The U.S. Naval Academy hosted a conference on sexual assault and prevention at America’s colleges and universities this week. It included a “Congressional hour” on Thursday afternoon, featuring Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier of California and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. Guess who fucked up.

During the panel discussion, video of which was obtained by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge and shared with Splinter, moderator and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer (not that one) asked the three legislators about the “culture” of sexual assault, referring to an earlier discussion about the “corrosive nature of pornography, and what that does to us culturally, as a country.”

Advertisement

“You, as legislators,” Spencer asked, “How would you react, or what would be your observations on what is happening culturally, and can anything be done to it or affect it, from your point of view?”

Speier immediately shut down that notion. “I think it’s a huge mistake to somehow excuse this kind of conduct on any level,” she responded, continuing:

I think that what we need to do is make sure we create training and prevention programs that young people will respect, that we hold people accountable, and develop the kind of expertise and investigative function in the prosecution of these cases so we’re going to have the fairest jurisdictional action taken. But I’m not one to somehow suggest that because you’ve got the readiness (sic) availability of pornography, that this somehow is creating an environment that makes this more prevalent. For whatever reasons we’re dealing with this issue, we’ve got to fix it.

Advertisement

Tillis, however, took a different tack.

“I think that as a matter of public policy,” he said, “Pornography, alcohol, other factors that are clearly linked to some of these behaviors, we have to figure out how to deal with it with respect to free speech issues.”

Advertisement

He continued:

There’s very little that we as congressional members can do, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t somehow have in your code of conduct in all of our universities and the service academies some things that are just the price of admission policies. But I think they will have to be at the policy level, not rise to the level of congressional action no matter how much we would like to do it, because of the constraints that we have on ourselves.

Advertisement

Members of Congress can nominate young people to attend the four U.S. military academies. Tillis said that, for his nominations, he plans to start “at the point of application, creating that culture [that] has frank discussions about these things,” as well as following his service academy nominees for his entire career as a senator.

Sherrill, a Naval Academy graduate and freshman congresswoman from New Jersey, followed Tillis. “If there is a link between the pornography in our culture that’s widely available and people having views about consent and sex, and we need to address that,” Sherrill said, “Then we need to come up with training programs that are going to address that.”

Advertisement

She went on:

I don’t think—I have not seen the data on that, so I can’t say that I know whether or not that’s [inaudible]. Certainly it’s never an excuse. You should never be able to say, “I watch a lot of pornography so I had to assault this woman.” But if there is some linkage between what children see at a young age and not having a great sense of right and wrong...we certainly need to have some data on that and study it and make sure we’re addressing it correctly.

Advertisement

Sexual assault, of course, isn’t limited to the academies. Earlier this month, GOP Sen. Martha McSally said during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing that she was a survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a superior officer in the Air Force. Last month, the Defense Department released data showing that sexual assault reports at Fort Bragg in Tillis’ home state of North Carolina had jumped by 64 percent between 2013 and 2016. And according to a 2018 RAND Corporation study, there were thousands of alleged sexual assaults at military installations around the country in 2014, including 836 at Fort Bragg.

Tillis, it should be noted, voted for accused sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. “I believe Dr. Ford’s claim that she was sexually assaulted by someone, and it is the Senate’s responsibility to look at any evidence available in relation to the nominee,” Tillis said in a statement released the same day of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That includes considering the statements of the four witnesses she says were present, who have all denied or disputed Kavanaugh’s presence at the event in question, statements that were provided to the committee under the threat of felony. After listening to today’s testimony, and reviewing all the facts and evidence, I maintain my support for his confirmation.”

Advertisement

We’ve asked Tillis’ office for comment on the video and what exact role he thinks pornography plays in sexual assault, and will update with any response we receive.