It is bad enough when high-ranking military officers are arrested for sexual assault, including instructors who have assaulted trainees. It is almost unthinkable that two military members recently arrested happened to be in charge of or were associated with sexual assault prevention programs for their respective services. It is not hyperbole to say that the US military is in a sexual assault crisis not seen since the Navy’s Tailhook scandal.
To extract itself from this sexual assault wash cycle, the Air Force, in which we serve, along with other branches of the military, must take swift action to recognize many of the underlying behaviors that lead to sexual assault and warn its Airmen accordingly. Specifically, it is imperative that the Air Force recognize the direct link between sexual assaults and the elevated amount of pornography consumption in its ranks. Pornography has become the new drug of many Airmen, and the service must help its members deal with this addictive new health hazard.
Members of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGs) can help solve this problem and provide insight from their unique perspective on military duty. Military legal offices work closely with the military commanders to help maintain good order and discipline, and as a result, get to see the “ugly side” of the military services. Daily, they conduct investigations of and prosecute crimes committed by military members. JAGs also provide free legal advice to service members on a whole range of issues such as divorce, which offers JAGs another window into the causes of common personal problems. Many JAGs also gain rare insight into the root causes of crimes like sexual assault committed by Airmen.
The military’s sexual assault problem is grim, but unfortunately, the current Air Force sexual assault prevention training, although well-intended, is not cutting the mustard. A brief anecdote might help illuminate the issue.
The thermonuclear missile base, Francis. E. Warren Air Force Base, is located on the windswept grassy plains of eastern Wyoming. A few years back, the base was struck by a rash of child pornography cases among its ranks. Numerous Airmen were prosecuted for possession of child pornography after local authorities discovered that they had downloaded images and videos from file sharing websites. The legal office spent years prosecuting these tragic cases.
To stop the bleeding, JAGs fanned out across the base to warn Airmen about how to avoid child pornography. For the most part, the JAGs simply advised them to be cautious in which websites they visit.
Tragically, they often failed to advise them to stay away from the highly addictive, legal, adult online pornography, which in nearly every case preceded the descent into the seedy world of child pornography. Unsurprisingly, child pornography crime still occurs at F. E. Warren and many other bases. Regrettably, the Air Force is still not warning its Airmen of the dangers to their lives and careers associated with frequent consumption of legal adult pornography.
Better training is needed now more than ever because the military’s sexual assault problem is grim. According to a recent Department of Defense study, 26,000 military members reported being a victim of some type of sexual assault last year. This number is up from 19,300 reports in 2010. The sexual assault statistics in the Air Force alone are no better. The preliminary figures for 2012 reveal almost 800 reported cases, which is a 30 percent increase. The Pentagon recently admitted that sexual assault within the military is a “persistent problem,” and that the services need to do more to prevent them.
Current sexual assault prevention training can best be described as changing conditions without changing people. This is a recipe for failure. A 2012 Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Direction letter on sexual assault prevention and response confirmed that the current training falls short of being effective and stressed that reducing high-risk behaviors and personal vulnerabilities associated with sexual assault must become part of the training. Current Air Force training does not address these types of behaviors and root causes, such as pornography consumption, that lead to sex crimes.
One out of ten in the general civilian population is addicted to internet pornography. Pornographic consumption and addiction are believed to be much higher in the military, though, because of the largely young male population and frequent deployments.
In fact, in an interview with the Army Times, Navy Lt. Michael Howard, a licensed therapist and military chaplain, believes that at least 20 percent of the military is addicted to online pornography. The common theme among many military chaplains is that addiction to internet pornography is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, personal problem facing our military members today.
It is not uncommon for military members to come home from a deployment addicted to pornography. Military spouses often complain about these devastating addictions post-deployment.
The military’s pornography problem continually grabs news headlines. An Army Colonel stationed at the Army War College in Pennsylvania was recently arrested for possessing more than 10,000 images of suspected child pornography on his personal laptop. In 2006, seven paratroopers from the famed 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were caught appearing on a gay pornographic website.
In August 2012, the chief of the Defense Missile Agency was forced to issue a warning to its employees to stop accessing pornographic images from their government computers and to stop sending pornography through their network e-mails.
The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark Welsh, recognized this pornography problem and recently ordered all Air Force bases to remove all sexually explicit images from work areas. Countless pornographic images were found and removed. In addition, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, recently ordered a similar inspection to be conducted at all military bases.
