Comparing How the Military and General Public Assess Sexual Assault

87 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 28, 2014


In response to the American military's perceived inability to handle sexual assault cases, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is undergoing its most significant restructuring since it went into effect in 1951. In March, 2014, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand nearly succeeded in her effort to end the commander's ability to decide whether these cases go to trial. Behind this criticism is an assumption that there is something about commanders and those who run the military justice system that causes them to perceive these cases differently than the general public. This article tests that assumption.

This study finds that those in the military that are charged with solving these cases endorse traditional gender role beliefs and conservatism to a higher degree than the general population. For example, 60% of an elite military sample (those that exercise the prosecutorial discretion) agreed that mothers should be encouraged to stay at home while only 35% of the general public sample agreed. Further, 67% of that elite military sample identified themselves as being conservative, while only 43% of the general public sample did. This study finds that those who endorse those beliefs or label themselves as conservative are 50-100% more likely to endorse certain inaccurate rape schemas and resolve legal elements and outcome judgments in favor of the man. One regression model predicts that in a test case, 54% of the general public would find the man guilty while only 41% of the elite military would.

This suggests that at the macro-level, those who run the UCMJ are honestly committed to resourcing the fight against sexual assault and to finding a solution to the problem. But at the micro-level, when looking at a particular case, they have an unconscious cognitive process that interferes with their ability to accurately solve it. The solution to that problem is to give these cases to people who are not influenced by inaccurate rape schemas, either by changing the system and having independent prosecutors handle these cases, or by maintaining the system but requiring that commanders be trained and certified before they can handle these cases.

Keywords: military law, military justice, criminal law, sexual assault

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Eric, Comparing How the Military and General Public Assess Sexual Assault (August 28, 2014). Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-19, Available at SSRN:

Eric Carpenter (Contact Author)

FIU College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States
305-348-4560 (Phone)
305-348-7293 (Fax)


Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics