March 26, at 2:15 (Southern Sociological Society, New Orleans)
I'll be presenting preliminary findings from my new project (with Jensen Sass) on military sexual assault scandals. Over the past two years, there has been a flurry of public interest in the topic, but viewed through a longer historical lens we can see that this has been a recurrent topic of news interest since the early 1990s. Why didn't those earlier stories produce broad public interest? And given that the earlier stories didn't gain much traction, what sort of impact should we expect from the current round of scandal?
In our approach, which is a qualitative study of (i) news coverage of the four armed services, (ii) SASC hearings, and (iii) organizational developments, we're concerned with making three points.
First, we want to strongly reject naturalistic assumptions that an increase in violent sexual acts leads to more media coverage and thus more interest from top commanders. We've been living with this knowledge for a long time.
Second, we present a more detailed causal chain connecting media reports of sexual violence to commanders' work and from there to organizational responses. This is more or less along a theoretical arc developed by mediatization scholars (e.g. Couldry, Hepp, Lundby...). In short, media coverage sometimes forces top commanders to shift their performative stance, which may then lead to a cascade of organizational change.
Third, we hope that the causal argument will provide some leverage on what we should expect. There is reason to hope that today's heightened interest will normalize the topic to such a degree that lasting organizational change will take place. But this hope must be hedged against two alternatives: the performative is taken for the real; and real change is stalled due to coming budget cuts.