Female commanders not a lasting solution to sexual assault in military

Col. Deborah Liddick took over as commander of San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base in Texas on Friday. Her appointment was in response to recent allegations of a pattern of sexual assault at Lackland, where the Air Force hopes a woman in authority will make female recruits feel safe and more comfortable reporting cases of sexual abuse.

Because the majority of rape and sexual assault cases involve women as victims, it is understandable that placing a woman in charge would make people feel at ease. The complex hierarchy of the military is built on centuries of male-dominated command structures. It is naive to think that this history could be affected overnight, but integrating women into command seems like a move in the right direction. It is also important to recognize that it is not only women who suffer from these challenges; several men each year are entangled in military sexual abuse.

Lackland and the Air Force are not alone in battling this issue; the most recent data on sexual assault show an increase to 3,192 cases involving military personnel as either victims or perpetrators last year. This does not account for the estimated 86 percent of unreported cases.

Given the scope of the problem, appointing one female to a position of authority does little to provide a long-term, comprehensive solution.

In fact, a woman was in a position of authority during the 2003 sex scandal at the Air Force Academy, when leadership allegedly ignored reported incidents. Even when President Barack Obama in January 2012 signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which provided reforms such as expedited transfer if requested by the victim, mandatory training for military leaders and promising confidentiality and legal assistance to victims, it was but a small step in what is sure to be a long journey toward a permanent solution.

Indeed, changing a culture takes time, and the military cannot take lightly its responsibility to respond and reform. That is why appointing a new commanding officer when the previous one allegedly did not fully address sexual assault concerns was an appropriate response — but not solely because she is female.

Regardless of gender, race or religious background, the people who command and train our armed forces need to be the very best, which does not mean just being the best in physical training or military intelligence. The military needs leaders who can be trusted to defend not only American citizens and soldiers from foreign enemies, but also its own members from the domestic enemies that hide behind their uniforms.