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Susan Estrich: The drunk guy in the parking lot

 

Susan Estrich

 

The report from the Arlington, Va., Police Department is, on its face, hardly newsworthy: 

 

"SEXUAL BATTERY, 05/05/13, 500 block of S. 23rd Street. On May 5 at 12:35 am, a drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with sexual battery." 

 

What makes it newsworthy is that Krusinski isn't just any drunken guy in a parking lot. He's the lieutenant colonel in charge of an Air Force program that is supposed to prevent sexual assault. 

 

Embarrassing? To be sure. His bosses have been expressing shock and awe. According to the Air Force spokesman, "He was removed from his position today as soon as we were made aware of the charges pending the outcome of the investigation." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who had committed to addressing the longstanding (and for too long, hidden) problems of sexual abuse in the military "expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations" in a call with Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little. Hagel "emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively." 

 

Don't bet on it. 

 

Oh, I have no doubt that Krusinski's career is over. But getting rid of one guy who gropes a woman in a parking lot is hardly going to deal with a problem that goes back decades. 

 

Krusinski's mug shot shows his face covered with cuts of undisclosed origin. Maybe the woman got the better of him. Or maybe he was just falling-down drunk. 

 

There is simply no underestimating the role of alcohol in sexual battery. None. When you tally up the "cost" of alcohol, you have to add sexual abuse to the already long list of fatal accidents and pickled livers and lost work and failed judgment and children beaten and the rest. The most important advice I give to young people who want to avoid either being abused or being accused of it is to control their drinking. I have no doubt that "Krusinski sober" would never have done what "Krusinski drunk" did. And that is an explanation, not an excuse. 

 

But the military has problems of its own, beyond the (big) problems faced by women in parking lots and frat houses and everywhere else civilians gather. A system in which rank precedes your name, in which orders are given and followed, in which "loyalty" is the paramount virtue, and in which women have been third- and fourth-class citizens so long that second class looks good is bound to be among the last plantations for sexual abuse. For decades, ruining a poor guy's career ("poor guy") when he's risked his life for his country "just because he had a few too many" has been a charge unfairly lobbed at the few women who dare to complain. 

 

"The Invisible War," produced by Nicole Boxer, is a brilliant movie detailing the problem of rape in the military. Many courageous women have stood up to bear witness. Programs have been established -- including the one that was run by the drunk in the parking lot. 

 

Why is it so hard to make change happen? The short answer is this: You can change the rules on a formal basis, and you can create programs with the best of intentions, but until there are real changes in the culture, whether in the fraternity or the military, women will continue to be vulnerable to drunk and abusive men, in and out of uniform.

 

 

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