Why We Need More Women in the Military

The only thing that will change the culture of the military is more women signing up.

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A US female marine and members of USN Hospital Corpsman from the 1st battalion 7th Marines Regiment walk at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Jackson also known as Sabit Khadam in Sangin, Helmand Province on June 7, 2012. The US-led war in Afghanistan has cost the lives of around 3,000 U.S. and allied troops, seen thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Faced with yet another report of sexual abuse by a military official assigned to handling sexual assault cases, women might understandably re-think a career in the armed services. Who wants to enter a field where – aside from all the other risks and stresses that come with the job – one has to worry about being abused or attacked by the very people who are supposed to have your back in combat?

And yet that is exactly why it's important for women to join the military. That is the only way the "culture," as it is euphemistically put, will change.

[See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

The most recent case involves a still-unnamed sergeant first class who allegedly mistreated subordinates, sexually assaulted them and may even have forced a subordinate into prostitution. This was a man who, at Ft. Hood, was assigned to handling sexual assault allegations, and it follows the case of an Air Force Lt. Colonel (assigned to head the Air Force sexual assault prevention program) who has been charged with sexually attacking a woman in a parking lot.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was justifiably outraged, and has ordered the armed forces to "retrain, re-credential and re-screen" recruiters and sexual assault prevention officers. That is admirable and obviously necessary, but it's not an entire solution to the problem.

This isn't about sensitivity training. What adult with a basic education needs to be "trained" not to sexually assault women? The suggestion that somehow men are still getting used to having women around and just don't know how to behave is ridiculous. It's reminiscent of those idiotic training sessions at workplaces (which are really meant to cover the metaphorical behinds of management in case of a lawsuit, as opposed to protecting the actual behinds of female employees), where workers are shown videos on acceptable and unacceptable comments.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Women Be Allowed to Fight in Combat?]

No one who works in an office needs to be trained to understand the difference between "nice dress" and "nice breasts." And no one in the military needs to be sat down and taught not to sexually harass or attack their colleagues and subordinates. Everyone knows it is wrong, but as long as it goes unpunished, it will continue.

The reason the harassment and assaults are occurring is not because people have been insufficiently trained; it's because an ongoing threat of harassment or even violence creates an environment that will discourage women from joining the military. Why go through all the physical and mental work of being a member of the armed forces only to endure constant, gender-based hostility? It's just easier to choose another career.

That's what the sexual predators and their protectors are hoping. And only strong recruitment and retention of women in the military will change it.

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