september 15, 2012
that was tailor-made or sexual predators: 25percent o women and 27 percent o men whoclaimed “unwanted sexual contact” said thatthe assaults occurred in combat zones. Army investigators received increased reports o combat-theater rapes only ater units re-turned to their home bases, where victims eltsaer to report the assaults. (O more than 130 women killed in Iraq and Aghanistan, nearly 40 percent died o “noncombat-related” inju-ries, oten gunshots. Some were suicides, butothers occurred under suspicious circum-stances. A number o the deaths came aterthe women reported being raped.) “About hal the women we see with military sexual trau-ma also have trauma rom combat exposure,”said Deleene Meneee, a psychologist at the VA’s medical center in Houston. “On top o taking re rom the enemy outside the gates,they’ve had to cope with the trauma and earo being attacked by the enemy rom within.”How, in 2012, can sexual assault still be sopervasive and the military justice system’s re-action so cruel that it routinely revictimizesthe injured and slaps the hands o perpetra-tors? The answer may be a cultural blind spotsimilar to the Catholic Church’s myopia onchild molestation. Time and again, the armedservices have proven unable or unwilling tograsp the extent to which their core ethos andorganizational principles are vulnerable toexploitation by sexual opportunists. Indeed, viewed through a certain prism, much aboutmilitary lie—the lopsided power imbalanceso rank, the emphasis on unit cohesion overpersonal welare, the captive troops with no- where to escape, the testosterone-ueled spir-it o an overwhelmingly male proession thatis heavily dependent on emale volunteers—could make the military an almost ideal hunt-ing ground or sexual predators.
FIRED FOR BEING RAPED
Jennier Norris loved the Air Force. Sheplanned to use it to get an education and theneventually join law enorcement. The last wordshe would ever have used to describe hersel was “victim.” Yet Norris didn’t even make itto basic training beore she says an Air Forcerecruiter drugged and raped her, a method o assault that VA mental-health experts say iscommon. In technical school, Norris learnedrom another emale trainee that she, too, had been raped by the recruiter; investigators say that repeat oenders tend to ollow a pattern.Two weeks beore graduating rom technicaltraining, Norris was assaulted again by an in-structor ater turning her back to him inside amaintenance van. Still she hesitated to reportthe incidents. She knew she’d be labeled a trou- blemaker, endangering her Air Force career. At her rst permanent-duty station with aremote communications squadron in Maine,Norris encountered lots o drunken, ater-lax its recruitment standards to ll the ranksat the height o the ghting in Iraq and A-ghanistan, and an anonymous 2008 survey by the Naval Health Research Center report-ed that as many as 15 percent o incoming re-cruits had either committed or attemptedrape beore entering the military—twice therate o their civilian cohorts. Counterinsur-gency warare also placed service membersin a high-stress/low-oversight environmentMarine Corps aviation ocers); the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996 (12 Army ocers charged with sexually assaulting e-male trainees); the Air Force Academy in 2003(12 percent o emale graduates reported hav-ing been victims o rape or attempted rape,and 70 percent said they had been sexually harassed); and the Marine Barracks in Wash-ington in recent years, where the documen-tary
The Invisible War
interviewed ve emaleMarines who reported having been raped (theCorps investigated and disciplined our o the women ater they reported the rapes but pun-ished none o the accused ocers).Two days ater seeing
The Invisible War,
Deense Secretary Leon Panetta directedcommanders to elevate all sexual-assault in- vestigations to a reviewing authority head-ed by a higher-ranking colonel. He also be-gan creating “special-victim units” in each branch. It was a start.But the most alarming aspect o the Lack-land story is its predictability, because the very values Pendleton is trying to inculcate (obedi-ence, sel-sacrice, stoicism in the ace o de-privation) are the ones that predators exploitin these scandals. The Deense Department’sown data suggest that, ar rom representingan isolated incident, Lackland is just the latestoutbreak o what Panetta has called a “silentepidemic” o sexual assault in the ranks. Basedon the Pentagon’s most recent survey on theissue in 2010, the epidemic aects more than19,000 victims each year. Meanwhile, accord-ing to annual Veterans Aairs Departmentsurveys, 20 percent o emale veterans screenpositive or “military sexual trauma,” as do 1percent o male veterans—many o them vic-tims o male-on-male rape. Cumulatively, thedata suggest that hundreds o thousands o current and ormer members o the military have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sub- jected to “unwanted” sexual contact. In 2010alone, the VA conducted nearly 700,000 reeoutpatient counseling sessions to veteranssuering rom military sexual trauma. And the military-justice system has ailedto check that epidemic. Persistent, corrobo-rated accounts (by victims and sex-crimesexperts) describe a command climate thattends to cast suspicion and blame on victims.Too oten, the system treats reports o rapeand sexual assault not as heinous crimes to be prosecuted harshly but as unwanted dis-tractions rom “good order and discipline” to be dealt with, hastily, at the lowest commandlevel. Frequently, this means simply transer-ring or demoting suspected perpetrators or“sexual harassment” and reerring distraught victims to uniormed mental-health experts who diagnose them with “personality disor-ders” and help wash them out o the military. A decade o conict has almost certainly exacerbated the scourge. The Army had to re-
p h o t o s : ( p r e v i o u s p a g e , i l l u s t r a t i o n s o u r c e ) g e t t y i m a g e s / s c o t t o l s o n ; ( t h i s p a g e ) h a n d o u t
“The wholesquadron basically turnedon me like I was a leper.”
Service–member victims in reports of sexualassault by ﬁscal year
The Defense Department counted about 2,700victims of sexual assault last ﬁscal year, butbecause of underreporting, it estimates thatthere were far more–19,000.
Source: Defense Department, “Annual Reporton Sexual Assault in the Military”