In the wacky world of Washington D.C., policy issues are often consigned to self-contained stove pipes by the media and single-issue advocates. As a result, media stories on Topic A oftentimes neglect to broaden the policy dialogue, and thus inform policymakers, by bringing in closely related issues contained in Topic B. Why the media does this is subject to some debate; the fact that it happens is not debatable.
Take for example recent coverage of two closely related topics: sexual assault in the military, and sexual assault on college campuses.
Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) filed a report entitled “Campus Rape Reports Are Up, And Assaults Aren’t the Only Reason.” Culling data from the Department of Education, and, no doubt in part because of the administration’s new report on how to combat campus sexual assault, NPR found that reported forcible rapes at four-year colleges increased 49 percent between 2008 and 2012.
NPR concludes that “sexual assault is a persistent and ugly problem on college campuses,” but also concludes that there is a silver lining in this explosion in reported rapes: “there’s also a way to look at the rise in reports and see something positive: It means more students are willing to come forward and report this underreported crime.”
There is no doubt that sexual assault on college campuses is a serious issue, and one that must be approached in a sober, measured manner, as Heritage has written.
While NPR concludes that the increase in reported sexual assault on college campuses is “something positive,” in another policy pipe stove, an Associated Press and Washington Post report today notes that sexual assault in the military have risen 50 percent. According to this article, the military has “long struggled to get victims to report sexual assault in a stern military culture.” In other words, the military has a growing problem.
So an increase in reporting on college campuses is something positive, but an increase in reporting in the military is proof of systemic problems? Only in Washington.
Critics of the military’s criminal justice system, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.), will no doubt castigate military leaders for the increase in reported sexual assaults, repeating the call to radically upend the chain of command. But as we wrote in our special report “Sexual Assault In the Military: Understanding the Problem and How to Fix It,” the Gillibrand scheme, if enacted, would result in fewer sexual assault prosecutions, more sexual assaults, and would fundamentally weaken our ability to fight and win wars. That is why we recommended other reforms to the military justice system—many of which Congress passed last year.
Heritage is studying the issues surrounding campus sexual assault, including the recommendations recently published by the Obama administration. Like we did with regard to the issue of military sexual assault, Heritage will write a fact-based, sober assessment of the problem and how to fix it.