A new report by the US Defense Department, Pentagon, says almost three rapes occur every hour in the US military, raising serious concern about the soaring rate of sexual assault among US servicemen.
According to the Pentagon, sexual assaults in the military have increased to the alarming level of 70 per day or three every hour, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The report added that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2012, a 35-percent increase since 2010 when 19,000 such cases were reported.
However, the overall rate of sexual assault in the US military may be higher, as many victims fail to report out of fear of vengeance or lack of justice under the military’s system of prosecution, the report added.
“The more closed and hierarchical an institution is, the more the victim is stigmatized and the rapist gets away with it,” said Susan Brooks, pastor and volunteer rape crisis counselor.
Brooks went on to condemn the US military for maintaining a culture of gender and power relations, which she says produces the rape culture among service members.
Many high-ranking US military commanders have recently been convicted and relieved of duties for multiple sexual offenses and corruption over the years.
On May 6, authorities said Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Krusinski, director of the sexual assault prevention program for the US Air Force, has himself been detained for sexually assaulting a woman not far from the military headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
In 2012, over 30 male Air Force boot camp trainers were cited for sexually harassing, abusing and raping at least 59 military recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Air Force General who Overturned Sexual Assault Conviction Says Accused was Too Good a Husband and Father to be Guilty
Lieutenant General Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, shocked political leaders in Washington with his decision on February 26 to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a celebrated fighter pilot, saying the defendant was just too good a husband and father to be guilty.
“Letters from Lt Col and Mrs Wilkerson’s family, friends and fellow military members,” wrote Franklin in a letter to his superiors, “painted a consistent picture of a person who adored his wife and 9-year old son, as well as a picture of a long-serving professional Air Force officer…. Some letters were from people who did not personally know the Wilkersons, but wanted to convey their concerns to me about the evidence and the outcome of the case”
When the testimony of Wilkerson and his wife were in conflict, Franklin interpreted this as proof that they had not colluded in creating a cover story.
Wilkerson was convicted by an all-male jury of raping a woman while she slept in his home. He was sentenced to a year in the brig and discharged from the Air Force.
Franklin used his authority to overturn the court’s decision, which allowed the accused to return to active duty.
Members of Congress and advocacy groups have strongly criticized Franklin’s interference with the ruling, with some saying it is yet another sign of how the U.S. military refuses to take sex crimes seriously and punish those responsible.
Almost half of all US women deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan say they were sexually harassed, while nearly one-quarter claim they were sexually assaulted. The findings shed light on the additional stress military women face when they work abroad.
Research by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that sexual misconduct is a much greater problem than previously believed, since the Pentagon asserts that few reports were filed alleging sexual assault.
Only 115 such reports were filed in 2011, even though about 20,000 women were serving in Afghanistan in February. One of the study’s lead researchers, Amy Street, believes the data demonstrates an emotional cost of war that has hardly been considered.
The “lion’s share of the attention… has focused on combat exposure,” she told USA Today.
Of the 1,100 women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were surveyed by Street’s team, 48.6 percent admitted to being sexually harassed and 22.8 percent admitted to being sexually assaulted – and in some cases raped – while serving in a war zone.
But regardless of the new findings, the Pentagon has not promised to take any action to tackle the problem of sexual misconduct. Nate Galbreath, a senior adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office, said that he is not assessing Street’s research until he learns more about how it was conducted.
“It comes down to culture. (It) hasn’t changed, no matter what the generals or the secretaries of Defense say about zero tolerance,” California Rep. Jackie Speier told USA Today. “They have not scrubbed the sexism… out of the military.”
Many of the women who reported sexual harassment allege that the perpetrators were US military men. Earlier this year, dozens of female recruits at an Air Force base in Texas said they were sexually assaulted by their male instructors, while an Army brigadier is being forced to appear in court for sexually assaulting lower-ranking women while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Street’s study, 47 percent of women who suffered from sexual misconduct said the offenders held a higher rank.
And the problem has been on the rise: reports of sexual assault at US military academies have increased from 65 in 2011 to 80 in 2012 – although most such cases seem to go unreported. The Pentagon estimated last year that the number of reports of sexual assaults on women is less than 20 percent of the number of actual incidents.
