Lawmaker rips Defense secretary for remarks on sexual assault

Lawmaker rips Defense secretary for remarks on sexual assault

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) on Monday ripped Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for remarks he gave last week suggesting that putting women in ground combat jobs would make them vulnerable to sexual assault, saying it was the same logic used by the Taliban to segregate women. 

During the question-and-answer portion of a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, Carter was asked by a Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadet whether opening ground combat positions to women would worsen the problem of military sexual assault. 

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"Obviously, as we get women into more unaccustomed positions, maybe dangerous isolated positions, maybe positions where they are fewer in relation to the number of men, it opens up opportunities for predators," he said, according to Stars and Stripes

However, Carter also added that he believed that "for many people, they'll learn better how to conduct themselves, how to interact across gender lines and so forth. And that will contribute to the prevention and [eventual] eradication of sexual assaults."  

McSally — a retired Air Force colonel and the first female to fly in combat — condemned those remarks. 

"I really am concerned about that line of thinking," she said in a video that was played at the Women in International Security event on women in combat Monday.

"Look, we have a, certainly, a huge problem with sexual harassment and sexual assault," said McSally.

"But to think ... that we would have a potential rapist or assaulter who is in a U.S. military unit and is functioning there and serving there and deploying overseas and as a part of our communities when they're back home, and that we would put a female service woman in their midst, and, therefore, somehow that would make her subjected to sexual assault, and somehow that would then be her problem? 

"When you have a potential assaulter or rapist in your unit, and you would be okay with him staying there and then maybe committing assault on other civilians somewhere else?" she asked. 

"I mean, I know that's not what they're saying, but the point is, if you have a perpetrator or a potential perpetrator in a unit, we need to rat out the perpetrator, not close down the opportunity of women to be in that unit because we have potential perpetrators in that unit."  

“That’s the kind of logic that the Taliban and other extremist organizations use in order to keep women segregated from men in their societies, that ‘We’re trying to do in order to keep women safe,’” she added. 

“So it’s really flawed logic and we shouldn’t tolerate it, and we shouldn’t confuse the issue when we’re dealing with sexual assault and women’s integration in the military,” she said.  

Deputy Assistant to the Defense Secretary for Communications Carl Woog defended Carter's record on integrating women into the military and concern over military sexual assault. 

“Secretary Carter has opened 20,000 new positions for women since taking office in February,” he said.

“He is concerned that sexual assault continues to be a serious problem in the ranks and is committed to doing all he can to stamp it out, while, at the same time, making additional positions open for women in the armed forces,” he said.  

The Pentagon is in the midst of studying how to integrate women in every military job and unit by January 2016, including those that were previously closed to women before then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a ban on women serving in combat in 2013. 

At the same time, the Pentagon is grappling with a sexual assault problem within its ranks, with almost 19,000 troops reporting unwanted sexual contact in the military last year. 

The services can ask for exceptions for women serving in some jobs or units but must petition the Defense secretary by October 2015. McSally, said it would be “unacceptable” if Carter approved any exceptions.  

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which exercises oversight over the Pentagon, she pledged to work with her “like-minded colleagues to make sure we give women every opportunity to serve.”  

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), the second highest ranking member of the committee, and founder and co-chair of the Women in the Military Caucus, also said she'd keep an eye on the integration of women into every job. 

“I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that certain unnecessary exceptions are not accepted,” she said in remarks also prerecorded for the event. 

— Updated 9:00 a.m.