On Wednesday night, at NBC’s televised presidential candidate forum, Donald Trump doubled down on his theory that gender integration is at fault for the U.S. military’s ongoing sexual-assault crisis.
Asked about his 2013 tweet that mused “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” in reference to an uptick in military sexual-assault reports, Trump told moderator Matt Lauer, “Well, it is, it is a correct tweet.” He then invoked the trusted opinions of an unnamed but allegedly massive populace: “There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct.”
Trump stopped short of recommending the expulsion of women from the military at Wednesday’s forum—“No, not kick them out but something has to happen,” he said—instead suggesting that the Pentagon should set up “a court system within the military.”
He’ll be happy to learn that such a court system already exists. It has also been roundly denounced by anti–sexual violence advocates. Those who supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s thwarted attempt to reform that system said that because sexual-assault cases are prosecuted within the military, commanders would be more likely to protect the alleged perpetrators than to make an unbiased judgment on survivors’ claims. The current culture of the military also requires survivors to run their reports through their commanding officers, who decide whether or not to move the claims up the chain of command—a huge deterrent for those who’ve been victimized by their superiors, well-liked peers, or the commanders themselves. A Human Rights Watch report from 2015 revealed that physical, verbal, and professional retaliation regularly await those survivors who do move forward with their reports.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Trump identified the primary problem with the military’s current response to sexual assault: “You have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted. There are no consequences,” he said. “Look at the small number of results. I mean, that’s part of the problem.” Those disappointing results and paltry prosecution rates would almost certainly improve if members of the military were allowed to seek justice against their assailants in a court system that wasn’t run by people incentivized to push rapes under the rug.
Now that we’ve solved that aspect of Trump’s problem with the military, let’s move on to the bigger question: If we really cared about protecting women from sexual assault, should we allow them to serve alongside men at all? The underlying question here is: Are men doomed to sexually assault women if forced to work alongside them? Is rape an inevitable consequence of prolonged contact with members of another gender?
The best argument against this theory is the fact that male victims of sexual violence in the militaryoutnumber female ones. This is mainly because there’s about one woman in the military for every seven men; women are still far more likely to be sexually assaulted in the military than men. But the fact remains that Trump is ignoring the majority of military sexual-assault survivors, telling them that their abuse deserves less of our concern, when he claims that gender integration causes sexual assault.
The second-best argument against Trump’s claim is that men and women work alongside one another in most other professions, including those that require similarly close quarters, without cultivating the military’s culture of sexual violence. Rape is not a crime of opportunity or an inherent impulse in men confronted with female bodies; it’s a crime of power and control, not boys being boys. The military’s simultaneous use of masculinity and emasculation as motivating tools, its strict chain of command, its intolerance of any perceived emotional weakness, and its culture of authoritarian command do more to create fertile grounds for a sexual-assault crisis than the mere presence of female soldiers.
Even if Trump’s interpretation of rape were correct, his incredulous tweet should still disqualify him from the presidency. Suggesting that the consequences of bringing women into the military aren’t worth the benefits shifts the responsibility of troop safety away from the commanders in charge. Worse, it shifts the blame onto women who want to serve and the punishment onto a country that’s less safe because of systemic abuse within its military ranks.