Sexual Harassment and Assault in the U.S. Army

Sexual Harassment and Assault in the U.S. Army

Sexual assault cases have been an underlying thorny issue within the United States Army since 2004, drawing attention from all stakeholders. Statistics from the Newsweek report show that one out of fifteen males and one out of five females have been sexually assaulted within the service. While the reported cases have reduced over the years, the Secretary of Defence states that the unreported cases are increasing on the flip side, making the problem even more complicated.

The first public scandal regarding sexual assault in the U.S. Army was reported in 1996 in the Aberdeen Scandal. It involved twelve drill instructors who were later charged with sex crimes and received prison sentences and non-judicial punishments (Noah & Newman, 1996). After this incident, progress to training staff of sexual harassment and assault halted as the public eye shifted from them.  Strong institutional reformations started in the year 2004 when the Secretary of Defence created a task force to check on the reporting and handling of sexual assault issues. The body was termed as Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) (Andrew, 2013). It was the first step towards making a real response effort. However, it had the shortcoming of lacking a proper reporting procedure and having a shallow education process. The system was later updated to Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP). It was an improvement from the earlier system as it introduced tactics to prevent the cases from happening and proper training curriculums for all ranks. Despite operating for twelve years within the service, SHARP has had its shortcomings in the service (Andrew, 2013).

The topic of sexual assault and harassment is still an important one to analyze because there are still many loopholes within the measures used to reduce the cases. The Assault cases are ironic because the military has been an institution that prided itself on values of morality, justice, equity, and protection of their servicemen and women. Sexual harassment and assault violate the core principles and values on which the military is based upon. Sexual harassment and assault have been downplayed within the military but have had a negative impact on soldiers spreading fear and vulnerability expressed in different forms of expressions; these acts have presented the military in an unethical act, and there is a need for reforms within the SHARP program to help deal with the problem.

Analysis of Humanities

Human Behaviour

The human response to the assault actions and harassment went mostly contrary to the expectations. According to research by Skopp et al. (2020)., only 25% of the soldiers involved in such cases reported the incident or made an outcry about it. The department of Defence also provides a report to support these claims. The reason for the silence was mostly because they were too embarrassed to report, or they feared that reporting would have a negative impact on their military career (Skopp et al., 2020)). The situation was worse for the female soldiers as they were the ones who mostly hid their sentiments. Because the military was a dominantly male field, they feared that if they reported, it would result in a backlash.

There have been protests and marches by the public in response to cases of sexual assault in the military. In July 2020, there were dozens of protestors outside fort Campbell raining awareness on military sexual assault (Philipps, 2019).  The group consisted of veterans, women groups, and sexual assault survivors voicing their concerns over a sexual assault incident at Fort Campbell. The protests on the same topic have also gone online with the trending hashtag #Metoo going online on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook of people narrating their assault stories.

The political class has not been left behind in their response to the cases. Congress has been instrumental in legislating and monitoring the cases under the SHARP program. The congress in 2013 also dealt with the issue publicly after the sexual assault and battery of an air force officer. The issue caught the attention of President Obama, which resulted in The Secretary and Air Force General testifying on the case. In 2017, Senator Martha McSally confessed her case of sexual assault while in the military and reopened the debate on how to deal with the problem (Steinhauer & Jr,2019).

Human Expression

Literature has also been a keen influence in passing on the feelings on the cases of assault. Several books have been written on various subjects related to sexual harassment in the military.  Important mentions include Surviving Military Sexual Trauma (In My Own Words): A Memoir by Michelle F. Capucci, and For Love of Country: Confronting Rape and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military by Terri Spahr Nelson. Online public libraries have been a good place where military sexual violence survivors have shared their stories. The most popular one is the VAWnet, which was a project of the National Resources Centre on Domestic Violence. It contained numerous anonymous stories of different people who had experienced the same. Other popular platforms include Survivors into transition, Survivors Write-In, and Different Hashtags within the internet have attracted people to also share their stories on social media platforms and thus create awareness of the problem.

Poetry has also been a polar way of expressing the emotions and the feelings of the survivors of the assault cases. A popular one is “What I Was Wearing “by Maty Simmerling, which speaks of her rape and the doubts that people had when she reported her incident. Popular CNN presenter Olivia Gatwood reported several cases of sexual assault in the military among women and decided to write a poem in reference to their plight.

The Invisible War is a 2012 documentary film that was produced to uncover the rot within the military in the case of sexual harassment and assaults. The film was applauded by lawmakers, advocates, and journalists because it had a significant impact on influencing policies and opinions about the topic. Justice denied is also another movie produced in 2013 that featured the horrific stories of rape and assault within the Army. As a resolve, the movies recommend coming forward to report the cases, offering treatment alternatives to the causalities, and changing reporting procedures for these crimes.


