The most recent discussion of allowing women in the military to fight along side their male counterparts on the frontlines in battle have constantly been counteracted and shoo flied away.
One of the arguments stand out as a threat more than a justification. Politicians responded to this issue often with retorts like the following:
“If women are on the frontlines you can be sure military rape will increase.”
Woah, is that a threat? First, military rape continues to increase even though women are not on the frontlines. These type of reponses indicate that sincere dedication to education for prevention, punishment, and support to victims is not really happening, or at least effectively. Many government claims of support programs and policies in support of military women are a smokescreen. Therefore, the problem is not the job a female troop has but the lack of mutual respect and protection.
FACT, According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Women Task Force (DVAWTF):
- One in five women veterans screen positive for MST.
- Women who enter at younger ages are show increased risk.
- Enlisted women show increased risk
- Women who suffered sexaul assault prior to the military also showed increased risk.
These details are compiled from questioning and surveys obtained from women victims of MST. Fiscal year 2011, 23% females and 1.2% male victims of MST were screened at the VA.
During a recent visit to Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, I picked up a brochure advocating a program for women veterans. It was placed everywhere throughout the hospital. I saw it on counters and in wall holders as I walked through and once again as I sat in a waiting room for an appointment. This last time, I picked it up and read it. There was not much detail just a picture of a woman in uniform, a cute supportive quote, and a brief description of how the program is designed specifically for women because the VA recognizes their special needs. Next was a phone number to call for more information. As soon as I left the building from my doctor’s visit, I called the number which kept going to the operator. When I told the operator the name of the program I was trying to reach, she was unfamiliar and unable to find anything remotely like it in the directory.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, I considered that being a new program everyone was not aware of it (although I had seen the brochure multiple times just by walking during a short visit at the hospitale myself.) and surely there was a process to get new departments and contact information updated in the directory. I decided to give it about a week and call back. Months later I was still unable to get any further information, much less utilize the services of this new program. Unfortunately, this experience is not uncommon government wide. There is an old saying in the Army “Hurry up and wait!”, however this is a much deeper rooted problem than that. It boils down to the fact that in addressing issues that display the ugliest sides of the military, those that truly have the passion to initiate and implement policies and processes, as well as follow-up to ensure compliance and effectiveness are rarely ever placed in charge of such projects. Its often someone in pursuit of promotion whose only concern is adding the project to their list of accomplishments. Therefore it can be said that, those whom really have the power to address such issues, don’t really care or believe it is a serious enough issue. Yet, the barage of inquires to such from the media and outside world yield enough attention for them to fish for catchy program titles and throw them together in an effort to have an answer for those who would ask.
I recently had a discussion with a female Master Sergeant of the U.S. Army who boasts 17 years in the military and the fact that never once had she heard of a true instance as she put it, of military rape. However, she added that she had been aware of multiple proven false claims. She was adamant and passionate about how trifling female soldiers can be and she went on for almost an hour. Never once did she realize that her negative statements include herself. Even worse, she stated she had never even heard of Military Sexual Trauma (MST)! Because this soldier is still on active duty, she chooses to remain anonymous (a sign of awareness about the intimidation for those who speak up and out), so from this point on we will refer to her as MSG Anon
After her rave and bouts of military hoora, I shared details with her of an incident which resulted in investigation that lasted 72 hours. In 1991, a female soldier reported being gang raped by four male soldiers. Initially only one admitted to sexual intercourse with her but claimed it was consentual. After constant interrogation the same soldier told the details of how all of the accused had in fact had sexual intercourse, including sodomy without consent with the victim. Further, DNA results from a rape kit performed within hours of the incident revealed that in fact all had been involved. None, the less, these soldiers remained in the Army after. It is unclear what if any punishment was given to them. Further, this information was withheld from the victim’s military records and over 20 years later she has still not been compensated or classified as a victim of Military Sexual Trauma. “This is only one out of thousands of similar cases,” I told her.
After a few questions for clarification the prideful and aggressive MSG Anon went silent. Then, for the first time during our contact, she acknowledged that she does believe it is a valid issue military wide, however she had never been privy to a true case. When I shared with her the harsh treatment and job difficulties incurred by many women after reporting incidences and how many will recant their stories or just walk away in hopes of just trying to regain some type of normalcy and salvage their careers, she apprehensively agreed that for women it is a constant struggle to be acknowledged for their contributions and be promoted. It truly takes harder work to prove ourselves worthy she added.
