Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

An open letter to Master Sgt. Greg Pendleton.

Dear Sir,

As a concerned American citizen, I am writing to you in regard to the rape scandal that has recently emerged on the Lackland Air Force Base and the comments that you made in response to the incident in question.

You, Master Sgt., were quoted as saying the following:

“A person sitting in that seat, they’re going to do what they’re going to do when no one is watching. That’s across the board. That’s just them.”

As a woman, I am writing to tell you that you are wrong. It’s not “just them.”

If this were the first incident of sexual assault in the military, I would be more inclined to agree with you. I would be more willing to accept that perhaps the problem simply lies with that one bad seed. In fact, I would still be willing to accept that if incidents such as these were occasional but rare. However, this is not the first time, and nor is it rare.

I believe that our service men and women make incredible sacrifices in order to join the military. They give up their friends, their families, their homes, and their other opportunities. It seems obvious that they deserve to be honored for those sacrifices and that the United States government should do everything in its power to care for them as they seek to complete their training and subsequent missions.

The government has failed to do that.

This is not about one man, one woman, and one rape.

This is about the astonishing numbers of men and women who become victims of sexual assault at the hands of their comrades-in-arms. This is about the fact that women in the military are more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than to die in combat. This is about the heart-breakingly low number of victims who have received justice and how lenient the military has been with the perpetrators.

I am convinced that men like you are part of the problem. You are all too willing to abdicate responsibility to the person who committed the act, rather than questioning the system that allows so many acts like these to happen. You have authority on the base. You were partially responsible for the well-being of the trainees underneath you. You are part of an organization in which an estimated 20%-30% of the women who enter it will be sexually assaulted. And yet “no one is watching.”

You and I live in a nation that claims to exist “under God” and has frequently sought His blessing and protection for those that go to war for her. That same God’s Word teaches this:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8 (ESV)

I implore you, your peers, and your superiors to take these issues very seriously. React humbly, honestly, and with an unflinching desire to do justice even if that justice requires you to admit that fault lies with more than one individual.

What kind of a nation are we if we cannot protect our own? How can we claim the moral high ground in our conflicts if we are willing to let our sons and daughters suffer that kind of indignity and harm while they are preparing to fight for us?

If that was your daughter, Master Sgt., wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for her? Perhaps if it were your daughter, you too would wonder why no one was watching.

Respectfully yours,

Faith Newport