A Math Lesson

20 May

sexual assault posterI teach math. My son, who is practically a mathematical genius (he got a perfect score on the trig part of the ACT), thinks this is hilarious. He maintains I am terrible at math.

I will grant that I used to be bad at math; there’s nothing like teaching a subject to motivate you to understand it. So, I am no longer bad at math. Now, the formulas that gave me fits in school are starting to become friends. I even look forward to teaching my math classes.

One of the things I love teaching is percentages. Once we get a handle on the “for every hundred of these, there are whatever of those” bit, we can start playing around with different percentages of things. I especially like asking my students if they would like say, one percent of a million pieces of candy or five percent of 100,000 pieces of candy. “Duh, Ms. Janice,” they invariably say, “we want the five percent.”

“Why do you want the five percent?” I ask.

“Because five percent is bigger than 1 percent.”

Then we do the math. I love to see their stunned little faces when they find out that one percent of a million is a lot more than 5 percent of 100,000.

Recently, I was similarly stunned. I’ve been keeping up on the sexual assault reporting in the media and on the Internet. Kind of hard to avoid it, actually. I was appalled, rightly so, at the number of women in the military who have been sexually assaulted. Turns out, based on a DOD annual survey of sexual assault in the military, that six percent of military women say they were assaulted in some way in the prior year. I believe them.

Because I always zig when every one is zagging, I wondered if our military men were being assaulted as well. Turns out that only 1.2 percent surveyed said they’d been assaulted. Well, that’s better, I thought.

Then, I remembered my math classes and the million pieces of candy.

Based on DOD figures released in January of this year, there are 1,429,995 people currently serving in the military.1 Of those, 210,485 are women.2 That means there are 1,219,510 men in the service. Six percent of the women—12,629—were sexually assaulted. So how much does 1.2% of men work out to? 14,634.3

In other words, more than 2,000 more men than women were sexually assaulted last year.

That’s a hell of a lot of people that no one is talking about, no one is writing blog posts about, no one—in essence—cares about.

In fact, the only mention I’ve seen of men being sexually assaulted was by Leon Panetta when he estimated the number of attacks in 2011 by service members on other service members — both women and men — was close to 19,000, more than six times the number of reported attacks. In 2010, 3,158 sexual assaults were reported.4

It’s no surprise that sexual assault goes unreported. We’ve been hearing about women’s reluctance to come forward about attacks. But as reluctant as female service members are to report sexual assault, imagine how much more reluctant male service members are, particularly given that 94 percent of assailants are men.3

I can’t think of a culture more driven by macho than the military, except maybe professional wrestling and that’s all make-believe. Frankly, I’m surprised that even 1.2 percent of men told the DOD survey takers about their assaults. The survey also questioned participants about the nature of the assault. Women were pretty forthcoming about how they were assaulted. Some 19 percent, though, declined to give specifics; 36 percent of male victims declined to tell what was done to them.

We have no problem seeing women as victims, but women also have no problem shouting loudly and frequently when we are victimized. But men and sexual assault? When we think men and sexual assault, the vision that comes to mind is drunken football players or psychopaths like Ariel Castro and Ted Bundy. While the military has a sexual assault response team, men just don’t use it. Consider these words of a service man regarding the PTSD he suffers:

We’re urged to self-refer and seek help, but most of us were raised to be silent bearers of our problems, which is why the military culture suits us well – we are by nature stoic and Spartan.

While that soldier’s PTSD does not derive from sexual assault, PTSD is far more common among male victims of sexual assault in the military (65%) than it is for women (46%).5, 6 And that gets us back to our math lesson.  If 65% of male victims suffer PTSD, that works out to 9,512 service men. Experts in military PTSD state that PTSD stemming from sexual assault causes more lasting damage than that caused by  battle experiences.5

I consider myself a feminist, as do most of the women voicing their outrage and disgust over sexual assault of women in the military. Maybe it’s because I have a son, maybe it’s because I remember Gloria Steinem and her call for gender equality, but if we have a feminism that is only outraged when women are victims, then we don’t have a feminism I want to be part of.

