April 19, 2011
In an article in Left Turn magazine, Clare Bayard has beautifully reframed the issues for the peace / anti-war movement. Demilitarization is about challenging the infrastructure and ideology that make wars more likely to occur.
Demilitarization as Rehumanization
The antiwar movement never died. The movement has shifted to the work of long-term, community-based organizing to mount a comprehensive challenge to US militarism. This work is growing inside grassroots movements led by veterans, immigrants, queers, and low-income communities of color. Everywhere domestic militarization burns to the bone, people are fighting for a different future. The mass street marches of 2003 sought to preemptively raise the political cost of the Iraq war. We always knew that beyond those marches we would have to confront the real human cost if the wars moved ahead.
For those who have retreated into depression or distraction, her message is as hopeful as it is challenging:
People are organizing on every level, from federal legislation and military policy to survival programs that start with individuals and generate networks of grassroots resources and programs. Current work with the potential to drastically impact US militarism includes war economy and economic conversion campaigns, migrant justice, and GI resistance organizing.
There are many crucial questions about alternatives to military intervention, or the roles of armed struggle in peoples’ movements for self-determination. We take inspiration from people around the world confronting US militarism on their own territory, particularly in the anti-occupation and anti military base movements, currently finding their strongest expressions in North Africa, West Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.
GI resistance, counter recruitment, women in the military resisting sexual violence are some examples she discusses. She also highlights the need for healing the wounds of war, violence and militarism. A unique example of the cross-constituency, cross issue organizing involved in demilitarization work took place in the San Francisco bay area between the Ohlone Nation and Veterans for Peace:
Members of the Ohlone Nation—the Bay Area’s original inhabitants, displaced to Southern California—journeyed to San Francisco to hold a joint healing ceremony with the local Veterans For Peace Chapter on Veterans’ Day. The ceremony recognized a young person lost to suicide after returning from combat, and honored these two communities, beginning an explicit long-term partnership on healing the wounds of war.
She concludes that demilitarization must also involve healing and decolonizing ourselves from the violent and oppressive influence of militarism:
Demilitarization means untangling layers, from which institutions shape our society and address our needs, and decolonizing our minds, bodies, and organizing practices. Demilitarization practices are healing and wholeness strategies for our communities and cultures. Affirming everyone’s humanity and centering the importance of healing capsizes the logic of militarism. While we campaign to withdraw troops, defund the military, involve the public in reparations, and make racist fear and warmongering unacceptable, we must also be practicing individual and community behaviors that support the values we seek to implement as a society.
“Healing justice is being used as a framework that seeks to lift up resiliency and wellness practices as a transformative response to generational violence and trauma in our communities.” This footnote to principles developed at last summer’s US Social Forum, by Cara Page of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, explains the power of aligning different antimilitarist threads. We have no choice but to address the violence and trauma carried in so many of our bodies. We must reclaim traditions of wellness that use not the individual but relationships as the fundamental unit. This aligns us with values of community, right relation to the environment, and organizing as a process of building relationships that we set in motion to effect change. Demilitarization means hope for the future.
March 18, 2011
From Service Womenʻs Action Network: www.servicewomen.org
Service Women’s Action Network Statement on Air Force Survey
Christian Science Monitor Previews Survey’s Release: 1 in 5 Air Force Women and 1 in 20 Men Victims of Sexual Assault
NEW YORK – According to an exclusive piece published today online in the Christian Science Monitor, the Air Force is set to release a comprehensive survey later this week that finds almost 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men in the Air Force say they have been sexually assaulted or raped since joining the service. According to the story, among the women surveyed, 58% revealed they had been raped and 20% had been sodomized. Additionally, almost half of the victims didn’t report the crime because they “did not want to cause trouble in their unit.” To read the entire exclusive Christian Science Monitor story online, click here.
In reaction to the findings outlined in the story earlier today, Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), released the following statement:
“It should be no surprise that rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment are an every day fact of life for women in the Air Force, and every any other branch of the military,” said Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps Captain and Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network.
“Despite having more women than any other branch of service, it’s clear that the Air Force, like the rest of the military, is in over its head when it comes to reducing this threat to our servicemembers,” Bhagwati continued. “Survivors don’t feel safe enough to report their attacks, and frankly, there’s little reason for them to feel safe in today’s military climate. Senior military leadership has failed to protect survivors, punish perpetrators or hold commanders accountable for failing to enforce sexual assault policy. Immediate legislative action by our elected officials is the best tool we have to stop this crisis now.”
