Here’s how leaders really should be talking about the military sexual abuse crisis

If our country's military leaders want to know how to stop the sexual assault crisis in the military, watching this video would be a good place to start:

The Week points to a video featuring Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Australia's Chief of Army, speaking directly to his troops about an investigation into explicit e-mails about female staffers that were sent by officers and rank-and-file members. The investigation has led to the suspensions of three people, with 14 under investigation and another 90 implicated, the BBC reports, for e-mails Morrison has called "explicit, derogatory, demeaning and repugnant" and allegedly include videos of officers having sex with fellow military personnel and other women.

Morrison's video is a model of effective messaging for leaders anywhere. He starts by shaming those involved in the alleged incident or who would consider any similar action by reminding them that they've let down the veterans they respect. Their actions, he says, let down not only those currently serving, but "all of those whose past service has won the respect of our nation." It's also convincing for how he reminds members that eradicating the Australian Army of such inappropriate behavior is not just the job of leaders, but of everyone: "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept," he says.

And his message is commanding for how direct he is about the consequences for behavior that is demeaning toward women. "If that does not suit you, then get out," he says, noting he will be "ruthless" in getting rid of bad apples. "You may find an employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it." He closes the video this way: "If you're not up to it, then find something else to do with your life," he says. "There is not place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters."

But what works most about Morrison's video can't be understood through just reading his words. The man is seething. His anger is controlled, but clearly simmers just beneath the surface. He is blunt, he is serious, and he is fuming about the alleged behavior of the men in his charge. There are no excuses, and he doesn't try to offer a single one.

U.S. military leaders, including all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Win McNamee/Getty Images).
U.S. military leaders, including all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Win McNamee/Getty Images).

This is what seems to be missing -- on a public level, at least -- from many of the discussions our leaders are having on the epidemic of sexual assault in our armed forces. We get one of our senators talking about hormones and youthful exuberance. Our military chiefs talk a good talk as they read, somewhat dispassionately, from prepared scripts, all the while trying to maintain the status quo for a military justice system many believe is part of the problem. Where is the outrage?

Yes, we need more good training for military leaders, changes to a justice system where commanders can overturn verdicts, and real consequences for military sexual assault perpetrators. But we also need more leaders who are visibly and convincingly disturbed by the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military we are facing.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

On sexual assault in the military, the service chiefs look oblivious

The military's embarrassing sexual assault crisis

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor | June 14, 2013