ANDREA PLATE WRITES – Let us all breathe a sigh of relief. Tuesday’s U.S. Senate confirmation hearings (July 30) into the matter of Air Force General John Early Hyten’s fitness to serve as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was not a #MeToo mobbing – thanks to Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot and current U.S. senator (pictured).
Hyten, accused of sexual assault by Air Force Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser, was, in fact, far better treated than former Minneapolis Senator Al Franken, who served nine years in Congress before a conservative talk radio host accused him of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour rehearsal, followed by several other female accusers. Then some two dozen Democratic senators, including presidential contenders Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, jumped on the bandwagon, called for his resignation, and Franken was railroaded out of town.
Nor was this morning’s “show” anything like the Christine Blasey/Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court spectacle — although MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, ordinarily so judicious, quickly leaped to that conclusion. But fair-minded Hawaii Senator Maisie Hirono offered a correction, pointing out that there had been indeed a full investigation of Hyten, rather than a Kavanaugh quickie.
The in-depth probe was led by Air Force veteran Martha McSally (Republican-Arizona), herself a sexual assault survivor in the military, who went so far as to declare Hyten “innocent.”
In the process, McSalley scored a few incontestable key points:
- Sexual assault in the military is a horrific problem to which attention must be paid.
- Sexual misconduct has been an epidemic in the military for a long time (at least since the infamous 1991 Tailhook scandal in Las Vegas, when women in the Navy were assaulted by drunken male peers at the Hilton Hotel).
- In this case, to believe the male accused over the female accuser (for lack of collaborative evidence) must not be interpreted as any endorsement, or whitewashing, of such a serious issue. Sometimes, Senator McSalley seemed to suggest, it’s the right battle to fight even, as she determined in this case, when the accuser was wrong, or the evidence of assault was insufficient.
There were two other points McSally could have made:
1) An increase in reports of sexual misconduct does not signify an actual increase in its incidence; rather, more women are entering the military, so more are stepping up to report such crimes, in response to a greater openness and desire for justice in both our modern military as well as civilian society.
2) In addition, McSally and friends failed to point out an important (though tangential, in this case) fact. Roughly fifty per cent of all military sexual assaults are perpetrated by men, against men (very frequently, in the context of group hazing). And research in the field to date suggests that male victims paradoxically may suffer even more intensely than female victims- due in part to some unfortunate, popularly held myths, such as: ‘Real men don’t get raped’.
Two other female veterans on the Committee should be credited for measured but intense questioning. Tammy Duckworth (D-Minn.,) the first double amputee of the Iraq War, and Joni Ernst (Republican-Iowa) raised suspicions as to Hyten’s judgment and, therefore, his fitness to lead due to a significant delay in investigating his accuser’s allegedly “toxic” command style. Ultimately, she left his command.
As a professor of “Gender in the Military,” I have my own concerns. How many times did Hyten refer to his female accuser as a “toxic commander?” How many times did senators similarly use that term? Was she truly poisonous, or just “tough,” the term so often used pejoratively to describe strong-minded women? Alas, the senators tried to be debonair, curtsying to the notion that military sexual trauma is epidemic– we must do something! — then bowing to Hyten for his long service and apparently unblemished record.
A final note: Next time—and, unfortunately, there will indeed be many more hearings on the topic of military sexual harassment—I hope more TV news outlets broadcast them from beginning to end. Today, in the American broadcast and cable market, that option was reserved for C-Span nerds.
Andrea Plate, author of the impending book “Madness: In the Trenches of America’s Department of Veterans Affairs” (Marshall Cavendish) and a licensed clinical social worker credentialed by the state of California, is a part-time member of the BCLA faculty of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.