War Violence Against Women: Part 4 of 4

In September 2012, the documentary “The Invisible War” was released. It chronicles the experiences of many military personnel and the sexual trauma, specifically rape, which they experienced and the lawsuit these survivors have filed. Ten years ago a study was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine called “Factors Associated With Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment” that had already outlined much of what the film covered.

Both the film and the study demonstrate that a sexualized environment increases the chance of rape, alcohol is often involved, reporting does not often happen for fear of retribution, and disciplinary action was insignificant or non-existent. As I mentioned in a previous blog, “If you serve in the U.S. military and you rape or sexually assault a fellow service member, chances are you won’t be punished. In fact, you have an estimated 86.5% chance of keeping your crime a secret and a 92% chance of avoiding a court-martial” (CNN Opinion).

A few notes from the study:
•    Women reporting hostile work environments had approximately six-fold greater odds of rape.
•    Consistent rates of rape across eras of service [Vietnam War to Persian Gulf War] indicate that violence towards military women remains an unresolved problem.
•    The assailant was often identified as someone who had sexually harassed the victim, frequently a non-commissioned officer, and someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
•    Rape occurred more frequently on base and off-duty. The time of day most often reported for rape occurrence was 6 pm to midnight. Barracks were commonly identified as the location of rape.
•    Three-fourths of women who were raped did not report the incident to a ranking officer. One fourth of victims indicated they did not file a report because the rapist was the ranking officer. One third did not report rape because the rapist was a friend of the ranking officer.
•    Most victims acknowledged a sense of shame, futility, or fear of the possible negative effects of officially reporting rape. These women believed that nothing would be done, reporting would make the work situation worse, or their military careers would be adversely affected.

At the end of the film, it provocatively states, “In December 2011, the Court dismissed the survivors’ lawsuit ruling that rape is an occupational hazard of military service. An appeal has been filed.” While the Court’s dismissal does not say this explicitly (and the filmmakers have been accused of being inflammatory), the motion for dismissal by the Defense does: “On November 18, 2011, the District Court (J. O’Grady) heard oral argument. Defendants [former Secretaries of Defense Rumsfeld and Gates] argued, in essence, that unpunished rape and sexual assault should be viewed as ‘incident to service’ — i.e. an occupational hazard — for those who join the military services. Defendants [former Secretaries of Defense Rumsfeld and Gates] argued that the federal courts are not permitted to adjudicate whether they violated the law because doing so would intrude upon military discipline" (KORI CIOCA et al. v. DONALD RUMSFELD et al., page 7). The plaintiffs are demanding justice; they haven’t received it from the military and now the Judicial Branch says it’s none of their business.

Showing signs of change, on January 4, 2013, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. It includes stopping “enlistment waivers for individuals with felony rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or related offenses;” offering “better training for new commanders to create command environments that do not tolerate sexual assault, and to educate the commanders of the resources available for survivors and the disciplinary procedures for rapists;” and “improved reporting on sexual assault prevention, training, investigation, and prosecution throughout the Armed Forces.”

Make the Connection offers a lot of resources and support for U.S. veterans, many of whom may have been really “successful" during war (rape & pillage) and are readjusting to “normal." I encourage you to check out the work they’re doing and do something (anything) to support the survivors.