When a woman joins the military and attends the basic training of her
respective branchAir Force, Navy, Marinesevery element of
that training hinges on one primary principle. That principle is camaraderie.
One soldier always protects another soldiers back. Everything is
about unity and uniformity. The rhythm of cadence is the rhythm of the
day. Imagine the devastation, then, of being an American soldier who is
assaulted or raped by one of her own, a fellow soldier. Camaraderie becomes
Events such as the 1991 Tailhook Association convention, in which more
than 100 officers sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of fellow female
soldiers but were never convicted; the 1997 sexual assault scandal at
the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; and the 2003 sexual assault scandal
at the Air Force Academy have brought the issue of military sexual assault
and abuse to the forefront. However, in the past the issue has faded from
attention quickly, with the military pledging to police its own, plan
for prevention, and clean up the mess.
Little seems to have changed though. An official Department of Defense
report states that, Thirty percent of female veterans in a recent
survey reported rape or attempted rape during active duty. Thirty-seven
percent of women who reported a rape or attempted rape had been raped
more than once; fourteen percent of the victims reported having been gang
raped (Department of Defense, 2002). This is a disturbing reality
during a time when 15 percent of our nations armed forces are female,
with more than 204,500 American women serving in the military. The November
23, 2003, article in the Denver Post, Protect Women in Military,
reports that, Nearly one-third of the women in the military have
reported a rape or attempted rape, compared with 18 percent in the civilian
world. Yet during the past decade, twice as many accused sex offenders
in the Army were given administrative punishments as were court-martialed.
Female soldiers are betrayed by the chain-of-command that is their only
line to justice.
Only after the Denver Post launched a nine-month investigation into rape
and sexual assault against female soldiers in the U.S. military, and then
published a three-day series, entitled Betrayal in the Ranks,
from November 16 though November 18, 2003, did Congress and the general
public wake up to the terrors that many of our female soldiers face from
their fellow soldiers. What the Denver Post revealed is an obvious military
cover-up that has spanned decades, with reporters discovering that military
commanders routinely fail to prosecute those accused of sexual assault
and domestic violence. Nearly 5,000 alleged sex offenders, including alleged
rapists, avoided prosecution in the Army the past decade when commanders
handled their cases administratively instead of through their criminal
courts (Herdy & Moffeit, 2003).
Military sexual trauma (MST) occurs not only during wartime, but during
peacetime as well. Compared with women in the civilian community who face
the same experiences, the experiences of women in the military are most
definitely unique. The military itself is a microcosm of patriarchal society,
isolated from most of civilian society and community, including its justice
system. For women in the military, sexual trauma usually occurs in the
very setting in which the victim works and livesa setting to which
the victim must return. Depending on the circumstances, the woman might
actually find herself still working with and taking orders from the man
who raped her. Imagine the sense of helplessness and powerlessness, as
well as the risk for more victimization. If the perpetrator is in the
female soldiers chain-of-command, she might even be dependent on
him for basic necessities, such as medical or psychological care. The
perpetrator might also have control over her career, deciding about evaluations
and promotions. Many female soldiers who become victims of MST find themselves
in a situation where they must either see the perpetrator every day or
sacrifice their career to protect themselves from further trauma.
The cohesion and stigma of camaraderie within the military makes it particularly
difficult for women in the military to divulge negative information regarding
a fellow soldier. Powerful risk factors for women in the military include
young women who enter male-dominated work groups at lower levels of authority,
sexual harassment by officers, and unwanted advances while on duty and
in sleeping quarters (Sadler et al., 2003). Many victims are often reluctant
to report sexual trauma, or cannot find methods for reporting the experience
to those with authority. When military women do report sexual trauma,
they are often encouraged to keep silent, further harassed, or not believed.
Reports are often ignored, or the female soldier herself is blamed. The
daily situation becomes one of invalidation and constant fear. The betrayal
is a devastating one for these women, soldiers committed to protect a
country that most often doesnt return the favor.
