During my reunion this weekend, we sat in a briefing by the Superintendent of the Military Academy, Lieutenant General Franklin L. Hagenbeck. I liked his style, and I got the feeling that he was a good leadership presence for the Cadets. He was able to pull of the “Vaguely Self Deprecating” air of someone in a position of authority that has confidence in his ability. It looks like the military training is making excellent strides toward focusing the Cadets on both the likely deployment scenarios of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as being ready to act as diplomats anywhere on the world stage.
He did answer one question with a disturbing answer. A grad asked him what was being done to protect the women of the corps from sexual assault and harassment. The answer he gave detailed the story of four cadets, Two men from the First (Firsties, or Seniors) Class and two women from the Fourth (Plebes, or Freshman) Class. According to West Point regulations, Plebes and upperclassmen cannot date. The Seniors were expelled and the Plebes were severely castigated. The following year, the women related there stories to the incoming Plebes, and he stated something to the effect that “Those plebes said it was the most important thing they heard.”
West Point has long had a zero tolerance policy for Sexual misconduct. A friend of mine got caught having sex with her boyfriend during our Plebe year, and they both got expelled. Contrast this with the expected behavior at any non-military school in the country, and you will see a severe divide in expectations. College is a time of growth and learning. A time when many people seek out new experiences. People that are so inclined explore sexually. There are a lot of problems from sex: Unwanted Pregnancies, STDs and emotional traumas, and those are only counting the problems from consensual sex. But these same problems exist throughout adult life, and the expectation is that, at 18, you are old enough to start making your own serious choices, and living with the consequences. West Point, in contrast, propels the Victorian notion that Cadets should not have sex. Doing so is wrong and will be punished. I found that approach wrong then, and I feel it is wrong now. But my problem with the Supe’s answer goes beyond disagreeing with a policy decision.
The question was not about consensual sex. The question was about rape and other forms of sexual assault. I wasn’t there when the two women spoke, and did not hear the details of the talk, but my understanding was that the trauma that those two women described in their talks to the Plebe women was inflicted by the Academies enforcement of the rules, not the relationships. These women were willing participants in these relationships, not raped. That the Superintendent would even confuse these two issues shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.
Perhaps the Supe thought that the women were taken advantage of by their superiors, Command rape as it is sometimes called. If so, he did not make it clear. But if so, making them stand in front of a group of women and describe it is probably not the right way to get these women counseling. The Plebe women were not the logical recipient: if it is rape, then they are the potential victims. The right group to focus on is the upperclassMEN who might be so inclined to take advantage of their subordinates. But I suspect that these women entered into improper relations with men outside of their chain-of-command, most likely through an activity or club. This conjecture on my part is based on numerous similar relationships I’ve heard of during my time as a cadet.
The right answer would have addressed actions taken to prevent Cadets from committing real sex crimes, not just violating Academy policy. I am sure the the School does these things: I remember much education when I was there, and locks on the doors for the Women’s rooms. There are cameras in the hallways and patrols around base by Military Police, and a slew of other things. I am sure that West Point is doing its damnedest to protect our Women Cadets. I just wish the Supe had told us about those things, and not answered the wrong question. Sexual misconduct as defined by the United States Corps of Cadets is not the same thing as sexual assault.