(RINF) – The epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military was highlighted in the 2012 Oscar nominated documentary, The Invisible War. In the film, victims recounted their stories of abuse (by superiors and fellow enlisted personnel) along with the lack of recourse and an impartial judicial system, reprisals against the accusers versus the perpetrators, and the shortage of mental health support for the survivors of abuse.
The film led to various directives focusing on eliminating sexual assault in the military, from then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s edict in 2012 taking the adjudication of these cases away from the commanding officers of the affected units, to President Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 which included improvements to the handling of sexual assault cases.
But it appears that nothing has changed.
On Monday, the Washington Post published an expose by Craig Whitlock detailing the empty promises made by the military to address the high rate of sexual assault in its ranks. Not only did the Army disregard their pledge to Congress to punish offenders, they actually allowed sexual predators to remain in posts where they were in charge of promoting sexual assault prevention.
It is so out of control that during a 4-day conference on sexual assault prevention in 2013 in Orlando, sheriff deputies were called to investigate a reported rape by one of the Army Reservists attending the session.
In another incident, seven women told investigators that Army Col. Morris “Reese” Turner — leader of a military training institute dedicated to the prevention of discrimination and sexual misconduct – had “inappropriately hugged them, rubbed their shoulders or touched them without consent.”
And of course, the Pentagon is under-reporting the number of assaults – by a lot.
According to the Defense Department, 6,131 sexual assaults occurred in the armed forces in 2014, yet in a 2014 Rand survey, 20,300 military members claimed they were sexually assaulted, of which 76% of women and 57% of men were assaulted at least twice, resulting in over 47,000 sexual assaults. Of the approximately 200,000 women in the military, about 5% reported that they had been a victim of sexual assault in 2014 alone.
I know many people who are in the military and I find most of them insightful, smart and good listeners. However, I cannot support their chosen profession, as I equate “supporting the troops” to supporting thousands of people who commit acts of sexual assault and other atrocities.
It’s probably true that all professions have a number of “bad apples” and it is unfair to view an entire group of people in a negative light based on the actions of a few. But 47,000 cases of sexual assault in 2014 means there are more than “a few” bad apples in the military.
Indeed, people in the United States military are 31 times more likely* to be a victim of sexual assault than people as a whole in the U.S.
And when a person joins the military today, they are volunteering to have a career that may entail killing people. In fact, anyone who serves in a combat role is at least partially responsible for creating refugees and for fueling anti-American sentiments. Add to that the rampant sexual assault issue, and it would be hypocritical for any antiwar or justice advocate to say they support such a profession.
That being said, some of the most dedicated and effective antiwar activists I know are veterans of the U.S. military. Those are the people who deserve support. The same is true for those who are conscientious objectors, and for those who have become whistle blowers, such as the four former drone war veterans who are speaking out against the indiscriminant killing of civilians killed by weaponized drones in Afghanistan (including children who were referred to as “fun-sized” terrorists).
Or the British soldier, Chris Herbert, who lost a leg while fighting in Iraq who speaks out against anti-Muslim sentiment. He passionately stated, “Yes. A Muslim man blew me up, and I lost my leg. A Muslim man also lost his arm that day wearing a British uniform. A Muslim medic was in the helicopter that took me from the field.”
When someone says they “support the troops” they are saying it is acceptable to have a career that kills people and that it is fine to be part of an institution that turns a blind eye to rape and sexual violence.
Instead of saying “thank you for your service” to someone who is in the military, we should be questioning them on their career choice and challenging them to at least actively work to stopping sexual assault within their ranks.
* There are approximately 266 million Americans 12 years or older. According to the Justice Dept. there are 293,066 victims of rape or sexual assault each year. So a person in the U.S. has a 0.1% chance of being a victim of a rape or sexual assault.
There are approximately 1.37 million active duty U.S. military personnel, of which 43,000 were sexually assaulted in 2014. So a person in the U.S. military has a 3.1% chance of being a victim of a rape or sexual assault.