Analysis of the culture within the military presents a case that the military culture fosters an environment for assaults and harassment. The military training sets the stage because of the toxic and harassing command cultures. Therefore, from the entry-level, the soldiers are exposed to a culture of continual harassment from their superiors, which makes them vulnerable (Andrew, 2013). While their superiors may have their safety at hand, the mid and junior levels do not exhibit the same behavior and this, in turn, fosters improper behavior. Since the culture is based on harassment, it makes them turn a blind eye towards these cases. Further, since the authority figures are harsh to the juniors, it is hard to report the cases to them. There is, therefore, the ethical dilemma of whether to foster the same culture, which produces better respect for command but also fosters harassment, which leads to sexual assault.

Within the military, the soldiers develop the ego threat, which may also cause ethical dilemmas within their characters. The military provides an environment where members get the pride, martial spirit, gusto, or machismo and at the same time experience new adult freedoms. The rankings within the organization also extrapolate the egos further. Ego threat has been seen by various psychologists to be a great factor contributing to people getting involved in crime (Andrew, 2013). It is also because of the same ego that the members rarely report when the incidents happen to them. The military as a whole also has an institutional ego based on its position and the respect with which it draws from the citizens. It is therefore difficult for them to come out right and agree about their flawed systems and often times suppress these cases from reaching the public light.


Critical Analysis of Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Military

Sexual harassment has become a bigger problem that is seen from the outside. The role of SHARP within the forces has not been effective enough.  Many still think of sexual harassment as a usual banter, and even soldiers use the term SHARP to sarcastically describe their sexual innuendos. The situation is downplayed but is at a critical point. Almost 30% of all military ladies and 8% of all dynamic segment men in the Army are assessed to encounter sexual harassment, to a great extent because of rehashed events of sexual jokes or, particularly for ladies, being informed that a man would be more qualified for specific work or being dealt with contrastingly at their work environment (Sadler et al., 2018). Especially on account of male fighters, detailing can be seen as frail and unmanly—an apparatus utilized by ladies, not men, further implementing gendered standards (Abueg, 2016). The act of disregarding or getting over gendered remarks or sexual harassment propagates the way of life that permits rape to persistently happen.

The continuation of this standard is particularly hurtful because of the way that about 35% of rape casualties revealed being explicitly sexually harassed preceding their attack. Another 35% detailed inappropriate behavior after the attack had happened. For the large number of soldiers assaulted, sexual harassment preceded the sexual assault. While SHARP addresses sexual harassment by instructing troopers on what might be viewed as harassment (going over terms, likely activities, and so forth), the preparation should be more close to home to get soldiers to tune in (Woodham, 2014). The program is, in this manner, not viable in managing the issue of inappropriate behavior.

The high rate of sexual assault happening to the females is an indication of gender inequality within the army society. Not so long ago, rules and guidelines restricted females from being set in branches whose immediate reason for existing is battle (Spivak, 2017). Regardless of solicitations for coordination, the proceeded with constrained sexual orientation division was a limitation of ladies’ negative liberties. It makes outside weights that unequivocally disallow ladies from settling on the decision to turn into a warrior in explicit callings while men are allowed to settle on that decision to be possibly positioned in the battle arms branches (Shaw, Hegewisch, & Hess, 2018). And keeping in mind that this has as of late changed, there still can’t seem to be full-scale reconciliation where ladies feel socially acknowledged to join these branches in enormous numbers. Furthermore, of the almost 200 PTSD programs all through the nation, just six are intended to explicitly deal with traumatized ladies (Spivak, 2017). While a lot more cases of sex imbalance keep on happening in the Army, the most hazardous is by all accounts rape, and the Army’s way to deal with resolve the institutional standards encompassing the issue.


