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The complicitous salute: silencing female survivors of sexual violence in the U.S. Military




James, Sara, author
Dunn, Thomas R., advisor
Anderson, Karrin, committee member
Steele, Catherine, committee member

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Driven by growing concerns about sexual assault in the U.S. military and public questioning of current reporting procedures, this thesis examines why female military assault survivors do not come forward and report the crimes committed against them. More specifically, I argue that sexual assault in the U.S. military goes underreported and ignored due in part to the military’s culture of masculinity, silence, and complicity. To make sense of this military culture and the attendant discourse surrounding sexual assaults, I study two rhetoric texts through a critical rhetoric perspective. My first text consists of meaningful fragments of mediated public address centered on news coverage of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and her proposed legislation to reform military sexual assault: the Military Justice Improvement Act. My second text is a fictional narrative of similar military sexual assault legislation in the Netflix series House of Cards. Through my analysis, I consider my texts using a critique of domination and a critique of freedom to demonstrate how public discourse about sexual assault and its reporting challenges the hegemonic structure. In doing so, I employ an examination of critical rhetoric to expose a text’s possibility for social change.


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feminist criticism
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Military
House of Cards
critical rhetoric
sexual assault


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