Thursday, March 08, 2007

Soldier rape in Iraq

Violence against women was also an area I spoke about in regards to Veterans issues. Discussing the increased rates of domestic violence in the military or rampant sexual assault was always the toughest part of the speech for me.

A powerful story is now posted at Salon that discusses the Iraq War and these issues through the eyes of women.
I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the
topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.

The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, for example, where U.S. troops go to demobilize, told me they were warned not to go out at night alone.

The story completely corroborates a story I heard from a young Minnesota National Guard woman a few years ago.
Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have
not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. The military's definition of sexual assault includes "rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts."

So, because sexual assaults of female soldiers, by our own soldiers, were so prevalent, Donald Rumsfeld orders a website to be put up? I can agree with creating an easier reporting system, but really, when you are deployed, weapons are everywhere, I believe some young women would have a hard time reporting something like this while deployed.

I am appalled that they had to create a website to clarify that this is illegal activity.

Need I remind you that the military is taking felons now too.
A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found
that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans
from Vietnam and all the wars since, who were seeking help for post-traumatic
stress disorder, found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually
assaulted or raped while in the military. And in a third study, conducted in
1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, 90 percent said
they had been sexually harassed in the military, which means anything from being
pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at.

It's time for American's to fully comprehend what is going on in the military. Those aren't merely numbers. They are our wives, girlfriends, sisters, cousins, and our neighbors.

450 brave young women came forward after the First Gulf War and reported their sexual assaults.

Think about that, it may seem like a small number, 450.

If 450 women were raped in a comparable population, Minneapolis, in a 6 month period of time, do you think we would have heard about it?

It was an epidemic then, and now.

17 years later, most American's have no idea what is going on, the inside baseball politics of military life.
"There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke," said Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection. "This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don't have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead."

It's the de-humanizing training we go through in basic training. It's training that is re-enforced through years and years of racial slurs and sexist commentary and stereotypes.
Spranger and several other women told me the military climate is so severe on
whistle-blowers that even they regarded the women who reported rape as incapable
traitors. You have to handle it on your own and shut up, is how they saw it.
Only on their return home, with time and distance, did they become outraged at
how much sexual persecution of women goes on.

Indeed, they came down on the whistle blowers at Walter Reed too.

But, they have a website to report all this stuff to now,'s all good right? Right!
Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, which means that
neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged
to report rapes to a chaplain, and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors;
if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, that friend is legally obliged to
report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, gender, age, race,
service, and the date, time and/or location of the assault, which in the closed
world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, in practice, since
most people in the Army are men, the soldier will likely find herself reporting
her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work.
Worse, no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim
agrees to stop being anonymous.

So, with a high percentage of National Guard and Reserve forces fighting in Iraq, they still have no voice. Great system.

Crimes committed are increasing as well.

The number of reported military sexual assaults rose by 1,700 from 2004 to a
total of 2,374 in 2005.

One woman's story.
At the moment, the most shocking case of military sexual assault is that of Army Spc. Suzanne Swift, 21, who served in Iraq in 2004. Swift was coerced into sex by one commanding officer, which is legally defined as rape by the military, and harassed by two others before she finally broke rank and told. As a result, the other soldiers treated her like a traitor for months.

Unable to face returning to the assailant, she went AWOL during a leave at home, and was arrested and put in jail for desertion. At first the Army offered her a deal: It would reduce her punishment if Swift would sign a statement saying that she had never been raped. She refused, saying she wouldn't let the Army force her to lie.

The Army court-martialed Swift, and stripped her of her rank. She spent December in prison and was then sent to Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, far away from her family. She must stay in the Army for two more years, and may face redeployment. The men who assaulted her received nothing but reprimanding letters.

Swift's mother, Sara Rich, has set up a Web site with a petition calling for her daughter's release: More than 6,700 veterans and soldiers have signed it, and 102 of them signed their names to stories of their own sexual persecution in the military.

Swift's case, and those of her petitioners, illustrate the real attitude of the military toward women and sexual assault, the one that underlies its fancy Web site and claims that it supports soldiers who've been raped.

Letters of reprimand. WTF?

Kind of like being relieved of duty for abusing soldiers under your watch.

I encourage all of you to visit the full story online at Salon. It's the most powerful story of sexual assault in the military I have ever read.

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