Saturday, May 14, 2005

Culture of Rape: Spiritual and Physical

When you force religion down someone's throat, something else is sure to follow. I want to talk about the connections between spiritual and physical rape; this morning's report in the New York Times that proseltyzing for Christianity was taking place in a systematic, insensitive way while academy leadership turned its head bears striking similarities to what happened when hundreds of women at the Air Force Academy reported being raped.

A chaplain at the Air Force Academy has described a "systemic and pervasive" problem of religious proselytizing at the academy and says a religious tolerance program she helped create to deal with the problem was watered down after it was shown to officers, including the major general who is the Air Force's chief chaplain.

The academy chaplain, Capt. MeLinda Morton, 48, spoke publicly for the first time as an Air Force task force arrived at the academy in Colorado Springs on Tuesday to investigate accusations that officers, staff members and senior cadets inappropriately used their positions to push their evangelical Christian beliefs on Air Force cadets.

This is not the first time that "insensitivity" has reared its ugly head at the service academies, especially the Air Force:

One female student in seven attending the nation's military academies last spring said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released yesterday by the Defense Department.

More than half the women studying at the Naval, Air Force and Army academies reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on campus, according to survey responses. But few of those incidents, and only a third of the assaults, were reported to authorities. A new confidentiality policy for assault victims, also released yesterday, attempts to improve reporting of sex crimes on military campuses.

The survey, conducted largely in response to allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assault at the Air Force Academy in 2003, suggests a prevailing climate at the academies that worries military leaders. Too many students condone off-color jokes and unwanted sexual advances. Too few dare to confront classmates with their transgressions or to report them to anyone else, the survey shows.

Not surprisingly, cadets do not report the sexual assault or harassmen to their commanding officers for fear of retribution. It seems that the commanding officers do not "get" it when it comes to matters of insensitivity.

More on the attempts to promote sensitivity to religious difference:

She said the R.S.V.P. program was significantly altered after it was screened last fall for 300 academy staff members and officers. Military officials confirmed that the program had been altered but said changes were routine in the development of such training programs.

Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, the chief of chaplains for the entire Air Force, screened the R.S.V.P. program in October, Captain Morton said, and afterward asked her, "Why is it that the Christians never win?" in response to some of the program's dramatizations of interactions between cadets of different religions.

So, being a Christian is about winning?

What's more important is the climate that is perpetuated at the Academy, where being a Christian is the price of serving one's country:

Captain Morton said, "People at the academy were making cadets feel an obligation that they are serving the will of God if they are engaging in evangelical activities, and telling them that this is harmonious and co-extensive with military service."

One staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday: "There's certainly an impression that evangelicals here have that the leadership is kind of on their side. And there's a feeling among people who are atheists or people who are other varieties of Christian that the leadership does not really accept them."

Now imagine an environment of evangelical Christianity, where women are subordinate to men, and picture how the following are taking place simultaneously:

From the

rape scandal:

"Our goal is to produce military leaders of character," Schmitz said at a news conference. "And obviously, sexual assaults are not a good indication of character. In fact, they're a very bad indication."

Two-thirds of the sexual assaults against men and women -- 248 incidents -- were not reported to authorities, the survey shows. Officials said this is a result of privacy concerns and myriad other factors that deter assault victims from reporting the crime in the general population.

But students reported other factors germane to their campus culture. One is fear among victims that they, too, could be punished for conduct related to the assault, such as underage drinking. Another is a sense of loyalty to classmates. A third is fear of reprisals by classmates or senior officers, according to the survey. Of the 96 cases that women reported to academy authorities, 29 led to criminal investigations, according to the survey. It was unclear how many led to actual charges against the alleged offender.

I think it could be argued that an environment in which loyalty is emphasized, the desire to belong is cemented through the idea that spiritual cohesion is necessary--therefore drop your individual religious identity in deference to the group's--and a belief that there is some kind of "winning" involved when you are successful in defending your faith, are all a fertile breeding ground for attitudes of insensitivity, entitlement, and brutality and power/control that leads to rape.


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