In addition to today’s leak of the Air Force survey scheduled for release later this week, the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) released its FY 2010 “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military”. The SAPRO FY 2010 “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” can be viewed here.
The 622 page report was released moments ago, revealing 3158 reports of sexual assault military-wide in FY10, and is being further analyzed by SWAN’s experts. A forthcoming analysis of the report and fact sheet will be made available to the public as soon as it is completed. Media outlets interested in interviewing or booking Anu Bhagwati, SWAN’s executive director, should contact: Robb Friedlander, Luna Media Group, at 913.636.0099 or email@example.com.
SWAN is spearheading a national advocacy campaign to end military rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. More information can be found at www.servicewomen.org/endit.
SWAN is a national human rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN’s vision is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without threat of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or assault. SWAN also seeks to reform veterans’ services on a national scale to guarantee equal access to quality health care, benefits and resources for women veterans and their families. You can follow Service Women’s Action Network on Twitter at http://cts.vresp.com/c/?ServiceWomensActionN/ceb87fc8c5/7536332849/2893dad97c, or on Facebook at http://cts.vresp.com/c/?ServiceWomensActionN/ceb87fc8c5/7536332849/3678379387.
December 18, 2009
Military men are silent victims of sexual assault
By Bill Sizemore
© October 5, 2009
For years after the parachute accident that ended his Army service, Cody Openshaw spiraled downward.
He entered college but couldn’t keep up with his studies. He had trouble holding a job. He drank too much. He had trouble sleeping, and when he did sleep, he had nightmares. He got married and divorced in less than a year. He had flashbacks. He isolated himself from his friends and drank more.
“His anxiety level was out of this world,” his father said. “This was a young man who got straight A’s in high school, and now he couldn’t function.”
Openshaw had the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though he had never been in combat. His parents attributed the trauma to the accident and the heavy medications he was taking for the continuing pain.
But there was more.
Finally, he broke down and told his father.
A few months after his accident, as he was awaiting his medical discharge from the Army, he had been sexually assaulted.
The attack left him physically injured and emotionally shattered. Inhibited by shame, embarrassment, sexual confusion and fear, it took him five years to come forward with the full story.
What truly sets this story apart, however, is not the details of the case, horrific as they are, but the gender of the victim.
There is a widespread presumption that most victims of sexual assault in the military services are women. That presumption, however, is false.
In a 2006 survey of active-duty troops, 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact in the previous 12 months. Since there are far more men than women in the services, that translates into roughly 22,000 men and 14,000 women.
Among women, the number of victims who report their assaults is small. Among men, it is infinitesimal. Last year the services received 2,530 reports of sexual assault involving female victims – and 220 involving male victims.
One of them was Pfc. Cody Openshaw.
Now his family has made the difficult decision to go public with his story in the hope that it will prompt the military services to confront the reality of male sexual assault.
As Openshaw’s father put it in an interview, “Now that they know, what are they going to do about it.”
Openshaw grew up in a large Mormon family in Utah, the fifth of nine children. He was a mild-tempered child, an Eagle Scout who dreamed of becoming a brain surgeon.
He was an athlete, a tireless hockey player and a lover of the outdoors. He was prone to take off on a moment’s notice to go hiking or camping – sometimes with a friend, often just him and his tent – among Utah’s rugged canyons and brown scrub-covered mountains.
He had a sensitive side, too: He was a published poet.
He looked big and menacing but he was really a teddy bear, one of his brothers said.
When he walked into a room, a sister said, everyone would light up.
He also had a mischievous streak. Once after joining the Army in 2001, he went home on leave unannounced for his mother’s birthday. He had himself wrapped up in a big cardboard box and delivered to the front porch. When his mother opened the box, he popped out.
Openshaw volunteered for the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he excelled as a paralegal and paratrooper. But his military career came to an untimely end shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
As his unit was training to invade Afghanistan, a parachute malfunction sent Openshaw plummeting 60 feet to the ground, causing severe stress fractures in his spine and both legs.
For months as he awaited his medical discharge, he was plagued by chronic pain. The medications prescribed by the Army doctors only helped so much, and alcohol became a kind of self-medication.