Ignoring the majority of victims of sexual assault in the military isn’t fair and it isn’t right. My fervent hope is that everyone outraged enough to speak out will speak out for all of the victims, not just the women.

I am indebted to BrainRants for his moving description of PTSD. Please read it here.

  1. http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/MILITARY/ms0.pdf  “Armed Forces Strength Figures for January 31, 2013”. United States Department of Defense. Retrieved May 20, 13
  2. http://www.statisticbrain.com/women-in-the-military-statistics/
  3. http://www.sapr.mil/media/pdf/research/2012_Workplace_and_Gender_Relations_Survey_of_Active_Duty_Members-Survey_Note_and_Briefing.pdf
  4. http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/18/10184222-panetta-could-be-19000-military-sex-assaults-each-year?lite
  5. http://deploymentpsych.org/topics-disorders/sexual-assault-in-the-military
  6. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/military-sexual-trauma.asp

25 Responses to “A Math Lesson”

  1. BrainRants May 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    This may be the first time I’ve ever been quoted. Wow. Thanks for this piece – I think your math approach drives home the problem very well. Sexual assault is a problem in ranks, and most estimates for the assaulted men are seen as far below actual numbers because of the stigma. One thing I believe we need to do is de-couple the ‘sex’ from this kind of abuse. There’s nothing sexual about it – it is everything about power and control.

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

      I was appalled when I sat down and ran the numbers. I am absolutely convinced that there are many, many more men affected. You’re right; we need to take the “sex” out of it, but I don’t know what word we’d use instead. Any ideas?

      • BrainRants May 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

        I’m no genius, but I’d say just call it assault like it is, or perhaps the categorizers of the world would like ‘assault with a sexual organ.’

      • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

        That’s creative! I’m not sure why categories are necessary, except to lawyers and judges.

      • philosophermouseofthehedge May 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

        Applause for both of you for your all comments.
        Assault is assault.
        Equal means equal.
        Selectiveness to press any agenda is wrong

  2. sukanyabora May 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Wow I was vaguely aware of this but your stats do add a whole new layer to this atrocity. I am with you with the feminism bit- it all boils down to gender equality. Its funny how cultural all this is…regardless of the strives we have made in society, boys are still expected to tough-er than girls (hence they don’t report) and when they don’t meet this standard, they are seen as wimps.

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Boys are subjected to so many pressures, just as girls are. But, as a society, we believe that girls need to be protected and boys don’t. That’s sexist, if you ask me.

  3. Jim May 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    I know for me that being powerless at someone else’s hands is humiliating and therefore very hard to talk about. I’m not the macho man’s man type, but even then I have an innate feeling that I’m big enough and strong enough, and so being overpowered by another is very difficult to cope with. I suspect it is so for many men. Thankfully I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but I was repeatedly physically assaulted by the woman to whom I was once married. It took me some time to admit that it was abuse and talk to caregivers about it in those terms, even though I had for a long time sought treatment for the anxiety and hypervigilance and depression I was experiencing (which was misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder and two different personality disorders, in some part because I couldn’t fully verbalize the trauma I had experienced). It has been nine years now, but I’m only now willing to talk about it outside my deepest inner circle of people. How many sexually assaulted soldiers do you think have walked a similar path?

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      Jim, thank you so much for posting your comment. I know a man who was physically, mentally and verbally abused by his wife for years. I have read that the most common reaction by responding police officers discovering the victim is a male is to think how pathetic the guy is. It’s man was woken by having a bucket of cold water thrown on him and was locked in the basement. We would call a man a moster for doing such things to a woman but consider him pathetic when the abuser is a woman. That’s a damaging attitude for men and women.

  4. scribblechic May 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    I keep returning to this one thought – each conversation defies the silence that perpetuates the assault, allowing us to replace shame with compassion.

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      You are such an empathic soul. I’m honored to know you.

      • scribblechic May 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

        The feeling is entirely mutual.

  5. The Waiting May 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Thank you so much for bringing light to this issue. I never would have thought about it had you not brought it up. No one deserves to be assaulted, no matter what their gender.

