As of the end of September, 2011, 214,098 active-duty servicewomen comprised 14.7% of the total active force of 1.46 million people.
Recently (in part because of the reluctance of some in Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act), more attention has been given to the rampant sexual abuse of women in the military.
For example, The New York Times recently ran a harrowing story featuring one of the SIXTY-TWO trainees at Lackland Air Force Base who were victims of assault or other improper conduct by THIRTY-TWO training instructors between 2009 and 2012. Virginia Messick was unable to complain to her superior, because her superior was the one who raped her.
The Department of Defense reports that over THREE THOUSAND sexual assault cases were reported in 2011 alone.
They speculate that the real figure is probably higher, closer to NINETEEN THOUSAND, estimating that only some 10-15% of survivors report assaults. There are a number of factors militating against disclosure, as shown graphically below:
Moreover, it is not as if subjecting oneself to the horrible experience of testifying has positive results. In 2011, only 1,518 of the 3,192 reported sexual assaults were considered actionable by the military, a decrease of 22% from the previous year. Prosecution rates for sexual predators are incredibly low — in 2011, less than 8% of reported cases went to trial. An estimated 10% of perpetrators resigned in lieu of courts‐martial, which effectively means the military allowed rapists to quit their jobs in order to avoid facing charges. Currently, the Navy is the only branch of the military that discharges all convicted sex offenders. Otherwise, per the Department of Defense, an astounding 1 in 3 convicted military sex offenders remain in the military!
Documented consequences of military sexual trauma (MST) most frequently includes PTSD, impairments of social functioning and quality of life (for example, a study found that more than fifty percent of homeless female veterans had experienced military sexual trauma), chronic pain, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
So what’s being done? Nicole McCoy, who was assaulted several times while in the Marines, said in an NPR interview that her bad experiences started soon after she signed up:
Back in 2008, I had joined the Marine Corps and within almost exactly a year I was raped while in Afghanistan while I was at work. Continuously had to work with the same guy. He held a 9 millimeter to my head and told me that if I told anyone he’d kill me. And then I left Afghanistan after a couple months, still never told anyone.”
Her story just gets worse:
…in January of 2010 I was raped while in a hazmat course. And I went back and told one of the Marines that I was there with and I had told him what happened. He said he would contact my staff NCO. The staff NCO told me I needed to wait until I got back to my duty station, as they didn’t have any uniform victim advocates where I was. So when I got back then they told me that I missed the deadline.”
And believe it or not, the abuse continued. She finally left the Corps in 2011. Now she works as an advocate for change in the military and works to support other victims. But it’s an uphill road. As another female vet, Julie, testified on the same show:
I’m a Vietnam-era vet, and I joined in 1973, and like Nicole, I had multiple experiences with sexual assault. And let me be very clear here: I don’t feel that I’m a victim. This is something that happens to us in the military, because quite often the war that we have is with the guy standing next to us, not necessarily the guy on the other side of the gun.
And let me make a point that I’m not hearing being made: Rank has its privileges, gentlemen, and one of the most important aspects of this argument is that power – power over women is a very, very heady thing in the military. The men who attacked me had rank, and as an enlisted woman, and I wasn’t an enlisted woman the entire time I was in, they had power over me because they had rank. And I did not feel at the time of these assaults that I had the right to make an appeal to anybody else, that I felt that I would have been run out of the Army, and I’d made a commitment to my country.
So I bit on a stick. I kept walking. I didn’t make any appeal, and I simply was the good soldier. And one of the most important aspects of this, and the fundamental problem is that it starts at the top, and – may I point out Petraeus. These guys cannot keep it zipped up. It is at the very, very top ranks. This is an issue of power and the permission to do whatever they want because it comes with rank.”
Read the whole transcript here. And help fight the lack of prosecutions! If there is no punishment, there is no incentive not to continue.
[It should be noted that while women make up the overwhelming number of victims, sexual abuse is not confined to them]. The Department of Defense shows these statistics:
Any thoughts on this phenomenon or on how things could be changed?