Thursday, August 7, 2008

Female Soldiers, Raped & Silenced

My friend Mark sent me this article last week, outraged that it was "off CNN's front page within 6 hours." He wrote, "I guess we'll see how long the Pitt-Jolie baby picture articles stay in comparison."

Mark is right. Sexual assault and rape within the military is rampant, some even call it an epidemic. Adding to it is just how the assaults are covered by the media. In this article, the headline reads: Army Rape Accuser Speaks Out. Not rape victim (more favorable,) or rape survivor (most favorable,) but accuser. This type of language sets up a dynamic that forces readers to disbelieve her before even reading her story; it contributes to victim blaming and takes the focus and "fault" off the perpetrator and puts it on the survivor. Another news article's opening paragraph states, "Few problems have been more persistent or produced more bad news for the military than the issue of rape within its own ranks." Oh no! I feel so so badly for the poor military's image... Wait, no i don't. Who i do feel for are the countless female soldiers who have been sexually assaulted, raped, silenced, and even murdered. I also feel for those who have spoken out, only to be blamed, not taken seriously, and threatened to be arrested. And, it starts as early in female soldiers' careers as recruitment into the military!

While looking up information regarding rape survivors who spoke out, i found these incredibly disturbing stories: [Trigger Warning]

Sharon Mixon was a staff sergeant, and a highly decorated combat medic during Operation Desert Storm. She was in Saudi Arabia, and about to come home, when she says she was drugged and gang-raped.

"I woke up face down on a cot. I was being held down. And there were six men taking turns raping me," recalls Mixon. "They were U.S. soldiers, and they told me that if I told anybody that they would kill me. But I went and told the MPs anyway. And they told me the same thing."

"They kind of laughed and said, 'Well, what did you expect, being a female in combat? And we will always know where to find you. And if you open your mouth, you know what’s gonna happen,'” adds Mixon, who kept quiet for more than 10 years.

Mixon continued her military career until she said she began having flashbacks and was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder. She has actively lobbied Congress on behalf of military rape victims.

Here's another, if you can bare it...

"They want to brush it under a rug. They want it to go away," says Marine Lt. Tara Burkhart, who comes from a military family. She was serving with distinction as a public affairs officer in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, escorting reporters in and out of the combat zone. She and several enlisted men from her unit were invited to a party thrown by Kuwaiti nationals to thank them for all they had done.

"During the course of that evening, the sergeant who was under my command raped me," says Burkhart, who didn't initially report it. "I was afraid. I had seen what other people had gone through when they had tried to report sexual assault or rape."

She didn’t say anything, until allegations surfaced that she and her men had violated orders by drinking at the party, and that she had sex with a subordinate.

"I got my attorney. And he immediately contacted the command," says Burkhart. "'This is crazy, my client was raped.' And my command said, 'No, she’s lying. We don’t believe her. You shouldn’t either. And we’re gonna prosecute her. She’s gonna go to a court-martial.'”

Lt. Burkhart was charged with 19 counts, including sexual misconduct, providing alcohol to enlisted men, making false statements and disobeying orders – charges that could have sent her to prison for 26 years.

The soldier who Burkhart says raped her was later accused in another rape. "He was accused during my investigation," says Burkhart. "The other victim came out and claimed that he raped her in Kuwait, too."

The Department of Defense states that "one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military." Rape is too often underreported... i can't image an even higher statistic, but it's probable.

Why is the rate of rape in the military so much higher than that in civilians? I think this requires a multi-faceted response examining fraternal militarism, lack of support for survivors, and the history of rape used as a weapon of war. The military is probably the oldest "boy's club" there is and it becomes incredibly easy to "other" women when your ingroup is structured on masculine notions of power, strength, and dominance. This brings me to rape. Rape is an act of power, strictly. Is rape these male soldiers' only form of "defense" when their power is threatened? Obviously i'm using much more snark than i should, especially when talking about such a serious topic. I do so though because i'm imagining the troll comments i will get in response to this post, specifically the, "if women were never allowed in the military, they wouldn't be raped," and, "if they wanna be treated like the men they should be able to handle it." If you are a troll and you were thinking of writing that, don't waste your time.

But because of these attitudes female soldiers have an incredibly difficult time deciding to report, and reporting, sexual crimes committed against them. Because the military is so tight-knit people rarely want to report anything for fear of being ostracized. Combine the fear of social penalties for group betrayal with fraternal militarism and it sets up a hostile situation for any woman raped by a fellow soldier.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) wrote a piece a few months back for the LA Times where she stated, "We have an epidemic here. Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq." Now that is scary.


ETA: I cross-posted this on the feministing community blog, where I got several really thoughtful comments, check them out. One of the commentors, Jen, left this:

"There are people working to bring attention to this which will hopefully also bring results in changing this.

First off, being anti-war isn't enough or a requirement. As a veteran involved in anti-war work militant sexual assault (MST) is often viewed as something not as important as ending the war or even viewed as something totally unrelated...

You can support groups that are working to get the word out about military sexual assault and help the people who are affected by it.
Here are just three:

...Being online so much we can also include information on discussion boards that gets real information out, not just sexist slander.
We can include the CNN report above as well as useful information like:


Smirking Cat said...

The military is such a "don't go there" subject, especially after 9/11. It creates an untouchable environment for rape and other atrocities and injustices to go unhindered and unpunished.

lindsay said...

That's for submissions for the carnival of feminists - you should submit something! Definitely HollaBack!

DJ Dual Core said...

There has been psychological research done on men who rape, so there is information out there on who does it and why. I suspect that if you put men with those traits and thoughts in a war environment everything gets worse.

The military won't do anything about this until they are forced to. They are short handed and probably need all the female recruits they can get. Word gets out, women quit enlisting...

I don't know. Maybe that's the solution.

Radical Reminders said...

DJ, i disagree. I don't think the solution to women being raped in the military is for women to not be in the military. Rather, the solution for women being raped in the military should be for men to stop raping the women in the military.

Granted, i think i see what you're saying. Are you saying that it will send a loud clear message to the military if women stop enlisting and in this time of "they need all the recruits they can get" that might be just what they need to get the picture and take action?

I don't know, i still think that it's a slippery slope to victim blaming... it sounds too much like the whole women shouldn't wear x, y, z if they don't want to get raped... and that's bullshit.

DJ Dual Core said...

Good point. I was thinking of it in terms of withholding a resource that the military needs--women willing to serve--but focusing on that shifts the locus of control away from the source of the problem. You're right.

Women should not have to modify their behavior when they are not doing anything wrong.

I wonder what it would take to convince men that it isn't in their best interest to enter an environment where raping the people you are serving with is tolerated. ...that they should not risk becoming part of the problem.

So far as the men in the ranks now that are committing the rapes and silencing the victims, I have no idea.