MS. Magazine Blog
Soldier As Rapist: All Too Common
March 19, 2010 by Natalie Wilson
Fort Bragg soldier Spc. Aaron Pernell, 22, an indirect fire infantryman who has served two tours in Iraq, was charged with sexual assault in February. Pernell appeared in court Tuesday on 13 charges including rape and attempted rape. What’s unique about these charges are that they were made at all: thousands of other military rapists have escaped punishment in the past fifteen years, according to the Denver Post in its excellent investigative series [PDF].
As the Ms. Blog recently reported, a new Pentagon study confirms that militarized sexual violence (MSV) is on the rise. Yet, while crimes such as those Pernell is charged with are all too common, perpetrators regularly escape punishment and often re-enter the civilian world with no criminal record.
Since one-third of women who join the military are raped or sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers, we must recognize that the soldier as rapist is all too common. Given that rape and sexual assault rates rise in the civilian world during wartime, we must also recognize that militarized sexual violence is trickling down into our communities. As more soldiers return home, we can expect more crimes like those Pernell is charged with.
In fact, areas surrounding military bases have already seen increasing numbers of sexual assault. Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, calls this “collateral damage,” writing:
In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.
The practice of granting moral waivers–which allow people to enlist who have records of domestic violence, sex crimes, and manslaughter–may also exacerbate rates of MSV. Further, as Professor Carol Burke documents, many soldiers enlist as teenagers to escape troubled or violent homes. Since such abuse (if not addressed) tends to be cyclical, filling our military ranks with abuse survivors without addressing childhood trauma, offering psychological counseling, or implementing anti-abuse training, is a recipe for continued violence. These factors, in conjunction with the prevalence of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) in returning soldiers, which has been linked to enacting violence, likely means that rates of MSV will not be going down anytime soon.
ABOVE: Mug shot of Aaron Pernell.
Fayetteville, NC Observer
Published: 06:30 AM, Wed Mar 17, 2010
Rape suspect appears in District Court
By Nancy McCleary <http://www.fayobserver.com/help/staff/nancy-mccleary>
Spc. Aaron Pernell, wearing his full dress Army uniform, stared straight ahead and showed no emotion Tuesday when he appeared in District Court on charges including rape and attempted rape.
The 22-year-old spoke only when asked by Judge David Hasty if he had filled out an affidavit for a court-appointed lawyer.
“No, I did not fill it out, your honor,” Pernell said in a loud, clear voice.
It was the first appearance in Cumberland County for Pernell, who faces 13 charges including two counts of first-degree rape and three counts each of attempted rape and burglary.
Pernell has been charged by Fayetteville police with three attacks on women from October to December 2008 in single-family homes in the area of Cliffdale Road and the Water’s Edge neighborhood.
One of the women was raped, police said.
Some of the victims and their family members attended the hearing at the Cumberland County Detention Center. They sat in the front row of the small gallery and declined to speak to reporters.
A blonde-haired woman sitting on the front row took deep breaths moments before Pernell’s case was called. She stared down at her hands during part of the brief court appearance.
Three county deputies flanked the two benches where the victims and the families sat and escorted them out of the building.
Robert Cooper, a Fayetteville lawyer, was appointed to represent Pernell.
Hasty reviewed the charges with Pernell and asked if he understood that if he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to nearly 200 years in prison.
Pernell said yes.
His bail was set at $6 million.
Pernell was to be returned to the custody of military police from Fort Bragg, where he is being held.
Earlier Tuesday, Pernell appeared in District Court in Hoke County, where he is accused of breaking into three homes in the Raeford area between April and August 2009 and sexually assaulting three women.
His bail in Hoke County was set at $5 million.
Pernell also is charged with breaking into two homes and raping a woman on Fort Bragg in December.
Pernell, an indirect fire infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, is in the custody of the military.
Military officials contend the Uniform Code of Military Justice should apply in civilian court, according to Debbie Tanna, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.
The code doesn’t allow pictures from courtroom proceedings, and Army officials sought to have that applied during Tuesday’s proceedings, Tanna said.
Before the hearing, Chief District Court Judge Beth Keever issued an order banning cameras from the proceedings, Tanna said.
Keever was not available to discuss her decision.
After Pernell was charged Feb. 2 by the military, Fayetteville police said he was a “person of interest” in seven attacks reported in the city between June and January.
However, members of a regional task force created to investigate the attacks – which include an attempted rape in Hope Mills – announced Friday they are looking for someone else in those cases.
Staff writer Nancy McCleary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3568.