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Women in combat units: Could it reduce sexual assault in the military?

Ending the ban on women in combat removes a barrier to gender equality and could create more respect for women within the ranks, some say. Sexual assault is a major problem for the military.

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Spc. Erica Taliaferro from 549th MP Company, Task Force Bronco eats a sandwich inside an armored vehicle in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan last year. Women will now be allowed in combat units.

Erik De Castro/Reuters/File

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As the military moves toward officially allowing women in battle, top US officers say they hope that lifting the ban will have an impact on a problem that continues to plague the military: sexual assault within its ranks.

Half the women deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan reported being sexually harassed, and one quarter said that they were sexually assaulted – ranging from rape to unwanted touching – during their deployment, according to new research from the Department of Veterans Affairs, based on anonymous surveys of female service members.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that he is hopeful that making the combat roles of women official will create a greater environment of respect for women, which in turn may have an impact on instances of sexual harassment and assault. 

“I believe it's because we've had separate classes of military personnel, at some level,” he said at a press conference Thursday.

General Dempsey was quick to add that sexual assault is “far more complicated than that – but when you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that's designated as something else, I think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment."

“I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.”

It is a sentiment that is echoed among advocates for victims of sexual assault. 

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