Our military is facing a sexual assault crisis. And this week a prominent opinion writer for The Wall Street Journal, James Taranto, made it worse. In a piece about Sen. Claire McCaskill’s ongoing effort to hold military leaders accountable for their failure to address sexual assault, Taranto sharply criticized McCaskill and spent hundreds of words on what boils down to rape apologia.
In an absurd and frankly disgusting twist of logic, Taranto framed McCaskill’s effort—and the overall campaign to end sexual assault in the military—as a “war on men.” He refers to a potential sexual assault as “hanky-panky” and “sexual recklessness,” an attempt to create a veneer that’s so misguided it nearly left us breathless. On its face, this type of denial is flatly offensive, but it also points to a much larger problem. Language like Taranto’s is at the very heart of the ongoing sexual-assault crisis facing our military and its servicewomen.
More than 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, and nearly one in three women in the military reported unwanted sexual contact. Calling sexual assaults “hanky-panky” and a good faith effort to prosecute rapists a “war against men” perpetuates the exact culture that allows these outrageously high levels of assault to continue. Let’s be clear about what Taranto is doing: He is victim-blaming, plain and simple. And it’s this victim-blaming that leads to a lack of accountability and the misogynistic climate that enables assaulters to repeat their crimes. It prevents survivors from reporting attacks and stymies discipline against perpetrators.
Quite simply, our servicewomen deserve better than James Taranto. They deserve a government and a country that address this ongoing crisis, instead of denying it. Rape apologia and acceptance like Taranto’s is a direct insult to the thousands of brave men and women who have survived assault and to those of us who love and respect them.
The military, and any of us who value it, should be gravely concerned. Potential recruits like Shabren Kurtz-Russ, whose mother was gang-raped and then denied justice, are rejecting the military for its failure to properly address sexual assault. And the problems don’t stop there. Language like Taranto’s also normalizes, even encourages, ongoing inequalities like the wage gap, politicized attempts to restrict reproductive justice and continuing inequalities.
Taranto has consistently spewed hateful rhetoric and sexist doctrine. It’s time we tell The Wall Street Journal to stop allowing Taranto to broadcast such ridiculous and offensive rants.
Join the Ms. Foundation for Women and the Service Women’s Action Network in telling the Journal it’s time to censure James Taranto for his acceptance of sexual assault. Sign our petition that calls for the disciplining of Taranto and a formal meeting with the Journal’s editorial board. The best form of justice for sexual-assault survivors is progress that will lead to no other service member enduring the same horrors.
Anu Bhagwati is the executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit organization that works to end discrimination, harassment and assault in the military. She is a former Marine Corps captain and company commander.
Anika Rahman is the president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.