Although it is an issue that some still try to debate, mounting research shows that legal adult pornography is dangerous, especially the highly addictive internet pornography available at all times and on nearly every communication device. Research also shows a direct link between pornography consumption and the commission of sex crimes. In fact, in a recent interview, General Welsh alluded to the link between pornographic images adorning walls and a culture of sexual assault.
Like many JAGs, civilian prosecutors have also learned from their cases that pornography consumption can create and feed deviant and dangerous behaviors. The infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, who raped and killed thirty-six to fifty young women and girls, placed much of the blame for his actions on pornography just before he was executed in 1989, saying:
In the beginning, it [pornography] fuels this kind of thought process . . . Like an addiction, you keep craving something that is harder, harder, something which gives you a greater sense of excitement—until you reach a point where the pornography only goes so far, you reach that jumping-off point where you begin to wonder if maybe actually doing it would give you that which is beyond just reading or looking at it.
Another infamous serial killer, Arthur Gary Bishop, who was executed in 1983 for sodomizing and killing five young boys, stated that “pornography was not the only negative influence in my life, but its effect on me was devastating . . . pornography was a determining factor in my downfall.”
Further, many years before the creation of the Internet, J. Edgar Hoover, former director of the FBI, described pornography’s influence on sex crimes: “What we do know is that an overwhelmingly large number of cases of sex crimes is associated with pornography. We know that sex criminals read it and are clearly influenced by it . . . I believe pornography is a major source of sex violence. . . .”
Pornography is effective at shaping both beliefs and behaviors about sex. Pornography poses such a danger not only because it assaults a human being’s emotional psyche, but also because it causes physical addictions similar to hard drugs. Consequently, research shows that most people who commit a sex crime regularly view pornography.
According to Robert Weiss, director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, “Online porn is to sex addiction what crack cocaine is to drug addiction.” As detailed in the Army Times, a brain scan of a sex addict looks the same as the scan of someone who has just used cocaine. As the brain receives the pornographic images it releases adrenaline into the bloodstream, increasing the heart rate and causing sweaty palms and dilation of the eyes. The pituitary gland and hypothalamus secrete endorphins to produce dopamine, which opens up the pleasure centers of the brain; and too much dopamine is what actually causes the addiction.
Several studies have shown that all persons, normal and unbalanced, who view pornography develop a craving for more deviant materials. Many persons even begin to employ more violent methods in their sexual relations. As with drug users, those who use pornography seek more and more deviant materials to maintain their previous level of sexual arousal.
In 1988, the FBI reported that 81 percent of violent sexual offenders regularly read or viewed violent pornography. A twenty-year FBI study indicates that 81 percent of sex murderers name pornography as their most significant sexual interest, and police investigators routinely find porn in the homes of sex-crime suspects.
The research detailed above is just the tip of the iceberg documenting the connection between pornography consumption and sex crimes (websites www.pornharms.com and www.fightthenewdrug.com contain a plethora of additional research). Academic research and the documented evidence of law enforcement officials leave little doubt that pornography consumption is a significant motivator of sex crimes. It only makes sense then, that to reduce sexual assaults, the Air Force must work to limit or prevent the consumption of pornography.
Many may scoff at such an approach. They may believe pornography is victimless and in fact can be healthy for their sex lives, or even serve as a cure for loneliness while being away from one’s family. Others may not be convinced of the connection between pornography and deviant behavior because they themselves consume pornography and have no desire to commit a sex crime.
But it would be foolish to ignore the well-documented risks associated with pornography consumption. As with any other highly addictive substance, the prudent course would be to warn our military members about these risks. The military, serving the paternal role it does, already deals with alcohol and narcotic consumption in similar and ordered fashion. Leadership should also take action to help those already addicted to pornography before their lives or careers (or the lives of others) are ruined by this addiction. The Air Force specifically already has many resources in place at the base clinic, base chaplaincy, and base legal offices, among other places, to help Airmen escape pornography addiction. Additional training for commanders would be in order to educate them on this problem so they can engage with their units.
The time is now to begin this anti-pornography training campaign before more of our heroes are lost to this dangerous drug.
Disclaimer: The Authors have no intention of promulgating Department of Defense or Department of the Air Force policy. The opinions and conclusions expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Judge Advocate General, The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the State of Alabama, or any other department or agency of the U.S. Government.