ATLANTA – Comments Sen. Saxby Chambliss made about the hormone levels of young soldiers and sailors in condemning sexual assault in the military have quickly become part of the ongoing debate between political parties.
The Georgia Republican made the comments in a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing Tuesday as he was lecturing the heads of the military branches about the need to prevent sexual assaults. Chambliss, who is retiring from the Senate next year, was already the cosponsor of two bills, S 871 and S 548, which strengthen the prosecution of military rapes, and he favors removing commanders’ authority to overturn rape convictions by a jury.
“The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, that’s -- the level of -- the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” said Chambliss. “So we have got to be very careful how we address it on our side (in the Senate), but guys we’re not doing our jobs. You’re not doing yours, and we’re not doing ours with the rates that we are seeing on sexual assaults.”
Democrats soon sent messages on social media blasting him for the comment and for implying that rape was a matter of “boys will be boys.”
The Democratic Party of Georgia sent a message on Twitter saying the comment was reason to end Republicans’ control of that Senate seat.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, called on Chambliss to apologize.
“I think he should think about whether if, God forbid, a sexual assault happens to a daughter of his, would he think it’s OK for a senator to just chalk the assault up to raging hormones,” she told the MSNBC cable network.
Some commentators likened the hormone observation to Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark during last year’s campaign that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy unless the victim is aroused. Many observers believe Akin lost his race as a result of what he said, and Democrats have used it as proof of what they call the Republicans’ “war on women” because GOP officials were slow to distance themselves from Akin.
Not to be accused of the same thing, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, issued his own statement critical of Chambliss shortly after the Senate hearing.
“It’s simple; criminals are responsible for sexual assaults, not hormones,” said Turner, co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. “Perpetuating this line of thinking does nothing to help change the culture of our military.”
The perception of the comments’ toxic nature spread so fast that Wednesday a spokeswoman for the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University, Christine Carter, refused a reporter’s request to speak to a medical expert on hormones.
“It’s just not our policy to comment on stories about public officials if it’s not directly affecting the university,” she said, noting that the university receives appropriations from the state legislature.
Political analyst Bill Crane with CSI Crane in Atlanta said anyone speaking without a script, as Chambliss was, can stumble upon phrasing that looks bad when taken out of context.
“Politicians are like anyone else; they have unguarded moments,” Crane said, adding that there’s no reason to attack a senator who isn’t running for re-election other than to try to score political points.
He advised Chambliss to quickly apologize and say nothing else about it, noting that it would have drawn little attention except on a slow-news day.
Below is a transcript supplied by Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office of the full conversation during a hearing on the Uniform Code of Military Justice before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was speaking to the Joint Chief of Staff who were testifying on the issue of sexual assault.
Chambliss: First of all let me say that I think each of you delivered a statement with emotion and passion, and you obviously recognize the seriousness of the issue, and I take you at your word that we are going to get to the bottom of number one, how we attack the issue and secondly as to the best way to resolve it moving forward, particularly in light of the fact that now if we are going to have women in combat I think the potential for the issue to increase is going to become even greater.
Admiral Greenert, I want to go back to an incident that didn’t occur on your watch, but as I recall several years ago when we had the first females go out on an aircraft carrier that when they returned to port, a significant percentage of those females were pregnant. I don’t remember the exact percentage, but as I recall, it was a pretty high percentage.
Was any investigation made by the Navy following that incident to determine whether or not all of those pregnancies occurred as a result of consensual acts or was there any investigation made regarding sexual attacks that were made on that carrier?
Admiral Jonathan Greenert: Senator, I’ll have to take that one for the record and go dig up and get the facts behind that.
Chambliss: Well my reason for asking that is that I hear, and I understand all of you talk about the importance for chain of command and the importance that we follow that, and if we are going to maintain good order and discipline in the military across the board that’s got to be the case.
But there’s also got to be some kind of fear put into these young people that come to every branch of our service the very first day that they raise their hand and swear to defend the constitution, and the fear has got to be that that chain of command that we allude to, really is serious about making sure that these types of sexual assaults do not occur, and by golly if they do, starting with drill sergeant all the way to the top, somebody is going to make sure that you pay the price if this does happen, and if you look at the private sector, if something like that had happened, there would have been an extensive investigation, and it wouldn’t be taken for granted that everything was consensual.
But I dare say that after that happened it made the headlines and the paper. I was on the personnel subcommittee at the time that happened, and frankly, I don’t recall any investigation being made of it.
And looking back on it, it’s easy now to say it should have because of the number of instances that we’ve seen.
The easiest way to eliminate this problem is to make sure it never happens in the first place and that those men and women are trained early on as to types of situations they ought to avoid and the consequences if something like this does happen, so to each of you, let me just ask you, and I’ll start, General Welsh, with you, and come right down the line.
Is there any background check done during the recruitment process to determine whether or not these young men and young women have had any incidences that might lead to this?”
Gen. Mark Welsh: Sir, there are background checks done, but as we previously mentioned, I’m sure there have been cases where people have entered the military and entered the air force who have had a problem with us in the past that is not in any formal database.
Background check in regard to criminal records, those are done, but as General Welch said, to the degree and the success, we have to go back and check.
Gen. Ray Odierno: Same, background checks are done, but the ability to identify sexual offenders is certainly not 100% right now, and we have to do a better job of doing that. We need help with having a better database, but also making sure we are scrutinizing those as we go forward.
Gen. James Amos: Senator, we are plugged in deeply to the FBI database, and we absolutely willingly will not recruit a marine or candidate that has a sexual assault background at all. And when we find out we have a marine that has committed and is convicted of it, they are discharged.
Admiral Robert Papp: Same here senator, we do a background on every person that is recruited, and if we find someone who slipped through the cracks and we found a previous conviction, that is a fraudulent enlistment, and they are discharged.
Chambliss: Well I doubt that there, well there may be some exceptions, as General Dempsey, you responded to Senator McCain on, there may be some exceptions to folks who slip through that crack, but you’re going to have to go further than looking at convictions of individuals, and I don’t know how you’re going to do that, whether you get additional character references or what.
There may be things known within the community about individuals that need to be given to the military to prepare, and it may be on other issues also, but we’ve got to do a better job of screening folks before they come in.
And the other thing we have to remember, is we think about making changes to the (Uniform Code of Military Justice) in this respect, the young folks that are coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17-22 or 23, gee whiz.
The level, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful in how we address it on our side, but guys, we’re not doing our job. You’re not doing yours, and we’re not doing ours with the rates that we are seeing on sexual assaults as I said to start with, you recognize it, we recognize it, and we’ve got to figure this thing out because we simply can’t tolerate it.”