February 17, 2011 / Law & Justice, Safety

Military Rapes No Longer Silenced

by

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

According to the Defense Sexual Trauma Response Oversight and Good Governance (STRONG)Act, posted on the Military Rape Crisis Center web site,  privileged communication between sexual assault victims and the onsite military victim advocates is not effective in protecting the rights of the victims:

  • Currently the conversations between victims and Victim Advocates can be subpoenaed in court.
  • This puts a victim at great risk of having something they told their Victim Advocate in confidence used against them in court, in support of the defendant or a defense witness.
  • This creates a chilling effect on victims, making them afraid to come forward and speak to Victim Advocates because of the risk of that information being forced to be made public, and potentially, used against them.
  • This is especially harmful in the military, where soldiers work together, live together, and are in a very close-knit community, and where information about fellow soldiers spreads rapidly.
  • Enacting privileged communication between victims and Victim Advocates is critical to ensuring that victims come forward and get the services they need, and guarantees that those attempts have confidential protection.
  • It is in light of this pertinent information that 17 female military veterans filed a class-action lawsuit against the Pentagon and their superiors for ignoring their allegations of sexual assault by men with whom they. In many cases, the women were threatened with verbal abuse and/or involuntary discharge from service if they made they reported the assaults.

    One woman was raped by two men in her unit who videotaped the assault and distributed it to colleagues. When she lodged a complaint, her commander told her that she didn’t act as if she was raped and refused to file charges against her rapists.

    Another one was raped by a fellow sergeant who took photos of the rape and posted them on line at HotMilitaryGirls.com. She also filed charges, which were ignored because there was a lack of evidence.

    But according to the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, “Sexual assault has no place in our armed forces and that’s why the department is committed to programs that focus on preventing the crime from ever occurring and programs that support the victims of sexual assault” (2011, Meg Alexander).

    Panayiota Bertzikis, who was raped in 2006 and is now director of the Military Crisis Center, reveals that “The problem of rape in the military is not only service members getting raped, but it’s the entire way that the military as a whole is dealing with it.”  And the military deals with it by not dealing with it. After Bertzikis filed her complaint, her rape was never investigated, and she was forced to continue living and sleeping in the same building and floor with her assailant. On top of being raped, having her rape silenced and swept under the military rug, and forced to face her rapist daily, she was also inundated with others calling her a whore and a liar.

    According to the Service Women’s Action Network, (who also have a petition you can sign to help end sexual assaults in the military), said that “the Defense Department’s own statistics show that fewer than one in five of these cases are even referred for court martial…unit commanders are the judge and the jury in these types of cases. Too often…perpetrators are given non-judicial punishments” (Anuradha Bhagwati).

    The lawsuit filed against the Pentagon is long over due, and a critical and effective way to hold the US Military accountable for tolerating sexual assaults against its female soldiers. It is the only way, it seems, to redress the way military commanders are dealing with rape allegations. By not dealing with the complaints of sexual assault lodged against the men in the military, the rape victims and their rapists are sent the same message: women don’t matter; their bodies are free for the taking, their service to our country is irrelevant, and their voices can easily be silenced. But this is no longer the case. And it’s about time.

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    • Kathleen Wynne

      Marina,

      Thank you so much for bringing this story to the forefront. I’ve been very disturbed by this horrible injustice being done to the women who serve our country by their male counterparts. As in most cases involving violence against women, I had not heard of the class action lawsuit. Please keep us apprised of this lawsuit and how it plays out, because the media certainly won’t give it the coverage it deserves.

      BTW, every time I see a female soldier, I not only thank her for her service to the country, I also let her know that I am outraged at the reports that women in the military not only have to endure the horrors of war, they also must endure being attacked and raped by their fellow male soldiers. In every case, the women thank me for acknowledging this terribly overlooked injustice and agree that it goes on and has been ignored by the military brass.

      It is beyond belief that the top military brass are willing to turn a blind eye to this crime against the women who are putting their lives on the line for the country, the same as the men. The same brass that constantly acknowledges the men who serve and honors them with parades and medals and promotions, can somehow live with themselves by not holding accountable those men who rape the women worthy of the same honor and praise for their sacrifice and should NEVER have to endure this kind of sick behavior by their so-called brothers in arms.

    • Thank you, Kathleen. You said it beautifully. It’s ridiculous that there is such a silence regarding this issue. Even while researching it, only one top news paper/site covered this story. You would think that dishonorable behavior by the US Military would be acknowledged by everyone — but no. It seems that rape is a woman’s issue alone and if we want it covered, we have to cover it ourselves. I bet that just like in regular society, there are more rapes occurring — there just not being reported — either by the women or by their commanders. It makes me sick to my stomach that women’s rights are still so under-represented, and that men are being sent the message that this kind of attitude towards women is OK — and anything goes, since there are no consequences. Thanks for commenting, Kathleen.

    • Bes

      “It seems that rape is a woman’s issue alone and if we want it covered, we have to cover it ourselves”

      That is exactly correct, Corporate Media cover “real news” not “gender issues” unless it is a story about Republicans taking away Reproductive rights so out of fear women should vote Democrat. If we want it covered we need to cover it ourselves in our own media outlets.

    • I notice how little coverage the Logan story and this story are getting- Palin and cross hairs go on for days and real legitimate news is buried..I suspect it is because neither of these two topics fit the Lefts ideals of how the” joyus revolution” in Egypt is going and how” Egypt” is an example for women throughout the Arab world on one hand…and how the military has a handle on these soldier attacks( which we know they simply bury, toss the woman out of service etc to hide the truth) on the other hand. I am Sick of biased media spinning the truth

    • Bes and Bruce, yes. Media coverage is biased and sensationalist. If they can’t make fun and denigrate women like Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Arianna Huffington, then it’s not newsworthy. But God forbid they write stories that show how our society functions to degrade women — they can’t since they’re part of the problem. So we cover them. Gives us more credibility and they look like the buffoons.