Professor of Gender and War. University of Sydney

Defense Secretary discusses women in combat and potential problems for recruitment

SUMMARY: Defense Secretary Ash Carter noted in an address to reserve officer trainees at Georgetown University that the military’s sexual assault problem could deter new recruits from the forces. Carter noted that the department had ‘achieved some success in dealing with the problem, implementing 150 congressional and Pentagon directives in recent years to curb sexual assault and encourage reporting of the crime.’ Yet according to a 2014 study, 18,900 military service members, more than half of who are men, had experienced unwanted sexual contact, with only a fraction reporting the incident.

In the same address, Carter told cadets that he is optimistic that all combat positions may be open to women by January 2016. He said in response to a question from a female cadet about whether all positions would be open to women, “I think most will, maybe all will, I don’t know…. I think for way too long I think we’ve underestimated how well we can do. I talked about us being a learning organization, we can learn this too so I’m pretty optimistic.”

SOURCES: David Alexander, April 22 2015, ‘Pentagon chief warns sexual assault problem could deter recruits,’ Reuters,
Jacqueline Klimas, April 22 2015, ‘Ashton Carter: ‘Maybe’ all combat jobs will be open to women in January,’ The Washington Times,

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