“Women in the armed forced are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat,” Newsweek’s Jesse Ellison wrote last year.
But even though the problem has long been known, little action has been done to tackle it and only six percent of cases lead to a conviction, causing the women to “suffer in silence”, The Huffington Post reported.
While Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has claimed a no-tolerance policy for sexual assaults in the military, Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla believes his promises have no meaning.
“This whole concept of ‘zero tolerance’, it’s just words and no action,” she told The Huffington Post. The woman said that while the violence of war was brutal, she was most disturbed by the way the military men sexually harassed and assaulted her.
“Suicide bombers in pieces, [people] pulling dead American soldiers out of Humvees – I have seen a lot of stuff people should never see,” she said. “It was part of my job; death was something I had to deal with. I never, ever thought I was gonna have to deal with my supporters being the ones that did the most damage.”
During a one-year period between 2010 and 2011, the Pentagon received 3,192 reports of sexual assault, which equates to about 52 a day.
The new study by the Department of Veteran Affairs simply brings forth more evidence of the problem of sexual assault in the US military, which is especially prevalent in war zones. The Pentagon has so far refused to comment on the survey results.
- VA finds sexual assaults more common in war zones (usatoday.com)
Today, 34 civil rights, religious, and health organizations and experts joined together to condemn an extraordinarily degrading body search used on women prisoners. After every meeting with a family member, religious worker, or lawyer, and at other times, prisoners confined in Michigan’s Women’s Huron Valley prison are forced to remove all of their clothing and use their hands to spread open their vaginal lips as a guard peers into their vaginal cavities. This search — used routinely only in Michigan and in no other jurisdiction — has devastating emotional effects on women prisoners, the majority of whom are survivors of sexual or physical abuse.
A striking fact about Michigan’s spread-labia vaginal search is that it doesn’t serve any practical purpose, in part because the procedure is piled on top of two standard strip search maneuvers that already permit officials to detect any items smuggled in body cavities. Despite being even more degrading than those methods, the spread-labia search doesn’t add any measure of security. It’s therefore not surprising that the search doesn’t appear to yield any contraband. When we asked for records of contraband found during these searches, the Michigan Department of Corrections refused to turn any over, claiming that no log of recovered contraband is kept. In fact, subjecting women to such a humiliating search actually endangers security, because it traumatizes the women and risks increasing tensions between prisoners and staff.
But is it fair to characterize the spread-labia search as sexual assault by the state? Yes, for many reasons. Although the search doesn’t serve any legitimate purpose, women are forced to submit through the threat — or the actuality — of force. If a woman resists taking off her clothing or opening her vagina, she can be physically subdued and searched, or punished with solitary confinement. In most cases, the threat of force is enough to coerce women to comply. It’s important to note that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and courts, define sexual assault as a violation of the sexual integrity or dignity of the victim. It doesn’t have to give sexual gratification to the perpetrator, or even involve touching. The point of sexual assault is domination and control, asserted by means of the victim’s body. Decades ago, the eminent sociologist Erving Goffman described how body searches are used in prisons and similar institutions to humiliate and degrade inmates through what he called “forced interpersonal contact.” By breaking down a person’s sense of self, compulsory body searches make prisoners easier to control.
The similarities between the spread-labia search and sexual assault don’t end there. The effects of degrading body searches on the women forced to undergo them are uncannily similar to the effects of rape. In studies, both rape survivors and prisoners subjected to invasive searches reported damaged self-esteem, a sense of helplessness, anger, and feelings of disgust toward their own bodies. Both groups experience repetitive phenomena like flashbacks and nightmares. And without proper care, both can respond to the intense pain with self-destructive coping behaviors like self-harm and drug abuse. The words of the women themselves show that they experience the spread-labia search as sexual assault.
A broad coalition of rights and religious groups has given Michigan’s prison officials a clear choice: If officials are truly interested in rehabilitating prisoners and thereby reducing crime, they must stop sadistically undoing the hard work of rehabilitation through this patently abusive search. You can stand up against the spread-labia vaginal search by learning more about this extreme civil rights violation, and taking action to end the search for good.
- RCASA Friday Facts: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons (rcasa.wordpress.com)
- Virginia Prison Guard To Face Charges Of Having Sex With Inmate (washington.cbslocal.com)