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.