After a night on the town with a fellow soldier, his father learned later, Openshaw returned to the barracks and encountered a solicitous platoon sergeant.
His legs were hurting, and the sergeant said, “Let me rub your legs.” Then the contact became violently sexual. Openshaw – drunk, disabled and outranked – was in no position to resist.
The next day the sergeant told him, “Just remember, accidents happen. They can happen to you and to your family. You know, people show up missing.”
The story came out in tortured bits and pieces.
Openshaw confided in his older sister the next day in an agonized phone call but swore her to secrecy. He took his assailant’s warning as a death threat.
“He was worried about me and the rest of the family,” his sister said. “He said ‘We need to keep it quiet.’ ”
Because of the reported threat to Openshaw’s family, their names and locations have been omitted from this story.
He finally told his therapist at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City, who referred him to a VA sexual assault treatment center in Bay Pines, Fla. As part of his therapy there, Openshaw shared more of the traumatic episode in a letter to his father.
“He wanted to get better,” his brother said. ” He decided, ‘I’m going to beat this. I’m tired of five years of depression. I want to feel alive again.’ ”
A longtime friend thinks guilt was a factor in Openshaw’s reluctance to come forward with his story.
“I think he blamed himself because he was drinking,” the friend said. “When the assault happened, he said he remembered laying there and he was so drunk that he couldn’t do anything about it.
“It really affected him. He struggled even with asking a girl out on a date. He felt unworthy.”
Trauma from sexual assault has become so commonplace in the military that it now has its own designation: MST, for military sexual trauma.
The VA was first authorized to provide sexual assault outreach and counseling to female veterans after a series of congressional hearings in 1992. As the realization dawned that this was not just a women’s issue, those services were extended to male veterans.
According to a 2007 study by a team of VA researchers, a nationwide screening of veterans seeking VA services turned up more than 60,000 with sexual trauma. More than half of those – nearly 32,000 – were men.
Those numbers almost certainly understate the problem, the researchers wrote, concluding that the population of sexually traumatized men and women under the treatment of the VA is “alarmingly large.”
Sexual trauma, the researchers found, poses a risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder “as high as or higher than combat exposure.”
Among active-duty personnel, the Defense Department has embarked on what it says is an unprecedented effort to wipe out sexual assault in the ranks.
Key to that effort, the department says, is encouraging a climate in which victims feel free to report the crime without fear of retribution, stigma or harm to their careers.
In 2005, Congress authorized the creation of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services to examine how well the services are carrying out that mission. Its final report is being prepared now.
The task force fanned out across the world, hearing stories from dozens of service members who had been victimized by sexual predators. In April, at a public meeting in Norfolk, the group saw a slide presentation prepared by Cody Openshaw’s father.
As the story unfolded, the hotel conference room fell silent. By the end, the staffer who presented it – a crusty retired general – was close to tears.
It was a rare event: Of 58 stories collected by the task force over a year of meetings and interviews, only seven involved male victims.
If the crime is seldom reported, it follows that it is seldom prosecuted. According to Army court-martial records, 65 sexual assault cases involving male victims have been prosecuted worldwide in the past five years. There were almost 10 times that many cases, 621, involving female victims.
The Air Force, Navy and Marines were unable to provide a breakdown of sexual assault cases by gender.
Jim Hopper, a psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School who has studied male sexual abuse, said victims’ reluctance to come forward is rooted in biology and gender socialization.
Males are biologically wired to be more emotionally reactive and expressive than females, Hopper said, but they are socialized to suppress their emotions.
“Boys are not supposed to be vulnerable, sad, helpless, ashamed, afraid, submissive – anything like that is totally taboo for boys,” he said. “The messages come from everywhere. Right from the start, a fundamental aspect of their being is labeled as not OK.”
Military training reinforces that socialization, Hopper said. “It conditions men to accept physical wounds, death and killing while leaving them unprepared for emotional wounds that assault their male identity.
“When they get assaulted, they’re unprepared to deal with their vulnerable emotions. They resist seeking help. They believe that their hard-earned soldier-based masculinity has been shattered. They’re going to feel betrayed, alienated, isolated, unworthy. They feel like they’re a fake, a fraud, not a real man,” Hopper said.
Openshaw’s father, a marriage and family therapist, fears that the plight of male victims will continue to get short shrift.
