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This August, an Associated Press article stated a 13% increase in reports of sexual assault throughout the military since 2018, with increases in the army and navy being the most concerning. This may be an increase in reporting, rather than sexual assault, which would indicate that the situation has always been this dire. In either case, it’s calling attention to the neglect faced by service members as this issue remains largely unaddressed. The efforts of Pentagon officials to bring awareness to this issue are simply not enough as service members operate in an unsafe environment and are subject to acts of violence from their own coworkers. The military cannot expect to remain a priority, nor a strong institution, in the eyes of the American public while they do not prioritize the physical and emotional safety of service members.

This increase in the reporting of sexual harassment and assault of service members will likely contribute to already decreasing recruitment numbers, in addition to the military’s deteriorating public credibility. According to Pew Research center approximately 75% of Americans do not believe that the military has the ability “to act in the public’s best interest.” These new statistics from AP show that they don’t seem to be able to act in the best interest of their own members either.

Even before AP released these statistics on sexual assault, the Pentagon was facing scrutiny due to already worrisome recruitment numbers. These low numbers have been attributed to a new generation’s emerging perspectives and “lifestyle trends,” according to several military officials. While there are a number of improvements that the military can make to address the unattractive facets of joining, such as increasing pay and benefits or introducing more stringent protections for sexual assault and harassment victims, what is entirely unhelpful is Representative Anthony Brown of Maryland’s suggestion that the country “deep[en] partnerships with traditionally underserved or overlooked communities to tap into the full talent pool of our country.” Targeting Americans of low socioeconomic status, instead of making internal adjustments, cannot be the solution to this problem and only adds to the impression that the military and government as a whole are aiming to take advantage of Americans. 

The increase in sexual assault reporting since 2018 is certainly not going to be helpful during this recruiting crisis as family and friends do not feel comfortable sending their loved ones to be part of an institution that does not have their back. Joining the military already poses dangers on its own, but there has to be an expectation of professional conduct among colleagues as well as personal safety from said colleagues. Many family members already have to fear their loved ones being harmed in combat, where it might be expected, but now also fear the men and women who are supposed to stand with them against any danger they might face.

The military cannot expect young Americans to sign up for this treatment when they can find better opportunities with greater protections elsewhere. It’s time for the military to stop putting the blame on cultural shifts and take a look in the mirror at their own failures to create a safe or desirable work environment. Sacrificing for one’s country is not a new concept, but this is a bridge too far.