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Marine officer: Scope of sex assault problem exaggerated

Jul. 14, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Lindsay Rodman is a Harvard-educated lawyer who delved into women studies as an undergraduate at Duke. She is also a Marine Corps officer.
Lindsay Rodman is a Harvard-educated lawyer who delved into women studies as an undergraduate at Duke. She is also a Marine Corps officer. (Matthew R. Turk via USA Today)
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WASHINGTON — Lindsay Rodman is a Harvard-educated lawyer who delved into women studies as an undergraduate at Duke. She is also a Marine Corps officer.

Now assigned to the Pentagon as a lawyer, Capt. Rodman has viewed the growing debate over sexual assault in the military with growing alarm. Her concern: the Pentagon’s study on sexual assault has exaggerated the scope of the problem, leading to Draconian “solutions” from Capitol Hill that will only make things worse.

“If we are exaggerating what is going on rather than being precise about it then we are doing ourselves a disservice by helping perpetuate the problem,” Rodman says.

Rodman, 32, hastens to say she is speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the Marine Corps or the Pentagon. She recently has been assigned to the Joint Staff as a lawyer concentrating on sexual assault issues, but as a junior officer will have little influence over policy.

Still, her opinions have posed a direct challenge to prevailing wisdom in much of Congress, the media and Pentagon bureaucracy.

A recent opinion article she wrote for The Wall Street Journal caused a stir by questioning the core conclusions in the Pentagon’s 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Media. The study concluded that last year 26,000 active duty servicemen and women experienced “unwanted sexual contact,” which ranges from groping to rape.

The conclusions were drawn from 24,000 responses after sending surveys to 108,000 active duty personnel. The survey determined that 6.1 percent of the female respondents experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012 and 1.2 percent of men.

The survey then “extrapolated” based on the size of the armed forces to arrive at the 26,000 figure.

Rodman calls the survey “bad math” and has questioned how random the sample was. The number of reported sexual assault cases in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011.

Nathan Galbreath, a top official in the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said it is common in polling to extrapolate results based on a sample — that’s how most political polling works — and stood by the results.

“This is a very stringent survey that’s done with the best of controls that are out there,” Galbreath said. “Our confidence in those numbers is extremely high.”

“I don’t think any of us here in the department have a vested interest in wanting to exaggerate the problem,” he said.

Rodman, who joined the Marine Corps after law school in order to broaden her experience, watched in horror as the issue of sexual assault in the armed services began to follow the well-worn path of a Washington scandal. A report was issued. Lawmakers expressed shock and hauled the service chiefs before congressional committees. Legislation was proposed, including proposals designed to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. Generals pledged to attack the problem.

“The situation of sexual exploitation in the armed services is beyond the pale,” said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war, said he could not provide an unqualified recommendation to women considering to join the military. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called sexual assault in the military an “epidemic.”

Fearful of appearing defensive if they challenged the scope of the problem, the brass pledged to take action as lawmakers questioned them.

“It’s been very hard for me to watch our senior leaders,” Rodman said. “Any four-star (general) who says anything publicly about this immediately gets picked apart and their word choice gets quibbled with.”

“They have let this caricature snowball without responding and now they are having to respond in the face of that caricature,” Rodman said.

Rodman insists she is not a closet conservative attempting to score political points. She supports the idea of increasing opportunities for women in the military, including the infantry. She said she was one credit shy of a women’s studies minor at Duke.

But Rodman said she was offended by the way the problem has been characterized, and it flies in the face of her own experience in the military. She said her inbox overflowed with positive emails from men and women after her Wall Street Journal op-ed appeared.

“I am not going around saying we don’t have an issue in the military,” she said. “There’s a lot we can do to make the military more friendly to women.”

“I want people to know that about me,” Rodman said. “It’s very important we do right by victims.”

But somewhere along the line truth became a casualty, Rodman said.

“The agenda should be to identify the problem, to come up with a solution,” she said. “That’s not what I see happening right now.”

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