex.