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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rapists in the Rank

From the Los Angeles Times
By Jane Harman
March 31, 2008
Sexual assaults are frequent, and frequently ignored, in the armed services.The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer. Afraid for her standing in her unit, she feels she has nowhere to turn.

These are true stories, and, sadly, not isolated incidents. Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken.

Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported -- 73% more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released this month, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.

The Defense Department has made some efforts to manage this epidemic -- most notably in 2005, after the media received anonymous e-mail messages about sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy. The media scrutiny and congressional attention that followed led the DOD to create the Sexual Assault and Response Office. Since its inception, the office has initiated education and training programs, which have improved the reporting of cases of rapes and other sexual assaults. But more must be done to prevent attacks and to increase accountability.

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of "insufficient evidence."

This is in stark contrast to the civilian trend of prosecuting sexual assault. In California, for example, 44% of reported rapes result in arrests, and 64% of those who are arrested are prosecuted, according to the California Department of Justice.

The DOD must close this gap and remove the obstacles to effective investigation and prosecution. Failure to do so produces two harmful consequences: It deters victims from reporting, and it fails to deter offenders. The absence of rigorous prosecution perpetuates a culture tolerant of sexual assault -- an attitude that says "boys will be boys."

I have raised the issue with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Although I believe that he is concerned, thus far, the military's response has been underwhelming -- and the apparent
lack of urgency is inexcusable.

Congress is not doing much better. Although these sexual assault statistics are readily available, our oversight has failed to come to grips with the magnitude of the crisis. The abhorrent and graphic nature of the reports may make people uncomfortable, but that is no excuse for inaction. Congressional hearings are urgently needed to highlight the failure of existing policies. Most of our servicewomen and men are patriotic, courageous and hardworking people who embody the best of what it means to be an American. The failure to address military sexual assault runs counter to those ideals and shames us all.

Jane Harman (D-Venice) chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

5 comments:

Evenotes said...

Hello MacDaddy,
Thanks for sharing these pieces about the travesties being noted in the Iraqi war. Your writings are as close as I am coming to know the real travesties and impact of this war as you present issues from rape of our women soldiers TO efforts of soldiers such as Army Spc Joseph Dwyer to cope once they return home to the USA. Then what about those who don't come home or come home in a box or body bag. The picture you have of women soldiers and the saying about "For your sake (join the army)...", brings a question for me of, "For who's sake is it for real?" I know that the opinions about the Iraqi war are varied, however, from my point of view, we need to change this picture and bring our troops home. I am not saying that the USA should abandon its support to helping Iraq build a democracy--it is just that I don't feel our troops need to be in Iraq any longer to help support it (Iraq). Just my notes/views. Thanks again for sharing these insightful pieces.

MacDaddy said...

evenotes: Thanks for the insights. You know, I don't think we're going to realize the impact of this war for some time. Not only have many of our soldiers died; it has helped to bankrupt us as a country,taking much-need funding for health care, infrastructure, training, or retraining, for new jobs (since a lot of jobs we once had have left the country), to name a few. About the picture, I was trying to illustrate how recruiters glamorize military service. I also put up a picture of LaVena Johnson who apparently was beaten to death and possibly raped. I'll continue to update. So keep checking, okay?

sdg1844 said...

I can't even begin to imagine the cases we don't know about. Women just aren't safe in the military. It's become blatantly obvious that there are very few who give a damn on Capitol Hill or in the ranks.

These young women are there to serve just like their fellow male soldiers. It's the group/gang mentality that call upon the basest of human behavior; things that would not be done on an individual level.

MacDaddy said...

sdg: I think progressives should help Obama to get elected then lean on his ass real hard-- among other things-- to reform the military; Pushing out old guard hacks and bringing in tough Hillary Clinton-Russ Feingold types who are serious about change. Folks who have let the abuse of women go on, folks who have attempted to hide what has happened should be made to retire early or transfer, if such transfers are not lateral.

They should hold hearing on this matter, led by Sen. Harmon. Women should come forth and tell their stories. Then, while the public is pissed, early retirements, and even firings should commence.

Obama should be pushed to appoint a Secretary of Defense who will make this matter no less than a part of the top 3 problems on his or her list; and everyone else should fall in line and treat reform as an urgent matter.

The military has been able to let this slide by too long.

George said...

To sdg1844: ARE YOU KIDDING??!!?? Obama?? You're talking about the man who has allowed his campaign and supporters conduct the most vicious sexist campaign imaginable! He had his chance to address the issue of the incredible comments and images theses 'liberal' supporters of his made about Clinton, but he never did. "Don't tell me words don't matter" he said over and over again, but he never said one word about what was going on. He is no different from the systematic sexism in the Army brass. As a teacher I see the young men who enter the military and they are not the rising stars but those with questionable maturity. Just my observation. But the young women going into the service are usually very mature and driven. I believe that the men are threatened by the women.