“The military should take a more proactive role in understanding male sexual assault,” he said. “They need to set up some way that these young men can get some services without feeling so humiliated. They don ‘t have to be so macho.”
When Openshaw returned home from treatment in Florida in April 2008, his family and friends were buoyed by hope that he had turned a corner.
The two months of treatment “did a world of good,” one friend said.
“He texted me and said, ‘I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned that bad things can happen to good people, and it’s not their fault.’ ”
“He was so excited to come home,” a sister said. “He was planning a big party. He wanted everybody to see he was better.”
He was still heavily medicated, however – with narcotics for the lingering pain from his parachute accident and antidepressants for his post-traumatic stress disorder.
His first night at home, he went to bed and never woke up.
The cause of death was respiratory arrest from prescription drug toxicity. He was 25.
“These medications that he was on, they build up in your bloodstream to the point of toxicity,” his father said. “And that’s what we’re assuming happened.”
He does not think his son committed suicide.
“I have nine children, including Cody, and 15 grandchildren,” he said. “Cody had made arrangements for them all to come over the next day. There was absolutely nothing in his affect or demeanor that would suggest that he would kill himself.”
He is buried beside a pine tree on a flat, grassy hilltop in the shadow of his beloved mountains. His gravestone is adorned by U.S. flags, flowers and cartoon bird figures recalling his whimsical streak.
A year later, his death remains an open wound for the family. One younger brother is “very angry with God,” his father said. He refuses to visit the grave.
Openshaw’s young nieces and nephews still talk about him and ask when he’s coming over to play.
“Kids loved him to pieces,” his mother said. “He affected everybody he met.”
She, like her husband, hopes her son’s story will prompt the military services to take male sexual assault more seriously: “Something needs to be done so other service members and their families don’t have to go through this.”
The Army Criminal Investigation Command investigated the case, but with the victim dead and no eyewitnesses, the initial conclusion was that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.
The suspect has been questioned but remains on active duty. He has been recently deployed in Iraq.
If the case is not prosecuted, the suspect may be subject to administrative sanctions.
Louis Iasiello, a retired rear admiral and chief of Navy chaplains who co-chairs the sexual assault task force, said that when commanding officers take the crime seriously, victims – whether male or female – are more likely to come forward.
“The command really does set the tone,” he said. “In places where the command set a positive tone and also set a zero tolerance toward this crime, it was very obvious that people felt more comfortable coming forward and reporting an incident and getting the help they needed to begin the healing process.”
In the Openshaw case, that clearly didn’t happen, said Thomas Cuthbert, the task force staffer who presented the story in Norfolk.
At the time of his attack, Openshaw was in a holding unit at Fort Bragg for soldiers awaiting medical discharge.
“Instead of protecting him while he was being treated, he was left alone and subject to a predator,” said Cuthbert, a retired brigadier general.
“The kid was not in a position where he was fully capable of defending himself, and he got hurt by some hoodlum wearing a uniform. Any Army officer worth his salt, looking at those facts, would get angry.
“He needed help, and instead he received abuse of the worst kind. Leadership can’t prevent all crime. But when someone in authority takes advantage of a subordinate, leadership should be held accountable.”
If the services are serious about coming to grips with male sexual assault, Cuthbert said, there is still much work to be done.
If it can happen to a talented, promising soldier in the 82nd Airborne, he said, plenty of others who aren’t as independent or as capable of taking care of themselves also are at risk.
“Nobody in uniform is very happy talking about this issue. They don’t want to publicly admit it’s there, although we all know it’s there.”
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org
To report a sexual assault in a military service, contact a sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate. Local contact information is provided by each military service. There also is a central hot line:
* Stateside: 800-342-9647
* Overseas: 00-800-3429-6477
* Overseas collect: 484-530-5908
Reports can be confidential; victims are encouraged but not required to notify their command or law enforcement. For Navy personnel in Hampton Roads, contact a Fleet & Family Support Center:
* Norfolk (757) 444-2230 Little Creek (757) 462-7563
* Oceana (757) 433-2912
* Northwest (757) 421-8770
* Yorktown (757) 688-6289
* Newport News (757) 688-6289
* Fleet & Family Support 24/7 phone numbers:
(757) 444-NAVY (6289)
On the Web
o Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a national anti-sexual assault organization: www.rainn.o rg Safer Society Foundation, a national research, advocacy and referral center on the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse: www.safersociety. org
o 1 in 6, a support group for men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences: www.1in6 .org
October 22, 2009
Does Military Service Turn Young Men into Sexual Predators?
By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Posted on October 22, 2009, Printed on October 22, 2009
Every day, for four years as a West Point cadet, Tara Krause lived and worked alongside the men who had gang-raped her.
Still, she managed to graduate in 1982. She served as a field artillery officer during the Cold War and was attached to the 518th Military Intelligence Brigade during the Gulf War. In what she calls “an act of incredible self-destruction,” she married a three-tour Vietnam vet in 1985 and, for the next eight years, lived “the private hell of his PTSD.”
“Suicidal behavior, violence and degradation were common threads of daily life,” she told me. She survived only because when he put his gun to her head one day, it finally gave her the courage to flee. “Like Lot’s wife,” she says, she struggles not to look back.
It’s been almost 30 years since the rape, and Krause says she still “dance(s) the crushing daily struggle” of her own PTSD: “The nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, cold sweats, suicidal thoughts, zoning out, numbing all emotion and desperately avoiding triggers (reminders) — I have become a prisoner in my own home.”
Krause is rated 70 percent disabled by the Veteran’s Administration and has been in treatment at the Long Beach [Calif.] VA for the past six years.
For all the work she has done to heal her own injuries, she still has no answer for the question: “How do you get a group of Southern white teenagers, all of whom were Eagle Scouts, class presidents, scholars and athletes, to be capable of raping a classmate?”
The question deserves an answer, and not a simplistic one. A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the Gulf War found that almost 8 in 10 had been sexually harassed during their military service, and 30 percent had been raped.
Yet for decades, in spite of the terrible numbers, the military has managed with astonishing success to get away with responding to grievances like Krause’s with silence, or denial, or by blaming “a few bad apples.” But when individual soldiers take the blame, the system gets off the hook.
And it can be shown that the patterns of military sex crimes are old and widespread — for generations, military service has transformed large numbers of American boys into sexual predators.
So it seems reasonable to ask if perhaps there is something about military culture or training or experience that can be identified as causative, and then, perhaps, changed.
The correlation is difficult to dismiss. The majority of veterans behind bars today are there for a very specific type of crime: violence against women and children. That fact has held true since the first Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) surveys of veteran populations in the nation’s prisons in 1981, and there is evidence that those surveys only identified a much older problem.
The orgy of demonization, however, that both fueled and justified the disgraceful neglect of veterans in the aftermath of Vietnam makes this an especially fraught issue to take on.
But — without making any excuses for behaviors that cause irreparable harm to those who are victimized — there is little hope of change unless the tacit complicity of military institutions and culture is acknowledged. And that complicity most certainly did not begin recently.
World War II is remembered as a crucible and a coming-of-age ritual for the baby-faced boys it turned first into men and then into the “greatest generation.”
The butchery, the civilian atrocities, the summary executions, the appalling racism and the breakdown of hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been largely erased from communal memory. And so have the rapes perpetrated by American soldiers on our female enemies and allies alike.
In August and September 1944, when the fighting eased, French women were raped by their American liberators at three times the rate of civilian women in the U.S. And during the final drive through Germany in March and April 1945, more than 900 German women were raped by American soldiers, causing Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to issue a directive to Army commanders expressing his “grave concern” and instructing that speedy and appropriate punishments be administered.
According to Madeline Morris, the Duke University law professor and military historian who uncovered that lurid fragment of history, those numbers are almost certainly on the low side.
“Rape is particularly likely to have been undercounted because it is less serious than murder,” Morris explains, “it is reputedly the most underreported violent crime, even in the domestic context, and it was perpetrated in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) almost exclusively against non-Americans.”
Those women, especially German women, could not easily have found the courage — or the opportunity — to file complaints.
The memories of rape brought home by World War II soldiers surely changed their lives forever.
“What does rape do to the rapist?” is a question Krause has struggled with for 20 years. “Somewhere out there is that Rotarian, happy grandfather, son-done-good, solid citizen. Does he block it out, does he remember, does he feel a shred of guilt? Is it truly done with impunity?”
It is important to note that during World War II, according to Morris’ research, patterns of violent crime in the United States’ civilian population underwent sharp changes as well.
“While civilian murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates decreased 7.5 percent from prewar rates, aggravated assault rates increased substantially (19.9 percent), and forcible-rape rates increased dramatically (by more than 27 percent) above the prewar average.”
Similarly, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, BJS statistics show a 42 percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25 percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault.
Except for simple assault, which increased by 3 percent, the incidence of every other crime surveyed — including violent crimes overall — decreased, but once again, mirroring Morris’ World War II data, domestic violence, rape and sexual assault showed daunting increases.
The first BJS survey of incarcerated veterans found that two-thirds of those veterans had been convicted of rape or sexual assault. In military prisons as well, the report noted, “sexual assault was the most common offense for which inmates were held … accounting for nearly a full third of all military prisoners.”
That chilling aspect of soldiers’ criminal behavior held true in subsequent BJS surveys.
In 2000, veterans in state and federal prisons and local jails were twice as likely as non-veterans to be sentenced for a violent sexual crime. In the 2004 survey, 1 in 4 veterans in prison were sex offenders (1 in 3 in military prisons), compared to 1 in 10 incarcerated non-veterans.
Chris Mumola, author of the two most recent BJS reports, points out that “when sex crimes are excluded, the violent-offense incarceration rate of non-veterans is actually greater than the incarceration rate of veterans for all other offenses combined (651 per 100,000 versus 630 per 100,000).”
In fact, when sex crimes are excluded, adult male veterans are over 40 percent less likely to be in prison for a violent crime than their non-veteran counterparts. The same holds true for property crimes, drugs and public disorder — the rates are much higher rates for adult men without military experience.
“The one notable exception to this pattern,” Mumola says, “is sex assaults, including rape.”
The Veterans’ Health Administration has adopted the term military sexual trauma (MST) to refer to severe or threatening forms of sexual harassment and sexual assault sustained in military service.
Their records for 2007 show that 22.2 percent of female veterans and 1.3 percent of male vets (from all eras) who used the agency’s health services screened positive for MST. That represents a daunting increase of about 65 percent for both men and women over the agency’s 2003 data.
And the small percentage of men is somewhat misleading; the 2007 percentages translate into 45,564 women and 47,719 men whose injuries forced them to acknowledge their victimization and to seek help from the VA.
Some of that increase can perhaps be attributed to a 2005 congressional directive requiring the VA to improve its rate of screening returning soldiers for MST, but given that almost 90 percent of veterans don’t (or can’t) use VA health care services, it seems safe to assume that the actual numbers are considerably higher.
Those are just the numbers for veterans.
In 2008, the Pentagon received more than 2,900 sexual assault reports involving active-duty service members. That represents a 9 percent increase from 2007, a 26 percent increase in combat zones. Almost a third of those reports involved rape, and more than half involved aggravated sexual assault.
In a dazzling display of unapologetic spin, the increase was called “encouraging,” an indication of more reports rather than more assaults. It offered no evidence to back up that interpretation, save that the department “encourages greater reporting to hold offenders accountable for this crime.”
That seems an unlikely incentive given that only 10 percent of the 2008 complaints led to a court-martial (compared to a civilian rate of 40 percent). The rest received minor punishments, almost half were dismissed, and the report acknowledged that 90 percent of sexual assaults in the military aren’t reported at all.
Rape occurs almost twice as frequently in the military as it does among civilians, especially in wartime.
When a 2008 House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee subpoenaed Kaye Whitley, director of the DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), to explain what the department was doing to stop the escalating sexual violence in the military, her boss, Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, ordered her not to appear.
Only after the department was threatened with a contempt citation was Whitley made available to the committee. She then sought to reassure the members that DoD is conducting a “crusade against sexual assault,” and itemized all of the heroic measures the agency was planning to implement in the very near future — efforts that somehow, despite explicit directives and deadlines from Congress, the agency had not managed to launch at the time.
Tia Christopher, women veterans coordinator at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, holds Dominguez, not Whitley, responsible for flouting congressional directives.
“I heard him claim that the reason sexual assaults are so high in the military right now is the hip-hop influence. I don’t need to spell out why I found that so offensive. I fault Dominguez for not recognizing that it is a leadership issue.”
Christopher loves the military and calls it “a really beautiful machine” when it is working correctly. But she is a rape survivor, and she feels doubly betrayed by her superiors in the Navy. “They can respond to other situations, why not to sexual assault?”
Christopher was 18 when she joined the Navy, training to be a cryptologist. The night she was raped, she had been drinking.
“Underage drinking,” she notes, “is a big issue in the military. It gets you an Article 15, and it’s 100 percent guaranteed that you will be prosecuted for collateral misconduct. It is far more likely that you will get in trouble for collateral misconduct [from drinking alcohol] than for raping someone. So I destroyed all the evidence. I bleached my sheets and scrubbed myself up and didn’t come forward until two weeks later. I wanted to keep my military career, and I thought I could just get through it.
“But I saw him every day. I mustered with him. He would follow me into the chow hall and sit across from me while I ate. I stopped eating, couldn’t concentrate, started failing my courses. And I started having flashbacks, hallucinating. I thought I saw him everywhere.”
Christopher finally realized she needed help, but the female petty officer she first spoke to got her chief involved and, as the report went up the chain of command, her nightmare just got bigger.
“In my case, there were witnesses. They heard my head hit the wall in the barracks room, but they were drinking [underage], too.”
Her commanding officer promised them all immunity if they agreed to testify on her behalf, and then reneged on the deal.
“It ended up that they all got in trouble, and [her rapist] got off.” (In 2006, Christopher’s attacker was expelled from the military for another rape.)
“The last few months that I was in the service, I was assigned to X Division, mopping the stairs, cleaning the heads, picking hair out of the drains. It was my job to vacuum the different chief’s offices, and these sleazeballs would say things like, ‘Hey, Christopher, bend over when you’re sweeping.’ Or, ‘Hey Christopher, let me see them titties.’ When you come forward about a rape, basically you are just a slut.”
Christopher left the military in 2001, and it took her a long time to get her life back together. She still has panic attacks, flashbacks, trouble sleeping. But, with help from a women’s psychotherapy group at the Seattle VA, and the rich support from sympathetic colleagues at Swords to Plowshares, she has developed a lot of coping skills.
After seven years, and some good therapy, she feels strong enough to manage her advocacy and policy work.
“I’ve testified before the California state Legislature, and I was invited to testify before Congress. I speak out about MST as much as I do so other women don’t have to. This is not just my job. There is no way I would ever give my clients to the media. I remember what it was like, being fresh out of the service and going through that trauma.”
Lisa Pellerin, who has facilitated sex-offender programs for the New York State Department of Corrections for six years, believes that “everyone has the potential to be a sex offender. It depends on how they have been conditioned. When they are in the military, supporting the brotherhood is the most important thing. Soldiers do what they feel they have to do because they don’t want to be seen as weak or unable to perform.
“Sexual abuse has always been about power and control. If you are exposed and desensitized to certain sexual behaviors, they become normalized.”
One of the most basic conditioning strategies military training uses to destabilize a recruit’s inherent disinclination to kill is the inculcation of a dehumanized enemy. Soldiers are taught that “we” are the good guys; “they” are the “others.” “They” are easier to kill because they are not us. They are also easier to despise. “Others” — the nips, the gooks, the hajis — come and go, but ever reliable and constant is “the girl.”
Even in this new 20 percent female military, misogynist marching rhymes (aka jodies) are still used, and drill instructors still shame recruits with taunts of pussy or sissy, faggot or girl. Patty McCann, who signed up with the Illinois National Guard when she was 17 and deployed to Iraq when she was 20, still feels betrayed when she remembers her drill sergeant yelling, “Does your pussy hurt?” and “Do you need a tampon?”
A culture that encourages violence and misogyny, says Helen Benedict, attracts a disproportionate number of sexually violent men: half of male recruits enlist to escape abusive families, a history that is often predictive of an abuser.
But whatever attracts them, and wherever they come from, this is about a system plagued by rot, and not about a few bad apples. American veterans embody the inevitable, predictable blowback from that rotten system.
It is both unjust and disingenuous to focus on what our soldiers have become without talking about what we have become: A society that romanticizes its warriors, demonizes its veterans and devalues its women.
“Did I serve my full enlistment?” Christopher says. “No. But that’s because some shitbag sailor who shouldn’t have been wearing the uniform came into my life. Why is that my issue?
“This is a leadership issue.”
Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her book Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War was released on Memorial Day 2006. Her Web site is Flashback.