Our group commander held a CC call in our agency auditorium the other day. I always make it a point to arrive late to group CC calls and lurk around the entranceways, seeing how our group CC is likely the most long-winded individual ever to be trusted with the authority to gather people into an auditorium and talk at them. This allows me to make as many bathroom breaks and/or early departures as necessary. For instance, this call was executed in two stages: the first stage lasting 40 minutes; the second, after a brief intermission, going for 2.5 hours.
Until I actually get in trouble for treating “mandatory” calls as optional, the lurk-in-the-entranceways strategy seems like an optimum strategy.
During stage one, the group CC talked about Sexual Assault, Prevention and Response (SAPR). These lectures are now a semi-permanent feature of all military-ish formations, much as mandatory harangues about “sexual harassment” went on in the years between, roughly, Tailhook on one end, and Monica Lewinski on the other. Our group CC puts an above average amount of energy* into this, and during this particular call he told us a story.
The story was about testimony he heard during what I took to be SAPR “facilitator” training that he had attended. (I’m not clear whether he was the beneficiary of this training as a volunteer, or whether he received it by virtue of being an O-6.) The testimony was from a female second lieutenant who told of being almost the victim of a sexual assault.
As retailed by our group CC, her story went like this: newly assigned to our installation, the LT was going about attending the usual slate of orientation briefings when she received an email from a major (“I don’t remember his name; let’s call him ‘Major Smith’,” said our group CC) that went something like this: “Hi, welcome to our base, hope you like it hear, drop me a line if you ever want me to show you around.” The LT wondered why she was receiving this email. She carefully checked his organization – all emails from military addresses come with the rank and organization in the “Reply To” line, and in any case, any member of the DOD can be looked up on the Global Address Book – but no, he was not in her chain of command, nor was he from any other organization with a direct professional interest in base newcomers.
Other emails soon followed in like vein: perfectly friendly if overly-familiar, free of any suggestiveness or innuendo. I didn’t catch whether or not she replied to any of them, but if she did she was soon routing all his emails straight to the Junk Mail folder and deleting them unread. Eventually, he contrived to introduce himself in person, and she was soon avoiding him physically. In one instance, she spotted him at some base assembly or other, and actually hid in the bathroom afterwards for half an hour with the intent of avoiding him. It was to naught; when she emerged from the bathroom, he was waiting for her with, “Hey, good to see you again!” Again, he made no threats or sexual remarks.
Eventually, she filed a formal complaint with the Equal Opportunity Office, but was unaware if anything came of it. She noticed when his name showed up on a list of selectees for promotion, and at that point went to her own commander. The commander apparently called the major’s previous installation and asked about him, learning that, yes, they had had some complaints about behavior like this, but nothing was actionable beyond counseling.
The lieutenant was eventually invited to tell her story of being “groomed” for sexual assault and/or rape to people attending SAPR facilitator training, where our group CC heard it. It wasn’t immediately clear why he was telling the story to the peonage, but he stated emphatically that his reaction when confronted with a like situation would be to warn the would-be rapist, “I may not be able to prove it in a court of law, but I know what you’re about.”
Several thoughts about this:
- The dynamic has been well described in this corner of the ‘sphere: a low status or unattractive man – you can take my word that the rank of major, in and of itself, carries little cachet in the Air Force – takes notice of a woman of middling attractiveness. But because he’s a chickensh!t (hey, I can relate!) he doesn’t approach her directly, but rather, with whatever intention, tries to insinuate himself into her “friend zone” so he can try to “convert”. Meanwhile, the woman, perceiving the loss of status by interacting as a peer with a low status man, and believing that better opportunities are being crowded out, seeks to discourage further interactions, and enlists allies to that cause with words like “creep”, “stalker”, and now, apparently, “rapist”.
- As a general matter, I’m disinclined to take sides in this contest. I’m done with vicariously white-knighting for women with whom I don’t actually have a relationship. But I would like to point out that this kind of behavior is statistically unlikely to lead to a favorable outcome, and at some threshold gives social ineptitude a bad name. The adage, “Don’t crap where you eat,” comes to mind here: under the present regime, our best bet is to ignore women at work unless they approach us — and perhaps even then. (Yes, I appreciate that it is easy for me to say this, being safely married.)
- The last I checked in on sexual harassment law, “unwelcome conduct” must be of a “sexual nature” to be legally actionable from an EEO perspective. Is that still true? If so, and since by her own account the lieutenant’s pursuer never said or did anything sexual, it’s not clear the EEO office had any recourse. But over the last few years, commanders have put in place their own much broader policies, and they can and do issue no-contact orders at their own (unlimited?) discretion. I assume that this particular major was eventually a recipient of such an order, although I do not remember that from the group CC’s narrative.
- I note without comment that the lieutenant here was immediately suspicious of the major’s first unsolicited email.
- I’m obviously a supporter of “profiling”, “stereotypes”, or any other name we wish to give statistical generalizations. But I do insist that the generalizations be backed up by actual evidence. I have over the years seen several profiles of rapists, and “beta” (or, if you prefer, “bad beta”) was not among their characteristics. Does anyone have any new evidence on this front? Was the lieutenant, or whoever put her on the SAPR curriculum, or our group CC aware of such evidence? Or was the chain of reasoning merely: a woman doesn’t like a man’s behavior! Therefore, he must be rapist! Q.E.D.!
- Did it not occur to anybody that, having had his background investigated at both this installation and the previous one, and having been found free of even an allegation of rape, that the major might be, you know, not actually a rapist?
- Am I to believe that the only thing standing between this major and being libeled as a wannabe rapist before several hundred people was that my group CC had forgotten his name? Because wouldn’t accusing a man, by name, in a public assembly, of planning a crime, for which our group CC admitted he had no actual evidence, itself be against the law? It certainly shows a reckless disregard for the man’s reputation.
* Most senior officers, like most humans, would just as soon tell the truth when doing so doesn't cost them anything. But some fraction of them enthusiastically propagate lies as a tool of social dominance. This is what I mean by "energy".