Finally, I shared with MSG Anon the truth about my own defensiveness that had kicked in quickly from the beginning of our conversation. I revealed to her the perception I gleaned was not simply that of a “gung ho” soldier, but that her seemingly extra dedication and defense of negative attitudes towards women in the military was intimidating. I had immediately been thrown back mentally to my days as a soldier remembering this type of attitude and treatment. I knew instantly that had she been one of my leaders and I had any problem or issue, especially related to sexual trauma, I would have definitely bypassed her and chosen someone else to confide in. I further shared that the same is a possible reason she has never been privy to any true cases. Female soldiers just may not be comfortable confiding in you about something of this nature. Further, it only confirms the claims of how these incidences are covered up and how the victims often succumb to a hostile environment after their claims are leaked. By the end of our conversation MSG Any conceded that she is, in fact well known as a “hard ass.” She admits she developed this persona as a result of her desire to move higher up the military ranks, yet being constantly underestimated because of her gender along the way. Instead of simply being judged by her contributions and accomplishments. As a recourse she adopted the behaviors and attitudes of the military male leaders that held the positions and roles she desired to also hold. She now recognizes how some of these behaviors are mysoginistic and only perpetuate the problems of prejudice and discrimination in the military, yet she is still serving and planning to retire within the next few years. With that in mind she forsees no immediate actions on her part to openly and actively initiate or support any efforts in improving the treatement of women soldiers,
“I don’t see how I could be effective in the little time I have left. However, it is something to consider once I’m out.”
Never the less, I understand and appreciate her willingness to not only speak openly with me, but listen actively. Moreover, I am glad to be a witness to her own change in heart in reference to the validity of this issue in the military and hope to have future collaboration with her if she does in fact choose to be an advocate for women veterans in the future.
No matter how many reports come out proving the military covers up military sexual trauma. No matter how many spokespersons claim to be compassionate and aggressively addressing the issue, veterans of sexual trauma still suffer the persecution of reporting these acts and are still living with psychological barriers that are the harsh consequences of rape.
The long-term affects on women veterans who suffered military sexual trauma include a variety of complexities multiplied and made more challenging depending on other issues surrounding the incident. Amongst other issues, these traumatic experiences can lead to the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of PTSD include:
• Intrusive thoughts
• sleep disturbances
• memory impairment
• foreshortened sense of future
Often, command and peers turn their backs to those that report military rape and sexual harassment and are considered disloyal. Many are interrogated harshly and excessively and accused of being deceitful. Some are pushed out through a medical board and even given a dishonorable discharge. Perhaps the most distressing event that occurs with MST incidences is the cover up. After betrayal, accusations, being passed over on promotional opportunities, and pressured to go to another unit or get out of the military, women often watch the rapist receive support, encouragement, and promotions.
After leaving the military, these veterans’s suffer a number of maladies and as a result experience troubles in career opportunities, financial stability, and their overall future. The most difficult aspect is filing a PTSD/MST claim with the veteran’s administration. Often getting denied by letter after months of waiting and meeting with a doctor (usually only one time and whom asks no questions in regards to the claim(s) of MST,) the letter always tells the veteran they can file an appeal yet the appeal process is the same tedious and disheartening process. When denied again on an appeal, the veteran must begin the claim process all over again. This in itself forces the veteran to suffer the trauma of rape all over again, ignore and cover up, and hopefully dissuade the veteran from persisting on the qualified benefits, support, and assistance.
In 2011 the number of reported violent sex crimes jumped 30%. See Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence for the full report and details, including information about military sexual harrassment. This increase can only be the result of consistently faltering leadership that fuel a misogynistic climate saturating the minds of military personnel with beliefs that perpetuate sexism, sexual harrassment, and sexual trauma. Further, the system continually covers up and in effect, lead many to believe the victim will be the only person to suffer the consequences in such instances.
See The Invisible War Movie the new documentary that examines the epidemic of rape of soldiers withing the U.S. military. The film won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Below is a list of contacts in reference to MST and other resources relative to military women and veterans. If you do not receive appropriate assistance and support, please contact your congressman and insist compliance.
• DOD – Family Advocacy Program 202-433-503216
• National Alliance for the Mentally Ill – Veterans Committee 800-461-5453
• National Org. of Victims Assistance 888-777-4443
• National Women’s Health Center, US Public
Health Services, Dept. HHS 800-994-WOMAN
• VA (General Information) 800-827-1000
• VA Center for Women Veterans 202-273-6193
• VA Persian Gulf 800-PGW-VETS