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Rape in the Military - Lawsuits Reveal Culture of Sexual Assault with 1 in 3 Military Women Victimized

By February 22, 2011

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Women, like men, put their lives on the line when they enlist in the military. It's a sacrifice they embrace and are proud to make. But for a very long time, tens of thousands of women in the military have been sacrificed against their will in needless ways, and now some are coming forward to accuse the Pentagon of turning a blind eye to what's been going on.

The needless sacrifice? Sexual harassment, assault and rape of servicewomen at the hands of servicemen and even officers. It's an epidemic that the armed forces are unwilling to acknowledge, treat, or even measure.

But two recent lawsuits are putting numbers together to back up the allegations of widespread rape and putting faces and names to the victims who are now stepping forward.

In New Haven, CT in December 2010, a federal lawsuit filed against the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs by the Service Women's Action Network,the ACLU of Connecticut and Yale Law School students seeks access to records that document the problem of sexual assault in the military.

According to the Associated Press:

The lawsuit contends sexual assaults are nearly twice as common within military ranks as in civilian society, and surveys show that nearly one in three women report being sexually assaulted during their time in the military.

About 80 percent of unwanted or threatening sexual acts are not reported, according to the lawsuit. Victims who report abuse to their superiors often face social isolation, retribution and counteraccusations, the lawsuit says.

Sexual abuse is the primary causes of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] among female service members.

This claim is backed up by a report filed by CNN's Barbara Starr on the incidence of homeless female vets with children. In her interview with Stephen Peck, president of U.S. Vets Initiative, a non-profit group based in Southern California, he acknowledges why so many returning female vets are traumatized: "There's a shocking amount of sexual harassment and actual sexual assault going on. So a significant portion of them are coming back with sexual trauma. And if that is layered on top of their PTSD that's a very complex case and that woman can't start her life until she addresses that."

The second lawsuit, filed just last week, is a class action suit involving more than a dozen female veterans. They allege the Pentagon has ignored the sexist culture of the military and refused to protect women who file complaints from retribution and retaliation.

As reported by the website Care2:

In some incredibly disturbing testimony, one of the women claimed that she was drugged and gang-raped by two of her colleages while serving at an Oklahoma air force base - and that this happened only two months ago.

Another woman said that within weeks of being deployed to Baghdad, she was attacked in a bathroom by a former sergeant.  Her commander's response was to reassign the assaulter and to tell her that "this stuff happens."

Yet another woman was raped by a colleague on her last day in Afghanistan.  He took pictures of the assault, which she was horrified to later find on a pornographic website.  Other women who complained to their commanders about assaults were told that they "did not act like a rape victim" and "did not struggle enough."  Unbelievably, some men were not charged because authorities did not want to delay their scheduled return to the United States.

What may be most disturbing of all is that this has been tolerated for a very, very long time. Not month or years but decades and generations of military service personnel. Women have been sacrificed not on the battlefield but in the barracks, back rooms, and bases where they were forced to put out, put up, shut up, or be roughed up or worse. For the few who did complain there was little support in the way of counseling or disciplinary actions against the perpetrators. Instead, ostracism or retribution were the norm.

One woman who decided to tell her story after 3 decades of silence felt compelled by recent headlines of rape and sexual assault. Even though the rape occurred years ago, the shame, humiliation and anguish made her hands shake and her face turn red as she typed up her account of what happened at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida when she was 20. To protect her identity and her family's privacy, she's chosen to go by the name of Brigid Harry. But there's nothing anonymous in the story of a young woman who enlisted because she was eager to get an education and better herself, and found her trust in the military and her superiors betrayed.

Brigid Harry is just one of tens of thousands of women who didn't hesitate to give their lives in service to their country. That willingness should have been respected and honored, not violated by service members who worked alongside their victims and knew they'd never be prosecuted or even identified. We owe it to the women in the military to keep each female soldier safe and out of harm's way, especially if that harm is in the form of rape and sexual assault.

They may be soldiers but they are also wives, mothers, sisters, daughters -- women strong enough to serve but vulnerable enough to be damaged for a lifetime by a single brutal act. Rape is not about sex but power, domination and control. If the military can't convey to its enlisted men and women that rape is wrong and will be prosecuted, something is seriously wrong with the military. It's a wrong that cannot be tolerated and must be addressed.

Whether change comes from the bottom up such as a class action suit by former servicewomen, or from the top down by a mandate from the Secretary of Defense, it can't happen soon enough.

Related article: Rape in the Military - One Woman's Story

Comments

February 22, 2011 at 4:39 am
(1) nurmihusa says:

Yep. This is why the good old boys fought DADT so fiercely. They were convinced that gay men would treat them exactly as they treat their “fellow” female soldiers.

February 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm
(2) Thomas J. Delaney says:

Please define “Rape” as you use it. Define “Sexual Assault” as you use it. Show me the Demographics of the offenders.

I investigated these things in the Army and all is NOT what you say.

For example, “Rapine” behavior is a singular physical assault with penetration. Today’s complaints read I got drunk and had sex but thought it over and now I’m not happy.

February 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm
(3) Chuck McIntyre says:

Great comment! Homophobia is almost mandatory in the congress! IMHO

February 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm
(4) to whom it may concern says:

Thomas J. Delaney… yes you are correct when you say that some people males and females get drunk and say they were raped…but once the investigation is taken into action the truth comes out and that person who lied will be in trouble…but the fact of the matter is Rape, sexual harassment, and sodomy do happen against people will. A lot of people who are not in the military or people who don’t want to believe that their “heroes” can do that to one another are in fact ignorant to this matter. The truth is when a person is new to a unit and want to make friends they go out to bars…they get drugged and set up to be taken advantage of. When a report is made the victim will be an outcast and will have no one to turn to…some will say they have their support but in reality they are alone. you can investigate all you want but until you are the victim and believe that you are the only one that has been raped…all the stories come out because there are others and most are not reported.

February 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm
(5) Chris says:

I won’t go into the myths or controversy surrounding this topic. It is a topic that people try to simplify into a few blanket statements to comfort their personal points of view. Suffice to say, the events that have transpired this week surrounding Charlie Sheen say a lot about where people’s priorities lie on a wide variety of social topics.

February 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm
(6) gaianarchaos says:

thanks for this comprehensive article…amazing that fascist trolls are seeking posts like this to spam with their hate speech. i guess that once it became fashionable to be racist against immigrants, woman-bashing was next on their agenda. i, for one, do not take their death threats lightly. these neo-con fascist republicans (and their democratic allies) hate america and everything it once promised…

February 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm
(7) Chris says:

Wow, somebody needs a nap.

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