Friday, March 09, 2007

Military women in Iraq getting raped by their fellow US soldiers

Thanks to West of Shockoe for the heads up about this:

Sexual assault of female US soldiers by their male colleagues in Iraq is a widely known problem, reports Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. The military's definition of sexual assault includes "rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts." article
"The knife wasn't for the Iraqis," she told me. "It was for the guys on my own side."

I am so outraged at this! This is truly a case of "if you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." It makes it very hard to go on living a mundane, everyday life when injustices like this are happening within our own military. As if the military doesn't have enough bad image to deal with right now. They're not doing a so great job at making us support them with stuff like this.

I've got to say I'm not surprised that this kind of hush-hush and suppression of detractors or tattletales happens in the military because isn't that always how it's been for a long time? An individual doesn't have independent thought--you work as a unit. The military still has lots of "good ole boys club" in its blood. I would think that it'd be very hard to stand up and have integrity as just one of the cogs in the system. As with any institution, if you don't have any power or status, you don't have the ability to effect change.

Not having been in their shoes, it's easy for me and others to say "Well how come the women aren't saying anything?" You can't know how you'd react in that situation until it really happens, especially with the stigma of sexual assault, and how restrictive the military is. As one of the women said:
Jennifer Spranger, 23, who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, a prison camp for Iraqis, had a similar experience. "My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, and he wouldn't stop pressuring me for sex. If somebody did that to my daughter I'd want to kill the guy. But you can't fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you're screwed. You're gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out."

And there's more to that. Fellow soldiers thinking you're a traitor because you've reported a rape, no women counselors, no way to report anonymously. It makes me want to cry.

And then there's the classic typecasting as listed here:
"There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke."

This is all relevant to recent events as well, because any time my seemingly liberal, progressive-thinking friends claim that "women are equal already," my answer to that is always one word: "RAPE". As long as rape happens in the scale and quantity that it does, all over the world, but especially in developed nations, women are not equal. This is also related to an ongoing discussion I've been having with some people, and had with some friends at an art reception the other night about sex workers/prostitution/porn and whether that was an act of oppression or not. More posts about that later.


Terra said...

As a deployed female soldier, this is a subject I've never been able to wrap my head around.

Deployment does weird things to people. Not only is the stress in deployed situations incomprehensible, but living in a deployed environment is like living in a different world. It’s like Vegas, and I’ve heard soldiers say, “what happens on deployment stays on deployment.”

I will agree with you that "good ole boy clubs" are alive and well in the military, and I think because it is, and historically has been, a men's club, females are easily forgotten and mistreated. In my mind, the difference between a sexually violent environment and a safe environment for women is the men in command positions. If you have leadership who drools over visiting cheerleaders in the same way that a newly enlisted private does, then there's a problem. On the other side, if you have leadership that keeps their daughters, wives and sisters in mind when they handle all situations, to include deciding whether or not to attend an event with half naked cheerleaders, or when dealing out punishments for sexual assault offenses, then you’re likely to be much, much safer. In my opinion, it is the old-school army men, who joined when women were barely allowed in and who really don’t think women have a place in the army, who cause the most problems, mostly because these old-school men are, at this point, leaders who seem to enjoy making life difficult for women.

Also, I think the situations women are put into during deployments are pretty unique. You take a young woman with low self-esteem, put her in a situation where she’s part of maybe 10% of the population at her workplace, and suddenly she’s getting all this attention from males, males that she’s supposed to trust because they are her comrades, but it’s a totally new and different experience for her. I am in no way victim-blaming here, but I think women get taken advantage of on deployments partly because they aren’t used to the attention. Then, say they have a few boyfriends and nothing bad happens with those boyfriends, but then something does happen with someone, maybe a friend, maybe someone misguided who thinks she’s “easy,” and she goes to report it, and no one takes her seriously because they’ve all seen the traffic coming in and out of her bedroom every day. It’s in no way right, but it does and has happened in numerous situations. Deployments are like high school all over again - everyone knows everyone else and what (and who) they've been doing.

I can say, from my own experience, which might just be the exception, and not the rule, that things in Kosovo are really pretty awesome. I do, however, realize that I am blessed, as I work for a key member of the leadership, and he, as a father and a husband, understands that sexual assault and rape is not something that can be tolerated in the military. When we arrived in Kosovo and he started looking over reports involving rape and assault that occurred in previous rotations, he was absolutely disgusted and expressed his understanding that regardless of risky decisions that a female soldier might make, rape is in no way her fault, as no one deserves to be raped, or taken advantage of.

Lastly, I want to say that the army is not all bad – it’s just like any other big corporation. We’ve got our share of assholes, but then we also have incredibly awesome people who make the army better. It’s not all bad, it’s just unique. Soldiers deal with stressful situations that are totally foreign to most people, and, in the absence of other, normal ways to relieve stress, soldiers sometimes lash out. But, I think it’s important to remember that we do a job that not many others could do, and, for the most part, we’re good people.

And lastly for real this time, thanks for checking out my blog – you’re right, we do have a lot in common and enjoy your search for 26 things!

Generation Next said...

Hey Terra, thanks so much for you insightful and educated comment. I hope you comment more.