July 3, 2012 / Safety

The Sacrifice No Soldier Should Ever Have to Endure


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

In November of 2011 the news of the horrific sexual abuse that went on at Penn State began to unfold. At the same time, however, another trial about sexual assault and rape was coming to a close. In Cioca vs. Rumsfeld, twenty-five women and three men – all former members of the military – sued Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates for violating the plaintiffs’ civil rights by failing to prevent the plaintiffs’ rapes and/or sexual assaults while on active duty in the military. On December 9, 2011, United States District Judge Liam O’Grady issued a two page dismissal of the case.

A recently released documentary, The Invisible War, shines a white-hot spotlight on sexual assault and rape in the military, focusing on the stories of some of the victims in Cioca vs. Rumsfeld. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert writes, “Until a few months ago, there was no way to go above your commander to report a rape. Defense Dept. Secretary Leon Panetta saw this film, and two days later, issued an order changing that practice.” On June 29, 2012, Panetta announced, “Sexual misconduct and sexual assault will not be tolerated in the military.”

Creating new rules and condemning these acts following highly publicized trials for sexual assault within its ranks has almost become a habit for the military. After the Tailhook Convention scandal in the early 90s, the Navy planned to fight sexual harassment with new training. The Navy’s senior admiral at the time, Adm. Frank B. Kelso, started disciplining aviators for using terms such as “sweetie”, and told reporters he was “not going to put up with people with this kind of behavior.” The Army declared zero tolerance of sexual assault and rape, setting up a sexual assault hotline in the wake of the Aberdeen Proving Ground sexual assault case. In 2004 Donald Rumsfeld ordered a task force to investigate sexual assaults on female soldiers in Iraq. As a result of those findings, the Department of Defense launched a website in 2005 “designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it.” The DoD also began requiring training on sexual harassment and sexual assault. Interesting, since one woman was actually sexually harassed during sexual assault prevention training.

So, how’s that working out for women in the military?

  • Twice as many female soldiers are diagnosed with PTSD as male soldiers.
  • There were over 3,000 reported cases of sexual assault in the military in 2011, but Secretary Panetta believes that because of underreporting, the number is more likely near 19,000.
  • During the 2010-2011 school year, 65 sexual assaults were reported at U.S. Military Academies. There were 41 reports the previous year.
  • Violent sex crimes in the military have increased 64% since 2006.
  • The Army reported that violent sex crimes committed by active duty soldiers doubled between 2006 and 2011.
  • The Army also reported that women make up 14% of the U.S. Army, yet are 95% of the Army’s sex crimes victims.
  • The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults in the military go unreported.
  • “Even those few men who are found guilty of sexual assault or rape tend to receive absurdly mild punishments, such as suspension, demotion, or a scolding letter for their file. In 2008, 62 percent of offenders found guilty received mild punishments like this.” (NPR)
  • Victim’s advocates jobs were assigned as extra duty, and were sometimes used as punishment. It has only recently become a volunteer job.

So, what happens when those scant few report their assaults? Victims are often given a psychiatric diagnosis (borderline personality disorder is common), and discharged. They are accused/convicted of going AWOL. They are accused of being at fault because they weren’t armed. Rape kits have been lost, only to suddenly turn up after a case has been closed. They are forced to stay in the same unit as the rapist. Some women are raped by the commanding officer to whom they are expected to report a rape, and some sexual assaults never make it up the chain of command to go to trial.

The victim blaming is relentless. Fox News pundit Liz Trotta made the following statement:

I think they have actually discovered there is a difference between men and women. And the sexual abuse report says that there has been, since 2006, a 64% increase in violent sexual assaults. Now, what did they expect? (emphasis added) These people are in close contact, the whole airing of this issue has never been done by Congress, it’s strictly been a question of pressure from the feminists.

Her clarification is equally disturbing: she only wanted to let the world know she doesn’t think all men are rapists. She just thinks victims should keep their mouths shut.

In the case of Cioco vs. Rumsfeld, the defendants had filed their motion to dismiss on the grounds that “rape and sexual assault are ‘incident to service'”. In other words, it’s an occupational hazard. Expect it when you enlist. The judge concluded that “congressionally uninvited intrusion into military affairs by the judiciary is inappropriate.” Victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) have no recourse outside the normal military command structure. Attorneys for the victims filed an appeal in June.

There are victims lining up by the dozens to file lawsuits against the military for allowing, or even fostering an environment conducive to sexual assault and rape. In February, Rebecca Havrilla and sixteen other plaintiffs filed suit against Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. In March, Rumsfeld, Gates, and Panetta (along with six other military officials) were named in a lawsuit filed by Ariana Klay and seven other women for tolerating a “staggering” number of sexual assaults at a prestigious marine base in Washington, DC. In April, Karley Leah Marquet and Anne Elisabeth Kendzior filed a lawsuit that “accuses two US military service academies, West Point and the Naval Academy, of systemically and repeatedly ignoring sexual harassment and rape, and failing to prosecute cadets and midshipmen who raped their fellow students.” On June 28, CNN reported that the United States Air Force had identified at least 31 victims of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, rape, or sexual harassment at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Air Force officials believe there are more victims, and are broadening their investigation.

