[Editorial] An invisible war

By Korea Herald

Military sexual crimes must be eradicated

  • Published : Jul 23, 2014 - 19:41
  • Updated : Jul 23, 2014 - 19:41
A Navy officer in charge of a frigate was dismissed recently for allegedly molesting two of his female subordinates early this month. Heavily intoxicated after having dinner with his inferiors, the captain harassed the female officers in a bar “by groping their hips and trying to forcibly kiss them,” according to military investigators.

The harassment case, which took place around the same time that a series of North Korean missiles and rockets were launched into waters near the inter-Korean sea border, showed that sexual crimes remain a problem in the military, which has been under mounting criticism for lax discipline.

In April, two Navy officers were arrested on charges of sexually harassing a female colleague on a patrol ship. A female Army officer at a frontline unit committed suicide last October after having been repeatedly asked by her superior to spend a night with him.

The number of military sexual crimes continued to increase from 329 in 2009 to 338 in 2010, 425 in 2011 and 453 in 2012. But the actual number may be far higher ― more than 10 times higher, some experts estimate ― as many cases go unreported with victims feeling too ashamed to reveal what happened to them or resigning themselves to the submissive role of subordinates in military culture.

In this sense, it was commendable for the two female officers to have immediately reported the incident to their captain’s superior. The Navy also took due steps to promptly dismiss the captain from his post and refer him to the military prosecution for legal punishment.

The military should stick to a zero-tolerance policy regarding sex crimes involving servicepersons. Needless to say, a strong military needs not only well-trained soldiers and sophisticated weaponry but also stern discipline. Eradicating sexual crimes is an essential part of tightening military discipline.

The task of rooting out sexual harassment and enhancing gender equality is becoming more urgent for the South Korean armed forces, which plans to increase the proportion of female personnel from the current 4.7 percent to more than 6 percent by 2020. With the number of male youths subject to mandatory conscription decreasing, servicewomen are set to assume a greater role in defending the nation. Given the conditions of high tech-based modern warfare, female officers’ sophisticated capabilities will be in more need.

A report on sexual violence within the French military that was released in February was entitled “An Invisible War,” shedding light on the seriousness of a problem that is mostly under the surface. Military authorities here should disclose all sexual crimes committed in barracks and bring the offenders to justice. Attempts to cover up incidents will make the invisible war go on perennially, eroding the military posture against increasing threats from North Korea and growing tensions between regional powers.

A thorough analysis of all disclosed cases is needed to have an accurate grasp of the circumstances, causes and types of military sexual crimes and the specific traits of offenders. This will help us work out more effective measures, including more appropriate education programs, to prevent sexual violence within the military.

It is especially necessary to lift all barriers, both practical and psychological, that make victimized female officers hesitate to report what they have suffered. Reporting channels should be more diversified and responses should be carried out more swiftly and effectively. It must be guaranteed that those who have reported sexual harassment cases will not be discriminated against in any form. In a more positive move, consideration may be given to providing victims with advantages in terms of promotions and other benefits.