SHARP should expand the education sessions where fighters have an occasion to genuinely interact with casualties and feel for what they experienced. It would help them better comprehend the impact of harassment. This would permit fighters to see inappropriate behavior past being a joke and impact more casualties of harassment to be eager to report guilty parties before it can possibly transform into an attack (Abueg, 2016). By lessening provocation, a huge number of instances of attack can be forestalled. Nonetheless, the inability to police badgering inside the positions has driven numerous to feel that they can pull off their conduct and even attack. SHARP also needs to focus on Prevention instead of interventions. The focus should be on changing the culture to one that would admonish sexual harassment and assault and not deal with the reported cases. They should make sexual foul language a taboo within the ranks impart this standard in the Army—and keeping in mind that it is centered around changing the way of life, many trust it

SHARP needs reforms. Notwithstanding, this doesn’t imply that it is a disappointment. In spite of the fact that the program has been persevering in continually providing training, it has picked up little ground in achieving expansive changes. One method of dealing with the gendered standards that impact rape and badgering is through teaching with small discussion groups (Woodham, 2014). There should be a more noteworthy responsibility by pioneers to guarantee small group conversations are encouraged. Authorities should utilize their insight as pioneers to organize SHARP preparation to fit in with their preparation timetables and, similar to any remaining preparing necessities, guarantee that the standard is as a rule appropriately met. Beyond the smaller teaching groups, the content of the syllabus should also change. There should be a better focus on the army culture and its contribution to developing the rape culture (Abueg, 2016). The conversation should be fluid and allow the input of the trainees to effect change. Further, SHARP focuses on the culprit and attempts to advise them to stop. In any case, the Army needs to zero in getting the soldiers to understand the influence behind their actions and help them progress towards change or prevent severe assault cases.

Finally, the Army needs to reduce gender inequality within its systems. The notion that the military is male based because men are the stronger ones should be scrapped off. When women get a role to play within every sector of the military, it will get them to be at a better place regarding harassment (Spivak, 2017). The training materials should also help the soldiers to underpants equality and not see any gender as weaker or more vulnerable. The effect of this would also be to improve the reporting percentages of women.


Statistics and numbers of sexual assault and harassment within the military have been devastating over the years. It is clear that it is a serious issue that is affecting the soldiers within their factions.  SHARP was created to legislate policies and create training programs to help deal with the problem. There is, however, an alarming statistic because the cases have not reduced, and the population that is not reporting the cases is increasing. It, therefore, indicates that the human behavior created by the act is that of fear and embarrassment. Female soldiers also hide their cases because of the gender inequality present within the university ranks and would result in a backlash. Several protests, both online and physical, have occurred to address the sentiments. The political class has not been left behind either, with even senators coming out to bring their testimonies and call for reforms. Stories, poetry, and movies have been good resources explaining the problem to the general public and influencing policy setting.

The culture within the military has been the biggest promoter of unethical behavior. The training sessions are toxic because of the harassment presented by the instructors; therefore, it replicates in the same way to other sectors of their life. The military as an institution has also had the ego problem and therefore have been on the front in hiding these cases from the public. Ego threat among the soldiers also makes it hard for them to report. 

The underlying problem behind the assault is persistent sexual harassment cases. The foul language, groping, and many more is what develops into full-blown assault. It is clear that many of the assaulted victims had initially experienced harassment. The secret to therefore dealing with assault is preventing it by coping with harassment. Harassment can better be dealt with through a comprehensive training program by SHARP. Sharp needs to properly address harassment and even give real-life cases to help the soldiers get a good perspective. Further gender inequality has progressed the problem even further as women are more marginalized in roles. It, therefore, presents them as more vulnerable and weaker, which makes them a target. Inequality should be addressed within the policy and in the training modules.




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Spivak, R. (2017). Undue Sacrifice: How Female Sexual Assault Victims Fight the Military While Fighting in the Military

Woodham, S. (2014) Sexual Assault in the Military: Analysis, Response, and Resources. Nova Science Publishers, Inc

Abueg, J. R. (2016). The influence of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention Program on norms and society in the United States Army (Doctoral dissertation).

Andrew, A. (2013). Leading Change: Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP). ARMY WAR COLLEGE CARLISLE BARRACKS PA.

Skopp, N. A., Roggenkamp, H., Hoyt, T. V., Major, H. M., & Williams, T. J. (2020). Army Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Program (SHARP) Tiger Team: A Model to Inform Prevention. Military Behavioral Health, 8(1), 64-73.

Sadler, A. G., Lindsay, D. R., Hunter, S. T., & Day, D. V. (2018). The impact of leadership on sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military. Military Psychology, 30(3), 252-263.

Shaw, E., Hegewisch, A., & Hess, C. (2018). Sexual harassment and assault at work: Understanding the costs. Institute for Women’s Policy Research Publication, IWPR B, 376.

Steinhauer, J., & Jr, R. A. O. (2019, March 8). Senator Martha McSally’s Revelation of Assault May Reopen Debate (Published 2019). The New York Times.

Philipps, D. (2019, May 2). ‘This Is Unacceptable.’ Military Reports a Surge of Sexual Assaults in the Ranks. The New York Times.

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