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      I’m not sure what made me think of it, but once I did the math, I was appalled. It makes me so sad to know that so many men will never seek the help they deserve because of a society that expects women to be victims and men to be super heroes.

  6. Kate May 20, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Wow. This is information I did not know and I am so glad you have put it out there. ANY sexual harassment is wrong.

  7. Mary Rayis May 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    Like most women, I had assumed the problem with sexual assault in the military had to do with men assaulting women. Thank you for showing that men are even more likely to be assaulted. Far from being an attack on feminism, your analysis shows that having women in the military is not the reason for the growing problem of sexual assault. In other words, men can’t blame those pesky females for infiltrating their ranks and causing discontent. We need to look more deeply into the military culture, I think, to find out why sexual assault is more prevalent in the armed forces than in the population at large. Or is it? I’m not really sure of the facts on that, but it certainly seems to be the case. Can you get your math students working on that problem?

    • jmlindy422 May 20, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

      I assumed the same thing. I should point out that any given woman in the military is more likely to be sexually assaulted than any given man. The problem is that by sheer numbers alone, more men are assaulted than women. If there were equal numbers of men and women, then there would be far more women assaulted than me. BUT, there is, literally, a million more men. That would seem to indicate, to me, that the problem can’t focus only on female victims. Helping male victims as well as female victims makes prevention and treatment far more complex.

      I have no idea what the solution would be, but recognizing there is a problem is a start. I know I ran across whether it is more likely to be assaulted in the military than it is in the population at large and I can’t remember what the answer was. I know sexual assault in the military occurs at the workplace, during work hours.

      It would be fun to put my students on the problem, but I think I’d lose my job. Not sure how I’d justify having second graders crunching the numbers on sexual assault.

  8. Mad Queen Linda May 21, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    Brilliant post. Waiting for its Fresh Press.

    • jmlindy422 May 21, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      I was just pressed about two or three months ago. I’m still recovering from it! I doubt I’ll get pressed again this soon. It would be my third, she bragged.

  9. lucewriter May 21, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Your post took a turn I couldn’t have expected! Wow, now I am feeling so bad for those guys who I never even considered before. Thanks for bringing this up! Re zigging when other zag: me too, and it wears on me sometimes haha.

  10. twistingthreads May 22, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    I think this is one of my favorite posts by you, ever, and I have liked many a post of yours, even if I haven’t had anything worthwhile to add to the conversation lately.

    I am always heartened to see someone else refer to rape and sexual assault as more than a woman’s problem, because it effects all of us. In crisis work, we were regularly reminded that as many as 1/6 men will also experience the horror some time in their lifetime, and while that is “less” than the 1/3-1/4 of women, it doesn’t make it any less worthy of attention. That’s a lot of men, women, and children, and the perpetrators of these acts come from all demographics as well. We tend to forget that, too.

    If only we, as a society, were better at teaching each other that our bodies belong to us, and that we don’t have the right to touch or use other people’s bodies without their consent or invitation. I think things are getting better (at least we can speak of these things, now, somewhat), but the numbers are still far too high. Also, you are right: if we care about the fact that acts such as these happen, an equal approach admits that they happen to more than one type of person. They can happen to anyone, and that reality, and the consequences of it, are crushing.

    • jmlindy422 May 23, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I told my therapist about this post and we talked a bit about men and sexual assault. We both believe that it is a crime that is extremely under-reported. I cringe when we make fun of prison rape, but some 22% of prison inmates are raped. In a highly male culture, that means that men are raping men, often. I have to believe that the percentage of our military men who are assaulted lies somewhere between the 1.2 percent that is reported and the 22 percent that inmates report.

  11. philosophermouseofthehedge May 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Impressive post. Stand with you on the second to the last paragraph.
    (Math? aarrrghhhh…but I love formulas and proofs and logic which is just reading, analysis and seeing the facts..which happen to include numbers…)

    • jmlindy422 May 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks. Took me a while to get this one out of my head and onto “paper” in a coherent fashion. I, too, loved proofs and logic even when I couldn’t tolerate any other kind of math.

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