A Groundswell of Outrage over Military Sexual Assault

The new release of the Department of Defense’s biannual reports on the prevalence of sexual assault in the military has invited quite a lot of social commentary. Thanks in part to the release of films like The Invisible War and the tireless grassroots advocacy efforts of organizations like the Service Women’s Action Network, this issue is a topic of public concern. The fact that people are talking about it makes a difference.

When people take interest in issues related to sexual violence and its prevention, we see social change. It means that as a culture we have the skills and knowledge we need to identify problematic responses to sexual violence and the tools we need to address them. It means that when pop culture figureheads make statements that normalize violence, other people call them out on it.

It also means that when top military officials mistake a sexually violent culture with hook up culture, we see that this contributes to the institutional problem of sexual assault. Those involved in social movements know that it takes a combination of grassroots advocacy and top-down changes to affect the climate of a culture. Hopefully the increasing public awareness of sexual violence in the military will help the folks in decision-making roles at the Department of Defense realize the importance of universal accountability for violent norms.

In a week when we learn of an increase in anonymous reports of sexual assault among active duty members and that the head of an Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention Unit faces charges sexual battery, we should be able to ride the groundswell of outrage to a reality of change.