This weekend in the U.S. we’ll celebrate Memorial Day. Considered the official start of the summer season, people sometimes overlook that the purpose of the holiday is to commemorate all those who died in active military service.
This week’s #FeministFriday will be spotlighting a different horror faced by active members of the military:
Women serving in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat.
In 2012, a Pentagon survey found 26,000 women and men on active duty were sexually assaulted, and 15% of female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who visited a VA facility screened positive for military sexual trauma.
Of the 26,000 assaults, only 3,374 cases were reported. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Defense, 54% of women and 27% of men did not report because they feared retaliation, while 47% of women and 20% of men did not report because they had heard other victims had a negative experience after reporting.
In 2013, a new Pentagon report found that 5,061 troops reported cases of assault. Many people were optimistic that this nearly 50% increase in reports was indicative of victims “growing more comfortable in the system.”
However, of those reported cases, only 484 cases went to trial, and only 376 resulted in convictions; 816 cases simply weren’t investigated at all. Furthermore, while 15% of cases permitted the accused perpetrator to resign or elect to be discharged in lieu of court-marshal, 90% of the assault victims were eventually involuntarily discharged.
Of all the women serving in the five branches of the military, 4.7% of Army soldiers, 6.5% of Navy sailors, 2.9% of Air Force airwomen, 3.0% of Coast Guardswomen, and 7.9% of Marine Corpswomen have endured an assault.
To be clear, this is not new information. There have been incident reports and statistics of sexual assault in the military since the 1950s. The government is aware that one in three women in the military has been subjected to sexual assault. They just don’t seem all that interested in changing those numbers.
15% of incoming recruits to the United States military have previously attempted or committed rape or some form of sexual harassment/assault — double the percentage of an average paralleled civilian population. According to the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, rape is considered an occupational hazard in the military and does not qualify as sufficient reason for medical or financial coverage. That’s right, they’re aware that rape is a common occurrence — to the point that it’s on par with getting targeted by enemy fire — and rather than telling perpetrators not to do it, they’re essentially telling the victims that they should have known it would happen.
In that same vein of victim blaming, women who do come forward about being assaulted while on duty are often harassed or stalked, and dehumanized with names like “walking mattress”. Additionally, if a servicewoman accuses a male soldier of rape, and he is not found guilty, she can be prosecuted for filing a false report. Considering only one in five cases are prosecuted, victims are more likely to be punished than their attackers.
In 2011, seventeen U.S. veterans filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, defense secretary Robert Gates, and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Several of the plaintiffs’ cases reported that the victims had been forced by unit commanders to work with or under the accused rapist after reporting them for sexual assault. Unit commanders often have heavy influence over military rape cases, and are able to grant clemency, stop investigations, or change convictions to lesser offenses. They are also able to lead smear campaigns and turn a blind eye towards harassment against soldiers who report assault.
Despite the lawsuit, sexual assault in the military did not receive sharp attention from President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel until May 2013, when Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested for sexual battery. Krusinski was the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, and was unanimously acquitted of even committing the lesser offense of assault and battery.
Secretary Hagel has since ordered the retraining and recertification of U.S. military personnel whose job is to prevent sexual assault and assist victims, and Congress announced the Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013. The act would require trained military persecutors, not commanding officers, to decide whether sexual assault cases should go to trial, and would no longer allow commanders to set aside the conviction of anyone who has been found guilty of sexual assault, or downgrade a conviction to a lesser offense.
In March 2014, the Military Justice Improvement Act fell five votes short of passing.
The system is broken, and the government doesn’t care enough to fix it. They don’t care that the violence of rape and the ensuing emotional trauma are compounded by the futility of reporting the attacks to their superiors. They don’t care that female soldiers who have experienced sexual assault while in the service are nearly twice as likely to suffer from PTSD, or that 40% of homeless veterans were raped while serving.
They don’t care about Kate Weber, who was raped by a repeat offender one week into an Air Force deployment to Germany at age 18, then stalked and harassed after reporting the attack.
They don’t care about Brittany Fintel, who was pinned down on a bed by a superior, then told she had an “adjustment disorder” and taken off the ship when she reported the attack.
They don’t care about Carri Goodwin, who was discharged from the Marines for bad-conduct after reporting her rape, and died from drinking to excess five days later.
They don’t care about Jessica Hinves, who was raped by a member of her squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, then saw her case thrown out with no explanation the day before the trial was to begin.
They don’t care about Sue Foss, who suffers from such severe PTSD as a result of her rape in the Army, she hasn’t been able to hold a job to care for herself and her daughter.
They don’t care about Sophie Champoux, an Army Sergeant who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while on active duty.
The fact that any of this has happened — and is still happening — is proof that they don’t care.
These women are risking their lives to protect our country, yet our country would rather allow rapists to continue serving in the military than return the favor. Our soldiers deserve better, and we need to do better.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.