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”.