Sexual Assault in the Military, Women, and DADT

[Trigger warning for depictions of sexual assault]

From Feministe (by way of CounterQuo), “Class Action Against U.S. Military On Behalf Of Sexual Assault Survivors”.

The DC firm, Burke PLLC, is preparing to file a class action suit on behalf of those harmed by the military’s failures to address military sexual trauma. They are interested in speaking with anyone who has been assaulted or raped while in the military or by a member of the military. They plan on filing in the near future so if you know any victims/survivors who may be potentially interested in participating in this lawsuit, please have them contact Susan Sajadi at ssajadi at burkepllc dot com.

This is so important, especially because sexual assault is a HUGE issue in the US military.

In Mar 2010, the New York Times reported that

The Department of Defense released an annual report on Tuesday showing an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military over the past year, including a 16 percent increase in reported assaults occurring in combat areas, principally Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report said there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault filed involving service members as either victims or assailants in the fiscal year that ended in September. The Pentagon attributed the rise largely to an upward trend in the reporting of incidents, and said the jump did “not necessarily” reflect an increase in the number of incidents.

Wow.  So, the Pentagon thinks these are closer to “normal” numbers in the military?  The point being that it has been at least this bad for a while now.  The article continues,

Of all the assaults, Ms. Whitley said, a vast majority, 87 percent, were male on female, while 7 percent were male on male. The typical case, she said, was an assault by an 18- to 25-year-old junior enlisted male service member on a woman, with alcohol involved.

In the report, sexual assault was defined as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, including touching of private body parts. It did not include sexual harassment, which is handled by another office in the military.

Ms. Whitley said that most sexual assault in the military went unreported, as it did in the general population, and that she did not believe that there was more sexual assault in the military than in the population at large. “We are recruiting from the society we serve,” she said.

Additionally, according to McClatchy,

Women in the military, in particular, are reluctant to come forward for fear of appearing weak or being ostracized for reporting a fellow soldier, Pentagon officials say. Many women also complain that they’ve been accused of being gay under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy after rebuffing unwanted advances from their male colleagues. […]

Assaults in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for 6.7 percent of all reported sexual assaults. In Iraq, the number of reports rose to 173 from 123. In Afghanistan, there were 41 reported assaults, up from 22.

The reports said that victims and assailants under generally under age 35 and aren’t officers. The average victim’s age is between 20 and 24, the report said.

The military recognizes eight categories of sexual assault: attempts to commit offenses, wrong sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual contact, indecent assault, non-consensual sodomy, aggravated sexual assault, and rape.

From Time, in March 2010, “Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

What does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted — for having gone out without her weapon? Or that, as Representative Jane Harman puts it, “a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”

The fight over “Don’t ask, don’t tell” made headlines this winter as an issue of justice and history and the social evolution of our military institutions. We’ve heard much less about another set of hearings in the House Armed Services Committee. Maybe that’s because too many commanders still don’t ask, and too many victims still won’t tell, about the levels of violence endured by women in uniform. […]

The sense of betrayal runs deep in victims who joined the military to be part of a loyal team pursuing a larger cause; experts liken the trauma to incest and the particular damage done when assault is inflicted by a member of the military “family.” Women are often denied claims for posttraumatic stress caused by the assault if they did not bring charges at the time. There are not nearly enough mental-health professionals in the system to help them. Female vets are four times more likely to be homeless than male vets are, according to the Service Women’s Action Network, and of those, 40% report being victims of sexual assault.

And, of course, NPR has covered this issue when it comes to veterans in “Military Sexual Trauma: A Little-Known Veteran Issue”.  From March 2010,

Davison, who also works with the National Center for PTSD, says she sees women like Caesar all the time. She says it’s not uncommon for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder to have screened positive for something called military sexual trauma. It’s a catch-all term, covering everything from sexual assault to sexual harassment.

According to the VA, more than 48,000 female veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma in 2008.

When I hear these stats or these stories, it breaks my heart (check out this 2009 NPR story on “The Plight of Women Soldiers” for some of those stories and lots of info on sexual assault in the military).  These women are out there serving our country, protecting us in the same way and in the same path of danger as male soldiers.  And yet, the issue of sexual assault is only periodically addressed and almost never discussed as a huge problem within the military (though, as the TIME article above states, Congress at least has meetings about it sometimes).

