Reports of sexual assault within the military are rising! Victims are primarily women but include some men. Over the last decade, exposés in special television reports, magazine articles and radio shows have offered personal testimonies and estimates of the high frequency of sexual assaults, but no significant changes have resulted.
In Washington D.C. last month, attorney Susan L. Burke filed a case against current and former secretaries of defense alleging ongoing violations of the plaintiffs’ civil rights. The suit has been filed on behalf of nineteen former and current U.S. military service members.
According to Burke, “After being raped or sexually assaulted by uniformed colleagues, these survivors reported the crimes. . . . Instead of their perpetrators being punished, the victims were intimidated, isolated, and retaliated against.”
There are four previous cases pending in federal district or circuit courts.
A key problem is permitting the “chain of command” (i.e., a single individual) to control which sexual assault allegations are fully investigated and prosecuted. The military has not eliminated the ability of a single officer to prevent a victim from accessing the military’s judicial system. The reality is that this officer may well be a sexual predator himself.
Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a September 28 interview on NBC, said some 19,000 sexual assaults are alleged to have occurred in the military last year alone. Evidence suggests that because of fears of retaliation, only 13.5 percent of these were reported. Panetta calls the situation an “outrage” and pledges to confront the issue.
According to essayist Nancy Gibbs, writing in Time Magazine, “When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving.”
Sexual assault rates are higher in the military than in civilian life, according to an article by Nancy A. Youssef in the McClatchy Newspapers. Describing a special Pentagon report on military sexual assaults issued in March 2010, Youssef wrote:
Despite the suspected underreporting, sexual assault is more common in the military than it is among the civilian population, the report suggests — two for every 1,000 service members, versus 1.8 per 1,000 civilian women and one per 1,000 civilian men, according to statistics compiled by the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
In 2011 there were 3,192 sexual assaults reported -- an increase of one percent over 2010. There were 191 convictions. A number of women say they were discharged for “personality disorders” after filing sexual assault charges. This means no health care or disability benefits and a military record that is hard to explain.
California Congresswoman Jackie Speier is a leader of reform efforts and feels it is necessary to have an independent source for reporting and investigating military sexual assault charges. The combination of rising sexual assault reports, PTSD diagnoses and suicide rates indicate an increasingly malfunctioning military that needs immediate and effective attention.
Information sources: "Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell," by Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine, March 8, 2010; “Reports of sexual assault in military rose 11 percent in 2009,” by Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, March 16, 2010.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)