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A Scandal Bigger than Walter Reed – The Rape, Assault and Harassment of Women in the Military

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Women are facing widespread sexual harassment and even rape by their male comrades in the military.  The threat of sexual violence against female soldiers by their male colleagues is so great that women are warned not to out to the bathroom alone at night.  This has resulted in women stopping drinking fluids at 3:00 in the afternoon and has even led to deaths due to dehydration. 

How common are these problems?  It is difficult to tell since the military has not published a complete survey but indications are that 80% have faced sexual harassment and 30% have been raped.  This is a disgrace that should be resulting in hearings on Capitol Hill, independent investigations, policy changes and loud cries by women’s rights activists.  It should be a bigger scandal than the problems at Walter Reed but so far there is mostly silence. 

Women fighting in Iraq face two sources of potential post traumatic stress disorder: the traditional combat related action; and sexual assault and harassment by their fellow soldiers.  With regard to combat related PTSD, while women are generally limited to combat-support roles, they are still witnessing a historic amount of violence. Roadside bombs and blind ambushes, civilians who look like insurgents and resistance fighters  who look like civilians limits the difference between the stress of combat units and support units.

The rapes and sexual harassment of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news.  Regarding sexual violence there are sources showing widespread harassment and rape.   -          A 2003 report financed by the Department of Defense revealed that nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped.

-          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.

-          An earlier 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.

-          The results of a change in policy in 2005 allowing sexual assaults to be reported confidentially in “restricted reports” resulted in the number of reported assaults across the military jumping 40 percent, to 2,374, but still most are not reported.

-          The V.A. has diagnosed possible PTSD in some 34,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; nearly 3,800 of them are women. With regard to women, nearly every expert interviewed by writer Sarah Corbett mentioned the reportedly high rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military.

-          A nine-month study of military rape by the Denver Post in 2003 found that nearly 5,000 accused military sex offenders had avoided prosecution since 1992.

One of the shocking pieces of information coming out of the Iraq War is widespread reports that women are not being safe going to the latrine at night.  Author Helen Benedict reported on her research of Iraq soldiers DemcoracyNow!: “quite a few of them told me that they were ordered to not go out at night alone and not to go to the latrines or the showers without a buddy, without another woman. This was not being told to the men . . . it was a universal recognition that it was dangerous for women out there. And they weren’t talking about danger from the Iraqis, they were talking about, as I’ve said, danger from their fellow soldiers.”

DemcoracyNow! also included the testimony of Col. Janis Karpinski, who testified last year at a mock trial known as the Bush Crimes Commission Hearings.

 COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Because the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portoilets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And in 120-degree heat or warmer, because there was no air conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep. And rather than make everybody aware of that, because that’s shocking -- and as a leader, if that’s not shocking to you, then you’re not much of a leader -- so what they told the surgeon to do was, “Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.”

MARJORIE COHN: Was there a commander who saw dehydration listed as a cause of death of a woman, a woman female US soldier, and after that he said "Do not list dehydration as a cause of death anymore”?


MARJORIE COHN: Who was that?

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Kevin Zeese is co-chair of Come Home America, www.ComeHomeAmerica.US which seeks to end U.S. militarism and empire. He is also co-director of Its Our Economy, www.ItsOurEconomy.US which seeks to democratize the economy and give people greater (more...)
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