Sexual assault: a stain on the U.S. military: an interview with Amy Ziering.


In 2007, filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick came across an article titled "The Private War of Women Soldiers." Written by Columbia University professor Helen Benedict, the article addressed the problem of sexual assault in the U.S. military. Shocked by the numbers, Ziering and Dick began interviewing victims and produced a documentary in 2012 for both film audiences and policymakers in Washington, DC. A few months later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War and ordered changes. According to the U.S. government, in 2012, there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. military--almost 35 percent more than in 2011. Only 3,374 were reported. In an interview with the Journal; producer Amy Ziering discussed the causes of this problem, and proposed some solutions to end this culture of impunity. (1)

Journal of International Affairs: In your documentary, many survivors of rape described how thee were harassed and treated disrespectfully while serving in the army. Do you think this lack of respect for women contributes to the high occurrence of rape in the military?

Amy Ziering: While there is certainly a fair amount of misogyny in the military--as there is in society--the high rates of sexual assault reflect crimes of power rather than gender. In fact, in terms of absolute numbers, the number of men assaulted in the military is slightly greater than the number of women. Part of the problem, I believe, is that society thinks this is predominantly a cultural problem; it is not. It is a serial predator problem--one in which predators are not being prosecuted. I do not want to let culture off the hook, but I do not see these two issues as part and parcel of one another. The fact that people often are inclined to inextricably link them together leads society to think that there is nothing to be done. If it is viewed as a "cultural problem," tackling it might seem overwhelming and impossible. I really want to shy away from this type of thinking because I think it actually helps to perpetuate the problem rather than solve it.

Journal: Can you give an example of why that kind of reasoning can be counterproductive or dangerous?

Ziering: This reasoning leads to putting money, time, and resources solely into education. You cannot educate a serial predator from doing what he or she is going to do. A poster or training seminar will not act as a deterrent. These predators are calculating, strategic, and highly intelligent criminals. So if you think it is a cultural problem and that people just need to be educated, you are not going to make significant strides in reducing the frequency of these crimes. You might lower the incidence of harassment--and I am all for that--but you will not address this issue at its core. Rape is a violent crime, and...

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