Not all members of the military are sexual predators or rapists. But being in the military doesn’t automatically mean checking your dark side at the recruiting office’s door, either. It makes us uncomfortable, even angry to think we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes by someone we admire, and our society is slowly waking up to the fact that people we consider heroes are just as capable of these kinds of heinous acts as the rest of the population. Unfortunately, that includes members of our armed forces.

If you are a victim of sexual violence or rape in the military, here is a link to some resources for helplines, healing, and advocacy. As always, if you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

For more information on the film and the stories and government statistics included, please visit the Press Page, then click “Press Kit”.

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  • Outstanding post, Edee. Thank you for highlighting this disturbing trend occurring with far too much regularity in our military, along with the “blame the victim” mentality that seems to accompany these assaults.

    It is appalling what these women, whose only crimes is a desire to serve their country, have been treated so poorly by their command. Unbelievable.

    Again, thank you for this. It is one of those issues that does not receive enough attention, IMHO.

  • Thanks, Rabble Rouser! I do want to make it very clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and this is in no way intended as an statement against every single man in the military. But it is what it is: a harsh reality that needs to be addressed and stopped.

  • Kathleen Wynne


    I’ve been outraged for a very long time at the total silence by the MSM and the military regarding the despicable treatment women in the military have to endure, besides putting their lives on the line for their country. This behavior has been going on for eons and has, like any wrongs perpetrated against women, is simply brushed under the rug and ignored by not only the military brass but our predominately male-run Congress.

    If women were equally represented in our Congress, this kind of behavior would have been outed, addressed and punished a long time ago.

    This is just another example of why women must stop attacking each other but standing together and supporting each other, if we EVER want to see real change in male attitudes towards women and get the respect and accepted as equals by men.

    As one courageous, smart women once said: “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” If not now, when?

  • JeanLouise

    I’ve been aware of this problem for years but not of it’s breath or depth as demonstrated in this piece. I’m aware that members of the military give up some rights when they enter the service but how can anyone say that they give their right to be free from sexual assault by their fellow service members?

    I’d like to say that I’m surprised that Congress has not taken up this critical issue but they, in fact, recently voted down a law proposed by Senator Al Franken that addressed the way that American companies abroad handle the sexual assaults of their employees by other employees. A young Texas woman was gang-raped by her fellow Halliburton employees and was denied immedicate medical assistance and held in isolation for days before being allowed to contact her family. It was the company who did that and when she sued them, her lawsuit was thrown out on statutory grounds. When Franken sought to address the statutory issue, Republicans who voted against Senator Franken’s law claimed that guraranteeing American employees of American companies abroad their basic rights when they have been sexually assaulted is “unfriendly” to business!

    Thank you, Edee, for covering this very disturbing issue.

  • L. Ellen

    My daughter, the wife of a US Navy sailor, was raped by another sailor (barely an acquaintance) while her husband was on deployment. She was at a 4th of July party right next door, so wasn’t too concerned about having a few drinks. However this other sailor volunteered to walk her home and raped her. She was confused, ashamed, scared (but hid it), panicking, acting more drugged than hung-over the next morning after finding him in her bed–all the “normal characteristics that you might feel if you were sexually assaulted”–it says in the military sexual assault victim guides but later would all be used again her. He denied having sex with her, saying he only remembered her throwing up!.
    The next day, the flashbacks started for her. She just tried to ignore them, but couldn’t. She began to fear that if she reported the rape. this 6’7″ sailor might come after her since he knew where she lived and that her husband was out to sea! She felt suicidal and started sexual assault counseling and decided to report the rape about 2 weeks later. Six months later while preparing for the case to go to Court Martial (DNA evidence on sheets), it suddenly went to Court Martial and he got a $160 fine–that’s all! We are just now starting to get some of the documents through the Freedom of Information Act (she was not entitled to see any of the witnesses statements or even what he ended up being ‘charged’ with). What we are finding are lies and more lies. Rewording of her statements to make her sound guilty of “making everything up”, sailor buddies making up stories to support the rapist, defense witness allowed to give opinions that she probably made it up, etc.
    And now…. what justice? and what recourse? and what about the next woman? And to find any answers to what happened the Navy paperwork is extreme and most is then blacked out due to the personal privacy act (they don’t even list the Jag personnel for privacy reasons?). Again… no recourse. She is civilian. The “alleged” perpetrator is Navy.
    The hard thing for me: the Navy refused for 2 months to give her Victim Advocacy services—-she was totally alone. And they STILL have no empathy at all for her.