Professor of Gender and War. University of Sydney

When will the military have its #MeToo moment?

Military sexual violence (MSV) is an international problem. Even as MSV is a regular and predictable problem across national militaries, the institutions remain associated with discipline, order, codes of honour, and security. Indeed, across most Western states, the military remains one of the most trusted national institutions (Johnson 2018; ABC News 2018). How it is possible that national militaries maintain public legitimacy and confidence despite publicization of a consistent sexual violence epidemic? To better understand the problem of MSV and how it has been made sense of in public discourse, this project examines MSV in three international cases- the United States, Canada and Australia- with attention to the ways that the media has covered this issue over the past 30 years. The project includes analysis of the recent history of MSV within the case militaries and unique insights into how national contexts shaped distinct norms and responses to MSV. It does this through a comprehensive analysis of 30 years of media coverage of MSV in each of the case countries.

As global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp rapidly gain momentum in exposing systemic sexual assault and abuse, the military appears to have been left behind.

Despite major scandals and an increased awareness of military sexual violence across national military organisations, public commitments to preventing sexual harassment have been relatively hollow and rates of violence have not decreased.

Last year sexual assaults in the US military increased by almost 38 percent, according to a recent report by the Pentagon. In Australia the Department of Defence reported earlier this year that the number of sexual misconduct victims for 2017-18 was “similar” to  2016-17.

In addition, #MeToo and #TimesUp do not seem to have resonated with survivors of sexual violence within national militaries. While public attention to military sexual violence – including media coverage – remains largely focused on scandals, such as the infamous 2011 ‘Skype sex scandal,’ there is a glaring lack of attention devoted to overall data or trends around military sexual assault.

This panel brings together some of the world’s leading experts to discuss why military sexual violence remains a persistent problem across many national militaries, including the Australian Defence Force and the US military.

Panellists will aim to get to the heart of this issue and answer the following questions.

  • How does the media talk about military sexual assault?
  • Why haven’t the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements been embraced by service members?
  • Is military sexual violence an ‘inevitable’ by-product of having men and women working together – can it be prevented?

This event was held on Wednesday 17 July, 2019 at the University of Sydney. It was part of Megan Mackenzie’s SSSHARC Pop-up Research Lab and co-presented with the Centre for International Security Studies.

For more information about this event and speakers, please click here.