Monday, May 12, 2014

Sex Assault’s “New Paradigm”

From the Christian Science Monitor:

US military's new tactic to curtail sexual assaults: nab serial 'predators'

To combat sexual assaults, military officials shift tactics to focus on ferreting out serial predators. Here's why they're increasingly convinced that relatively few people in the ranks commit the bulk of such crimes.

Caveat:  the article deploys the weasel words “sexual assault” throughout; we the readers are encouraged to assume “rape”, but in fact this category covers everything from rape to ass-grabbing.

By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer / February 24, 2014


The Pentagon, under pressure to show progress on bringing down rates of sexual assault, is putting new emphasis on ferreting out serial predators within the ranks, as military officials become increasingly convinced that relatively few people are responsible for the bulk of sex crimes.

The new direction is being driven by anecdotal experiences of some commanders, as well as by research showing that in certain semi-closed settings – such as college campuses – as many as 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by serial offenders.

“We think it tends to be, more often than we’ve believed before, ‘serial predators’ with more than one victim,” retired Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, who earlier this month left her post as director of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said in an interview. “If you get rid of just one of these predators, it’s pretty significant.”

Some perpetrators have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of victims in a lifetime, says [former director of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office retired Maj. Gen. Margaret] Woodward, citing studies by psychologists who are now doing consulting work with the Pentagon.

This is either true or it isn’t true.  On the one hand, I’m leery of contract psychologists pushing the Next Big Thing, but on the other, it’s not inherently implausible that drunken sluts are a minority taste.

However . . .

This necessarily involves a revamped approach – one that turns away from education campaigns that caution potential victims to use the “buddy system” or to dress conservatively on nights out, and more toward aggressive investigation of suspects in order to find other possible victims and help resolve 'he said, she said' claims.

This is important because the latest research finds that most sexual assaults are not simply a result of "mixed signals" stemming from, say, an evening of heavy drinking. “Understanding and accepting that [idea of serial perpetrators] make people understand that ‘he didn’t just drink a little too much,’ ” says Woodward.

But that is, in fact, the profile.  From the Dayton Daily News (via

Seven of the alleged Wright-Patterson assaults occurred in dormitories, five in military housing and 20 occurred off-base, according to Office of Judge Advocate data. The reported offenders were 26 active-duty airmen and six reservists, statistics showed.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base reported 32 alleged sexual assaults involving adult victims from 2010 to 2013, according to the 88th Air Base Wing Office of Staff Judge Advocate.

Fourteen of the reported victims requested prosecution of the alleged perpetrators, 11 victims did not. Three who reported assaults recanted the allegations, and the status of five others was not known, according to figures.

Among the reported victims, 15 were active-duty service members, three were reservists, four were military dependents and 10 were "non-base connected civilians," Wright-Patterson reported.

Eight of the victims were between 18 and 20 years old, 16 were between the ages of 21 and 24 and eight were 24 or older or the age was unknown.

Twenty-six of the reported incidents involved alcohol, five did not and it was unknown if alcohol was involved in one incident, authorities reported.

So while exactly none of these alleged assailants were “serial perpetrators” over the last four years, 81% of the incidents involved abuse of alcohol.  I don’t slight the satisfaction that comes from seeing one’s enemy receive his comeuppance, but wouldn’t it be better all around if these 26 women didn’t elevate their risk of victimization by their behavior?

Returning to the CSM article:

Today, military law enforcement officers investigating sexual assault crimes are increasingly being trained to dig into the history of the accused, rather than mainly into how the alleged victim behaved in the hours before the alleged assault.

“Obviously you’re going to investigate the incident, but we need to investigate the alleged offender, too,” [Pentagon consultant Dr. David] Lisak says. “Are there any other victims?”

“The biggest thing I’ve seen in our investigators is going from a bias toward investigating the victim,” he says. “If you go into the case with the mind-set that false allegations are rare but [that] perpetrators will perpetrate more than one crime – now that’s power. You may actually find incidents in the perpetrator’s past. It’s easier to prove five assaults than one.”

Looking again at the Wright-Pat data, anywhere from 9% (the recantations) to 34% (the requests not to prosecute) of the 32 initial reports were, legally speaking, false.  That’s not exactly “rare”.  But I will stipulate that smart “serial predators” might be seeking out or creating the circumstances where the boundaries of consent become blurred.

The shift toward digging harder into the backgrounds of sex-crime suspects may in turn put less emphasis on potential victims and their behavior.

“For many years, the way we tried to combat sexual assault was we taught our potential victims to be ‘harder targets,’ if you want to call it that,” [commander of the Eighth Fighter Wing at Kusan Air Force Base, Col. S. Clinton ] Hinote says. The admonishments were never to walk alone, always to have a buddy, don’t get drunk, don’t go out with people you don’t trust, or don’t wear provocative clothing.

“Some of these are unwritten rules, but everyone knows the rules,” Hinote says. The problem “is that if a victim violates one of these unwritten rules and comes forward, there is a possibility that someone might say, ‘Well, what were you wearing? Were you drunk? Did you go out without a buddy? Did you have a plan for getting home?

Except knowing the rules and following the rules are two different things.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that all the men know that “sexual assault is really, really bad” by now.  And yet at least some men are still doing it, and some women are making themselves vulnerable to it.

“This can pretty quickly transform into victim-blaming,” he adds.

Actually, no.  The reason these questions are important is because the criminality of the event depends entirely on the victim’s communicated state of mind.  Nobody is trying to “blame the victim” in the sense of saying, “you deserved what happened to you.”  What any good faith investigation is going to try to find out is, “are you the kind of person, and do you live the kind of life, that makes your expressed or implied consent in this instance likely or unlikely.”  Because that is what will determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

If investigators find other victims, “that will bolster credibility in a ‘he said, she said’ scenario,” notes the Air Force’s Woodward.

True enough, and I entirely agree that the “sexual history” of the accused ought to be no less at issue than that of the victim . . . but no more either.  And it bothers me that they are presented here as alternatives rather than complements.


Elusive Wapiti said...

Thanks for posting about this. I am very uncomfortable with the practice of investigating the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of an accused's past, but the accuser's past is a no-go. Seems like tilting the field of justice even more against the accused.

I question the implications of the article as well. Just because investigators are increasingly being trained to dig even deeper into the history of the accused doesn't mean it didn't happen before this sex assault jihad shifted into high gear.

Also, the 9 - 34% false-to-questionable accusation stats are potentially even worse. When you add in the number of acquittals at trial (2) to the number of outright recantations (3), that suggests to me that 15% of the unrestricted WPAFB sex assault allegations are outright false, with an additional 25% as questionable as the accuser requests that the accused not be prosecuted for unknown reasons.

Hmmm. 15% Where have we seen this before? Oh, wait, right about here.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts: