Addressing demeaning behavior: a lesson the U.S. military could learn from the Aussies

Recent, ongoing allegations of sexual violence in the United States military have tarnished the reputation of our fighting organizations. Documentaries like The Invisible War and news reports like the one below from the Bangor (ME) Daily News do nothing to allay our concerns. The U.S. military contains to many drunken frat boys with president of the university in cahoots.

Congress itself seems bent on protecting the status quo:

The hope that Congress would adopt bold measures to end the epidemic of sexual abuse within the military seems headed for the same heap of broken promises that has accompanied each new scandal over the decades. Disappointing moves in the House and Senate last week failed to address the core issue of a biased chain of command. Unless there’s a change of heart — or action by a commander in chief who claims to want results — unwanted sexual contact and assaults in the ranks will continue to go unreported and unpunished.

Chief of Army Lt Gen David Morrison, Australia

Lieutenant-General David Morrison

Legislation that would have taken decisions about sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and placed them in the hands of independent prosecutors was killed Wednesday in a Senate committee; the House refused even to discuss the matter. The Senate Armed Services Committee was the scene of an emotional debate as supporters of the measure, which had bipartisan support, pointed to the abject failure of military officials — dating to the first publicly known scandal in 1991 — to fix the problem.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., lead sponsor of the measure, offered vivid testimony of why military sexual assault victims don’t trust the current system. “The assailant is usually someone senior to them, someone up the chain, someone senior, more decorated, Purple Heart recipient, someone who has done great acts of bravery, and they see that the chain of command will not be objective.” Of the 26,000 unwanted sexual contact incidents in 2012 contained in a recent Defense Department survey, only 3,374 were reported and, Gillibrand said, only one in 10 ended up going to trial.

In recent days at least one military leader—and him an Aussie–has moved front and center showing at least one clear and straightforward response to such actions. Hubspot uses this as an example of how to handle bad PR. Truthfully, it is an example of how you lead:

There’s a huge scandal going on in Australia over allegations that 17 members of the defense forces, including officers, were sharing explicit emails and photos that denigrate women. The kicker: this happened at a time when Australia has been actively encouraging women to join the Army.

Instead of slinking into the shadows to avoid the scandal, Australia’s Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, makes a brilliant move: He tackles the issue head-on in the amazing PSA below. In the video, he tells sexist soldiers that the Army (and the world for that matter) has changed, that sexism in any form won’t be tolerated, and, “If that doesn’t suit you, get out.”

General Morrison also leaves us with a quote that we do well to remember, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

How true this is. The level of injustice from which we are willing to divert our eyes is the level we give tacit approval. It is only the injustice we act against in some way that we truly oppose.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.