BUT when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the same law that is threatened against women who fight back against sexual assault, see above) is discussed among military men and crazy shits, you get stuff like the assholes at the Family Research Council releasing “studies” that say “a repeal of DADT will lead to soldiers having unwanted gay sex and that ‘homosexuals in the military are about three times as likely to commit sexual assaults as heterosexuals are.'” Of course, this is just made up bullshit that allows the FRC to keep hating on the gays in every way possible.  But I think it matters that the way they are specifically trying to combat the repeal is to cry “rape” from the rafters.  Because that is a fear they know they can prey on and that people will react to.  Unlike the response to ACTUAL sexual assault taking place right now.

General Sheehan, a retired Marine Corp General and commander of NATO forces, who is against repealing DADT, said in March at a Congressional hearing that the Dutch failed in Serbia because they allow openly gay people to serve (what?).  And he also

cited statistics from the Pentagon’s fiscal 2009 report on sexual assault that he said showed 7 percent of the 3,230 incidents recorded were male-on-male, though the actual figure in the report is closer to 5 percent. And in arguing that repeal of the military ban would undermine good order and discipline, he told the story of a male-on-male foxhole sexual assault in his unit during the Vietnam War, and its divisive impact. [via]

So, the issue of rape matters when all of a sudden there is a (unfounded) fear that all the menz will get raped when gay men are able to say that they are gay (even though they are already serving in the military and could, if they wanted to, sexually assault someone right now).

It’s so fucking demeaning to the women (and men) who are actually sexually assaulted, harassed, and raped RIGHT NOW and are still dealing with the life-long consequences.  It belittles their experience and their trauma, showing that it only really matters if you are a dude and another dude sexually assaults you (which, of course, is a big deal but I hope you get my point).  It’s makes my blood boil.

[Side note: This is all a product of a rape culture that is perpetrated by the same people who are trying to claim that DADT can’t be repealed because it will cause people to rape other people (or something – I don’t really understand the logic).  For more on rape culture, see, of course, Shakesville’s awesome write up.  Simply, “A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.  In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes.” (which Shakesville borrowed from Transforming a Rape Culture.)  Does that sound the US military?  Does that sound like US culture?  If you don’t think so, I’d love to hear why.  And you need evidence.  Concrete.]

Here is a letter posted on the website of Change.org, under the section titled “Gay Rights.”  It is a former female sergeant in the US Army telling her story of how, at the age of 19, she was threatened with being “outed” by men in her unit if she didn’t submit to sexual “favors” and the painful decision she had to make to keep her job:

I had a choice: report these men for “sexual harassment/cohesion” and end my military career or submit to their demands.

Despite the military’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, it doesn’t apply to those forced in the closet under DADT.  I was sexually blackmailed and just a teenager.

At that time, as well as other times during my military service, I had seen friends discharged under DADT who were in similar situations. My friends were discharged, while their perpetrators were given a slap on the wrist.

The signal from command was clear: being gay was a far more serious offense in the military than sexually harassing a fellow service member. I ultimately chose what I believed was the best decision for me at the time. I let these men have their way with me in exchange for their silence.

I am not proud of what I did, but I loved my job too much to let it destroy my career before it had even started.

My decision didn’t come without consequences. I was eventually diagnosed with an STD which could potentially lead to cervical cancer later in life.

I, frankly, am still ashamed of what I had to do to stay in the Army. I wasn’t discharged under DADT, but left because of it. I continue to attend counseling sessions provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for what I went through. The memories still come back to haunt me some 16 years later.

I don’t want to see other service members go through what I went through. And unfortunately, this will continue to happen as long as DADT is law.

Sexual assault in the military (like in civilian life) is primarily something that happens to women.

And DADT makes it all that much worse.  If you don’t submit to assault, you can be threatened with being reported as a lesbian and, therefore, discharged.  If you are a lesbian and don’t submit, you are threatened with being outed and, therefore, discharged.

I’m glad that a class-action lawsuit is going to be filed.  I hope that NPR and Time and other news organizations continue to shine the spotlight on the terrible amount of sexual assault that takes place in the military, even when gay service members aren’t allowed to disclose their sexuality.  And I just wish and wish and wish that the people who oppose the repeal of DADT would be called out by the media, members of Congress, and the President for their bullshit.  But I know – KNOW – that last one probably won’t happen in my lifetime (especially the President, whose display of his backbone in the election season has proven to be some sort of magic trick as it is slowly being revealed that he doesn’t have much of one when it comes to women’s and gay rights).

So the least I can do is to call it out.  At least that helps me sleep a little better.

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4 thoughts on “Sexual Assault in the Military, Women, and DADT

  1. Pingback: Sexual Assault in the Military, Women, and DADT « Speaker's Corner « Autoblogged Test

  2. Pingback: Mental Disorders 101

  3. Pingback: Rape in the US Military « Speaker's Corner

  4. Pingback: Rape Happens EVERYWHERE « Speaker's Corner

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