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Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence/Johnson

(ISSN: 2166-7152-Online)

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence


Olivia Johnson, DM*

ABSTRACT According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (2011), 1 in 5 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans reported that they were victims of military sexual assault (MST). Since males account for a large majority of all military populations, the numbers of MST victims (reported by veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs) is relatively the same for male and female veterans. Many victims of MST do not report such abuse. The lack of reporting is in part, due to shame and fear and the fact that few perpetrators are punished or prosecuted.

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Journal of Military Science and Research/VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence/Johnson

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed Into Silence


Olivia Johnson, DM*

Female service-members have more to fear than the presumed enemy. The unseen enemy is much harder to detect. This enemy wears the same uniform, does the same job, and has the same mission. This enemy is her male counterpart. Statistics indicate 'a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire' (Representative Jane Harman, as cited in Gibbs, 2010). Casualties of war and service extend beyond the loss of life. Over a third of all female service members have reported being raped (Ramirez, 2009). The chances of a civilian female being raped are 1 in 6, or 17% (Ramirez, 2009). However, statistics indicate a civilian female entering military service increases her chances of being raped by 50% (e.g., 1 in 3) (Ramirez, 2009). Victims of rape and sexual trauma are often hidden. Crimes are concealed by victims who feel shameful and by a culture that often discourages victims from reporting these crimes. In fact, few victims of rape, sexual assault, or military sexual trauma (MST) ever receive treatment. Of those who do receive treatment, many face ridicule, retaliation, investigation, and even discharge form military service. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, MST is defined as: [P]sychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training. (2011) Defense Department figures indicated that from 2007-11, approximately 13,000 female service members reported being raped. However, it is believed that actual numbers are much higher (as cited in Ellison, 2012). The Defense Department estimates only about 15% of all sexual assaults are reported. If accurate, actual numbers of military sexual assaults would be well over 19,000 per year (Ellison, 2012; Taylor, 2012). Victims of MST may not exhibit outward problems for months, or even years after the abuse. Problems may surface in an individuals mental or physical health, professional life, or personal life (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2011). Of course, several indicators may determine an individuals risk or increased risk for MST (i.e., prior trauma, reactions and behaviors by others to trauma, and the number of times such trauma was experienced) (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2011). According to the National Center for PTSD (2009), PTSD is the most common mental health condition observed among Veterans who report MST (p. 2). According to Hamblen (n.d.): Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event.... such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood (p. 1).
www.jghcs.info [ISSN: 2166-7152 Online] Journal of Military Science and Research/VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence/Johnson

Dont Ask, Dont Tell The lack of accurate reporting of MST, stems from a cultural mindset of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This mindset evolves from a culture that not only punishes the victim, but one that often rewards the victimizer. In turn, victims are not protected and oftentimes, are at greater risk for being re-victimized. In cases of MST, re-victimization occurs when victims are not believed, when they are blamed, or when those who perpetrate such crimes receive little, if any punishment. Victims often remain silent, for fear of being shunned, labeled problematic, harassed by fellow soldiers, or rejected by their units (Gibbs, 2010). In addition, many victims of sexual trauma fear retaliation. According to executive director of the Service Womens Action Network and former Marine Corps captain Anu Bhagwati, the militarys inadequate response sex crimes within all branches and ranks of the military appears to coincide with a victims perception of safety in reporting and with the lack of accountability for perpetrators (as cited in About Face, 2011). Victims know the detriments such accusations have on military careers, for themselves and their perpetrators. Why are victims of MST hesitant in reporting victimization? The real question should be: Why would anyone report such crimes, if they were not believed, if they were blamed, or if fewer than ... 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution...." (Gibbs, 2010). Of those service members convicted of MST, over three-quarters of these perpetrators still received honorable discharges (Gibbs, 2010, para 4). In order to understand the full depth of this problem, victims must feel comfortable reporting such incidents. In addition, victims of MST must be treated with respect and dignity, and the government must investigate and prosecute all founded cases to the fullest extent of the UCMJ. Precedence must be set in cases of MST; this precedence must not punish victims, or reward perpetrators, and it must prosecute the guilty. In addition, the Army is focused on awareness and prevention, training and education, reporting, response, victim advocacy, and accountability (AR 600-20, para 8-2). Civilian courts prosecute sex crimes at about 40%, whereas military courts prosecute less than 10% of sex crime cases (Mulrine, 2012). The military's running message of "Zero -Tolerance" for such crimes seems to fall on deaf ears. The tolerance of such behavior appears to be more the norm than the exception. "The military's emphasis on hierarchy and authority means that many officers are more inclined to protect the institution than the victim" (Elizabeth Hillman, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, as cited in Ellison, 2012). Whether leaders are protecting the "institution" or themselves remains to be seen. However, neither seem to suffer dire consequences for their actions, or lack their of. Destruction of Government Property Under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), titled: Rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct, formerly, Rape and Carnal Knowledge, criminalized sexual activity is defined (United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 2011). In addition, the U.S. Armys policy on sexual assault states: Sexual assault is a criminal offense that has no place in the Army. It degrades mission readiness by devastating the Armys ability to work effectively as a team.... incompatible with the Army Values and is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice

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Journal of Military Science and Research/VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence/Johnson (UCMJ) and other federal and local civilian laws... The Army will treat all victims of sexual assault with dignity, fairness, and respect. (United States Army, 2005, p. 4)

Service members may be punished under Article 108: Destruction of Government Property of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for being sunburned. Of course, this means that the sunburn must inhibit the service members ability to perform his or her sworn duties. Yet, those who perpetrate sex crimes against other service members are not seen as destroying or damaging government property. In fact, many service members found guilty of sex crimes (as defined by Article 120 of the UCMJ) seem to have no consequences for their actions and no reason to discontinue perpetrating. Sex crimes perpetrated by military members, on military members is not a new phenomena. Recall the following: Tailhook Sex Scandal (1991); Maryland Aberdeen Proving Grounds Scandal (1996); U.S. Air Force Academy Scandal (2003); Lackland Air Force Base recruiter sex scandal (2010-12). These cases involved numerous victims, but hundreds of cases involving single victims are surfacing. Many of the victims are women, but men are also victims of MST by both male and female service members. Shame, Resilience, and Healing The Department of Defense (DOD), by its own account, has updated its rape-reporting procedures, by creating what it calls a climate of confidentiality (Benedict, 2010). The climate of confidentiality was intended for victims of MST to report such crimes ... without fear of being disbelieved, blamed, or punished.... and even though the DOD keeps updating its reforms, military culture remains antagonistic to anyone who tries to report a rape (Benedict, 2010, para. 12). In lieu of updated reporting procedures, many victims still remain hesitant in reporting such crimes, because of the shame and stigma. In addition, this climate of confidentiality seems to provide an additional shield for perpetrators. Victims can report such crimes, without divulging the name of their perpetrator. However, until perpetrators are held accountable, actual number of MST victims will remain underreported and inaccurate. In addition, victims will continue to suffer silently, by being forced to work with and remain in the presence of their perpetrators. If you are a victim of MST or know someone who is, please share these resources: www.joyfulheartfoundatin.org/; www.maketheconnection.net/; www.vetshealing.org/; Afterdeployment.org About the Author: Dr. Olivia Johnson holds a masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management from the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies. Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a former police officer, and author. She collaborates with the Journal of Law Enforcement, the Journal of Global Health Care Systems, and the Journal of Military Science and Research as an author/lead editor. Dr. Johnson is the police leadership writer for Law Enforcement Today and her services and expertise were contracted out to facilitate Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS) to military personnel worldwide.

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Journal of Military Science and Research/VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3

Military Sexual Trauma: Shamed into Silence/Johnson References

Benedict, H. (2010, April 5). Sexual assault in the military: A nations shame. Retrieved November 13, 2012, from: http://www.pbs.org/pov/regardingwar/conversations/women-andwar/sexual-assault-in-the-military-a-nations-shame.php Ellison, J. (2011, April 11). The militarys secret shame. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/04/03/the-military-s-secret-shame.html Gibbs, N. (2010, March 8). Sexual assaults on female soldiers: Dont ask dont tell. Retrieved October 16, 2012, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1968110,00.html Hamblen, J. (n.d.). What is PTSD? Retrieved November 14, 2012, from: http://www.wellnessproposals.com/mental-health/handouts/nimh/what-is-PTSD.pdf Mulrine, A. (2012, August 29). Why pentagons progress against sexual assault is slow. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2012/0829/Why-Pentagon-s-progress-againstsexual- assault-is-so-slow Ramirez, X. (2009, October 12). War among comrades: 1 in 3 women raped in military. Retrieved October 25, 2012, from: http://www.care2.com/causes/war-among-comrades-1-in3-women-raped-in-the-military.html Service Womens Action Network. (2011). Pentagon releases 2011 report on military sexual assault. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from: http://servicewomen.org/blog/2011/03/18/pentagon-releases-2011-report-on-military-sexualassault/ Taylor, K. (2012, June 21). The militarys Invisible War: A call to action to stop sexual assaults. Retrieved October 12, 2012, from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/katetaylor/2012/06/21/themilitarys-invisible-war-a-call-to-action-to-stop-sexual-assaults/ United States Army. Armys sexual assault prevention and response program: Unit refresher training (pre and post deployment). (2005). Retrieved November 7, 2012, from: http://www.armyg1.army.mil/dcs/docs/Armys%20Sexual%20Assault%20Prevention% 20and%20Response%20briefing.pdf United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. (2011, September). Core criminal law subjects: Crimes: Article 120 rape, sexual assault, & other sexual misconduct. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from: http://www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/digest/IIIA45.3.htm United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2011, December 20). Military sexual trauma: What is military sexual trauma (MST)? Retrieved November 8, 2012, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/military-sexual-trauma-general.asp

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