Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rape and Sexual Harrassment by Military Personnel: Fluke or Systemic?

In response to the news coverage of the alleged rape and murder of an Iraqi girl, I've been reading posts by people asking why the media is only publicizing the one bad action among a million great actions being taken by our military.

But of the actions being taken by soldiers, are the criminal ones really that rare? And is there any indication that the stress of battle is what makes American soldiers rape when they are in a war zone?

First, I'll link back to my post on the Naval Academy rape case. That shows that sexual assaults within the US military are not a product of war even though some happen in war zones. And as the saying goes, begin as you mean to go on.

Then we have the romanticizing, in song, of the slaughter of an entire Iraqi family. Dehumanizing families until you can sing a fun song about their deaths isn't caused by stress, it's a reflection of what the songwriter believes. It tells us how supposedly good soldiers can rationalize war crimes.

But many conservative pundits came out in defense of this song, labeling the victims insurgents who set a trap for the American soldier. What this tells soldiers who have slaughtered civilians is that their actions, which some see as war crimes, are instead acts of heroism. They are merely enjoying the process of cleansing Iraq of evildoers.

I've also read the backhand defense of rapes committed by American soldiers through the description of what Saddam allowed his soldiers to do. But to me the "We're no worse than Saddam" line of defense makes as much sense as Americans during WWII saying "We're no worse than Hitler." When you go to war against an axis of evil, you'd darn well be so far better than your enemy that any comparison is ludicrious. The "They did it first" argument is nothing less than sickening.

Laikoa: US Military and Rape -- Covering Up Crimes, Punishing Victims

Between 2002 and 2005, the US military had a 68% increase in the reporting of sexual assault and rape cases. This might be due to more attention being given to the problem, both from Congress and the Pentagon.However, only 342 of the 1,700 cases reported in 2004 led to punitive action. That's a dismal 20%.
Democracy Now: Mother of Sexually Harassed Soldier Recounts Ordeal as Daughter Remains Confined to Base

We move now from a case of U.S soldiers raping and killing an Iraqi teenager and her family to a case of U.S officers preying on their own. Last month, Army Specialist Suzanne Swift was arrested in Eugene, Oregon for refusing to return to fight in Iraq. Swift served in Iraq for a year but decided she could not return and went AWOL. Swift said her superiors repeatedly sexually harassed her while serving in Iraq.

and

[female soldier's mother:] What I didn't know was the first thing that happened when she set foot on foreign soil is, these two sergeants, especially, began hunting her in a way, kind of predatory. The platoon sergeant asked her to go for a ride in his jeep. And she got in the jeep, and he turned to her and said, “You want to have sex with me, don't you, Swift?” except he said it in a very rude, derogatory, nasty way. And she said she was so scared that she just froze and didn't know what to do.

So she went to her equal opportunity officer and tried to tell him what happened. And he basically dismissed her and told her he didn't believe her, and it was -- you know, nothing was going to happen from it. So, from then on, she didn't feel safe. She -- kind of what it did is it was like a green light for other people to start stalking and proposing sex, harassing, doing all of those things, because they knew she wasn’t going to be protected by the platoon sergeant or the equal opportunity officer.

If this case occurred in isolation, I might dismiss it as an excuse or a fluke. But when you combine it with the sexually toxic environment that makes women soldiers avoid drinking water late in the day to reduce the danger of being raped by fellow American soldiers, the problem looks more systemic and nothing that can be dismissed as misreading signals.

Alternet: The Fear That Kills

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired U.S. Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.
This attitude -- outside and within the military -- where people acknowledge rape only when an incident makes the news and the details are so abhorant that the crime becomes undeniable, fosters the belief in many soldiers that the only real crime is getting caught or picking the wrong victim.

And now this.

Raw Story

A number of groups concerned with the problem of sexual assault in the US Armed Forces, along with Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, had called for the creation of an "Office of Victim Advocate" within Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office. A contracted study submitted by researchers at the Wellesley College Centers for Women on the establishment of the office had been considered within the Pentagon, but a brief report in the Washington
Times
on July 7 indicated that the proposal had been shot down within the Defense Department.
So for now at least the answer seems to be that the problem is systemic, but effective responses to the problem will be left to fluke status.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:11 AM   1 comments links to this post

1 Comments:

At July 24, 2006 5:15 PM, Blogger QuestRepublic said...

I believe the problem of sexism, harassment and assault is a serious one in the military, but not essentially different than in civilian life.

I served as a Legal officer in three squadrons and also spent a lot of time and effort to promote anti-harassment policies in civilian corporations.

The essential problem that you speak of here is caused by the collision of "human nature" with situations causing extreme duress, as in combat or at US Naval Academy (from where I graduated) or other high-stress military activities.

We can and should do better to tame our baser human urges; most military commanding officers I've known, take this responsibility more seriously than most officers of corporations seem to do. The solution to military sexism is not through some simplistic-sounding construction of additional reporting offices for sexual harassment. Instead we must demand accountability of the present commanding officers and we must minimize the use of military, to only those circumstances that are truly congruent with real national DEFENSE.

Cheers

 

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