January 25, 2013 — Allowing military servicewomen to serve in combat roles could help erode a male-dominated culture that fuels sexual assault among personnel, according to the Pentagon's top general, Mother Jones reports.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Thursday lifted the military's ban on women in combat, including roles within the infantry, the artillery and special operations forces. The new policy codifies a growing practice in modern military warfare, where women have increasingly served in combat zones, but in technically non-combat roles, Mother Jones notes.
At a press conference following the announcement, Gen. Martin Dempsey -- chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- said he has concluded that sexual assaults persist in part because women have been subordinate to men in military culture. Dempsey has studied sexual misconduct in the service.
"It's because we've had separate classes of military personnel," Dempsey said, adding, "The more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally" (Weinstein, Mother Jones, 1/24).
Women in Combat Removes Barriers to Gender Equality, Editorial States
The end to restrictions on women serving in combat "affirms the importance of women in defending this country and removes barriers that have impeded them in that work," a Washington Post editorial states. Women "will no longer be hobbled by lack of official combat credentials," the editorial adds, noting that Dempsey also has said the change will help "mitigate the military's persistent problem of sexual assault and harassment" (Washington Post, 1/24).
Unintended Pregnancy Rates Rising Among Servicewomen, Study Finds
In related news, more than 10% of servicewomen in 2008 reported an unintended pregnancy during the previous year, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Reuters reports. The findings are based on surveys with more than 7,000 active-duty servicewomen between ages 18 and 44.
About 800 women -- both deployed and non-deployed -- reported an unintended pregnancy in the last year, the study found. The unintended pregnancy rate in 2008 -- 105 per 1,000 servicewomen -- was slightly higher than the 2005 rate of 97 per 1,000 women and 50% higher than the rate among similarly aged civilians.
Access to contraceptives can be difficult for troops deployed for a long period of time, Reuters notes. In addition, abortion is largely banned on U.S. military bases; women who get pregnant overseas are evacuated.
Daniel Grossman -- a researcher at University of California-San Francisco and vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health -- called the findings "really shocking." He noted that a contributing factor behind the unintended pregnancy rate could be the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. Grossman called for the problems of sexual assault and access to birth control to be addressed "across all branches of the military" (Pittman, Reuters, 1/24).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
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Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
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