Due to the militarys mishandling of sexual assault and trauma, the
Veterans Administration has had to deal with the effects, providing counseling
and healthcare to victims of MST. On February 25, 2004, in her testimony
before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Dr. Susan
Mather, Chief Public Health and Environmental Hazards Officer of the Department
of Veterans Affairs, stated that, The Veterans Health Administration
has been aware of the issue for women since at least 1991 when there were
reports of sexual abuse among women who served in the Gulf War. Jessica
Wolfe, who was then working at VAs Center for Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder, reported that 8 percent of the female Gulf War veterans that
she surveyed reported attempted or completed sexual assault during their
deployment. A sexual victimization study conducted by the Department
of Defense in 1995 among the active duty population found that, Rates
of military sexual trauma among veteran users of VA healthcare appear
to be even higher than in general military populations. In one study,
23% of female users of VA healthcare reported experiencing at least one
sexual assault while in the military (Street and Stafford, National Center
for PTSD). In a personal interview with Sharon Morrison, Clinical
Counselor for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic in Manhattan,
she stated, I have worked with victims of MST from World War II,
Vietnam, and Persian Gulf eras, as well as peace-time, and the helplessness
that a victim feels when attempting to receive aid and justice within
the military realm after an assault or rape becomes just one more trauma.
The Miles Foundation, a private, non-profit organization, provides services
to victims of violence associated with the military, tracking and bringing
public attention to the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the
military. Using statistics gathered from various government reports, the
Miles Foundation reports that 75% to 84% of alleged offenders are
honorably discharged (Department of Defense, 1994). Public groups
like the Miles Foundation are now pressuring the military to both protect
female solders and to provide adequate care for those who fall prey to
sexual abuse or harassment. This pressure has forced the Department of
Defense to begin to addressing the issue, such as announcing a new confidentiality
policy for sexual assault victims.
The new policy sets guidelines for restricted reporting that allows
a sexual assault victim, on a confidential basis, to disclose the details
of his/her assault to specifically identified individuals and receive
medical treatment and counseling, without triggering the official investigative
process (Department of Defense, March 18, 2005). Daniel Pulliam
reported that in early January 2005, Pentagon officials delivered
a new set of policies designed to improve the system of preventing and
responding to sexual assaults in the armed services. Formed in the last
three months as a response to legislation enacted after numerous reports
of sexual misconduct involving military personnel, the policies include
a military-wide definition of sexual assault, the creation of the position
of sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocate, and a checklist
for uniformed commanders (Pulliam, 2005).
Despite these new policies, the question in regard to whether or not the
military is even able to rehabilitate itself still remains. This question
becomes a disturbing one during a war time in which combat battle lines
are less defined, with many female soldiers in combat support units finding
themselves vastly outnumbered by male soldiers, facing enemies on both
sides. Until public pressure can force the military to both police and
punish its own in sexual assault and abuse cases, anyone who has a sister,
mother, wife, daughter, niece, aunt serving in the military must worry,
and wonder, whos got her back?m
Herdy, A. and Moffeit, M. (2003, December 9). Report on
sex assault, domestic violence in military spurs house panel chief act.
The Denver Post, p. A-04.
Protect women in military. (2003, November 23). The Denver
Post, p. E-06.
Pulliam, Daniel. (2005, January 4). Defense official
release set of sexual assault policies. GovExec.com. Retrieved January
7, 2005 from www.GovExec.com.
Sadler, Booth, Cook, and Doebbling. (2003). Factors associated
with womens risk of rape in the military environment. American Journal
of Industrial Medicine, 43(4), 325-334.
Street, A. and Stafford, J. (2005). Military sexual trauma:
Issues in caring for veterans. National Center for PTSD. Retrieved April
13, 2005 from ww.ncptsd.org/war/military_sexual_trauma.html.
U.S. Department of Defense. (1994). Abuse victims study.
Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.
U.S. Department of Defense. (2002). Armed forces 2002
sexual harassment survey. Washington, D.C.: Defense Manpower Data Center.
U.S. Department of Defense. (2005). News release (No.
267-05, March 18, 2005. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary