Sexual Assault Permeates U.S. Armed Forces

This is nothing new, but the problem does not seem to be getting any better. Military rapes are possibly even less often reported than in the general population, and less than ten percent of those investigated go to prosecution. This story is from CBS News

Sexual Assault Permeates U.S. Armed Forces
CBS Evening News: Shocking Report On Frequent Attacks, Low Rate Of Investigation, Prosecution
March 17, 2009 | by Katie Couric

(CBS) They’ve become an integral part of modern warfare – 200,000 active duty women serving alongside their band of brothers.

Jessica was one of those women. Born into a military family, at 24 she enlisted in the Army.

Following basic training she was posted half a world away at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. She was assigned to an Apache helicopter maintenance crew, one of three women in a unit of 60 men. Jessica worked hard to blend into a very macho world, CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.

“You figure out how to turn the guy off, and become one of the guys,” she said. “That’s your safety mechanism.”

But that safety mechanism failed. Just weeks into her new assignment, her squad leader began making unwanted sexual comments. Then it turned physical when he tried to force himself on her. She was afraid to report it, tried to forget it, but the assault haunted her. In a completely unrelated incident when she was out one night, someone she knew from another base raped her.

“The betrayal issues to this day are still pretty deep,” she said. “You know, I was like, ‘I’m willing to give my life for this guy next to me but how do I know that he’s not going to hurt me?’”

Jessica’s story is not unique. One in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military, compared to one in six women in the civilian world. The Pentagon released a disturbing report Tuesday on sexual abuse in the military, saying that more than 2,900 sexual assaults were reported last year, up nearly 9 percent from the year before. Nearly two-thirds of the cases involved rape or aggravated assault.

Couric asked Michael Dominguez, principal under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, how big a problem sexual assault is in the military.

“Sexual assault injures troops,” he said. “Injures readiness. So regardless of the numbers we have, it is by definition too much.

But how often does it happen?

The Pentagon only started a comprehensive program to track incidents in 2006, and only after Congress mandated it do so.

That year there were 2,974 cases of rape and sexual assault across the services. And of those, only 292 cases resulted in a military trial.

And in 2007 there were even fewer prosecutions.

“Of more than 2,200 servicemen investigated for sexual assault, only 181 were prosecuted?” Couric asked Dominguez.

“Yes, we absolutely have to get better,” he said. “Secretary Gates himself is driving this initiative this year to improve our ability to investigate, to prosecute and convict. This is not where we want to be.”

And in a majority of cases, the punishment doesn’t seem to match the crime. Often most offenders only get a reduction in rank or reduced pay.

“These are major crimes, not misdemeanors,” said Vivian Gembara, a retired member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “A lot of times what we see in the JAG court is very inexperienced, brand spanking new lawyers being given rape cases, murder cases.”

This month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for a military-wide “review of the training and experience’ of investigators and prosecutors for sexual assault cases.

For many victims their assault remains a shameful secret. The Pentagon acknowledges that some 80 percent of rapes are never reported – making it the most under-documented crime in the military.

Callie Wight, a counselor for the Veterans Administration said victims haven’t come forward for a number of reasons.

“They didn’t report because they didn’t think they’d be believed,” said Wight, a military sexual trauma counselor. “They didn’t report because they were ashamed and humiliated and they didn’t want anyone to know what happened to them.”

This is the military culture at work, the worst aspects of the general culture writ large. Rape is not just a matter of injuring troops and readiness, to be prosecuted by novice attorneys if at all. The military seems to have a similar attitude toward its women soldiers as toward prostitution, that male soldiers need sex, so what is the big deal if they take it by force, intimidation, or exchanging cash? That may sound harsh, but why else is the record of prosecution and punishment so dismally out of proportion to the crime, as if rape were a minor infraction? Realistically women cannot expect their attackers to be taught a lesson if most of these guys get off with a demotion, if that, which is another reason so few of these rapes are reported. A woman jeopardizes her safety when she reports rape, and for what? If a woman could have some expectation that the perpetrator would be locked up so she would not have to worry about confronting him again, she might be more inclined to take the trouble and risk of reporting rape. Otherwise she must contemplate the likelihood that reporting rape will get her nothing but more trouble. The military brass has been making noise about plans to tackle this scandal for years, but are things getting any better? I do not see any evidence of that.

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