Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rape in the Military

Richard Mellor

I just watched The Invisible War, a film about rape in the military.  Statistics on rape in the military, like rape in civilian society are hard to pinpoint exactly because of how narrowly rape is defined and because most people that are victims of sexual assault don’t report it.

The documentary follows the lives of a number of women who were raped by commanding officers or fellow recruits and whose lives were altered forever by it, not simply due to psychological trauma but physical injury as well. 

Pretty much all the victims explain that their treatment at the hands of military authorities was worse than the rape itself.  Victims were told that they need to “stop crying over spilled milk” or as one woman who was raped was told, the perpetrator simply “Capitalized on an opportunity you provided to him. That’s not rape and you need to know that.”.  A soldier can get four or five years for selling drugs but two weeks extra duty for rape, one military investigator said.

One victim who was raped by a fellow officer at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington DC was asked what sexual favors she had performed to get there.  It was assumed she would be available as she encouraged it by jogging in running shorts and other such behavior.  Boys, girls and alcohol don’t mix she was told yet the repeated drinking events were mandated. Her case was dismissed because there were no witnesses, there was only her and the perpetrator and “He wasn’t talking.”

Women are warned that filing false claims or if such accusation cannot be proven, they face a possible loss of rank, denial of benefits a court martial perhaps; in a number of cases the perpetrator threatened to kill the victim if they spoke up.    More than one of the women in the documentary was charged with adultery as the rapist was married but the victims weren’t.

It’s no wonder then that in the US military, 33% of survivors didn’t report their rape because the person they reported to was a friend of the rapist and 25% of servicewomen didn’t do so because the person to report to was the rapist. According to the DOD, 80% of sexual assault victims don’t report the crime.  Given that an estimated 200,000 women in the military have been assaulted when the unreported cases are included it’s close to one million.

One victims rights advocate pointed out that 40% of homeless female veterans were raped while serving and that one of the reasons its so traumatic is that these women who were very idealistic about entering the military in many cases felt such a deep sense of betrayal as they looked on their fellow male recruits as family, as their brothers.  The PTSD rate for women raped in the military is higher than males who have been in combat the movie explains.

In a way, why would we not expect such behavior, the military is such a macho world.  “Masculinity can’t be victimized” one advocate says because if you are victimized as a male then you are not masculine, you are weak and points out that in many ways it is worse for men and some 20,000 are victims.  People are worried about gays in the military but “It’s not gays raping” she says.  Rape is about power and humiliation, the perpetrators are hetero males but most importantly they are violent criminals.

All through this film I felt the sense of helplessness these women must have felt given that their concerns were not taken seriously; “We were treated like cattle” says one victim. I remember the Tailhook Convention case back in 1991 which caused a stir but never changed anything and one of the victims of that horror shared her experience.  She described getting off an elevator and walking down a corridor at the hotel and there were some 200 men in the hallway but as she made her way they began to grab her, pull at her clothes, her skirt, her panties forcing her down to the floor.  The response she got when she went up the chain of command to report the incident was, “That’s what you get for walking down a hallway with drunk aviators.”

Like all undemocratic and oppressive institutions, the response to the epidemic of rape in the military is to cover it up and to introduce worthless non-solutions mostly designed to “help women deal with rape better” says one victim.  The new female director of the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, which like most corporate Affirmative Action Departments is designed to protect the corporation rather than aid the victim, says with pride that if a victim doesn’t get results from her commander she should go to her Congressman for help. 

Can you imagine telling a rape victim to call her Congressman in the civilian world, one woman says.  You go to the police, there are the courts, the prosecutors; there is a judicial system although in civilian life too, rape is not given the attention it deserves and its definition is very narrow.  In the military though you are at the mercy of an individual in command who has no understanding of what it is and how to deal with it and no incentive to do so if he or she did; whole careers are at stake.

As I sat through this and the blatant disregard for human life and personal health, I couldn’t help thinking about a few things.  One is the prisoners in Guantanamo and the horrors they have been subjected to by US military industrial complex. Then there are the victims of the wars fought for defense of corporate profits.  We owe it to the young men and women in this documentary and in our military to tell them the truth, that Operation Iraqi Freedom and the absurdly named War On Terror are not about freedom at all but aggression and plunder.  And how many thousands of women who are unfortunate enough to be in the path of this war machine suffer similar and much worse fates than those American women whose reasons for joining the military were honorable; to do what they believed was right.  The documentary points out that the average sex offender has 300 victims; being sent to a war zone, where the military rules, must be a gift from the gods for them.

The military is not a force for defense; it’s an offensive force, one that defends the interests of US capitalism and the 1%. No nation is going to invade the US and they know it. It is not an honorable institution as such an institution would not treat its veterans, (Regardless of our views on wars, those who send our youth to fight them are different from those who go; they are the murderers and they abandon the damaged goods when they return) the way it does.  It is a macho, violent institution.

Lawsuits will not change the culture in the military.  It would be better to not have commanders determine the merit of criminal cases but that alone will not stop it either. Military personnel should have the right to form unions independent of the state and it’s authority.  It is not an accident that officers are overwhelmingly chosen from the upper middle class and the bourgeois and instead all officers should be elected by the troops they command. Military spokespersons point out in this documentary that women are “Too sympathetic” when it comes to rapes and that they “Can’t see what’s going on”.

The same fears apply when it comes to the higher ranks of the military, those from working class backgrounds could never be trusted; they would always be suspect having strong links to the ranks.  The Vietnam war proved these fears of the US ruling class to be justified as more than a few officers met their deaths at the hands of their ranks.

The Invisible War is worth watching for the information in it alone but the victims are real, genuine people and you feel a strong bond with them including the one male victim interviewed.  That they were betrayed by a corrupt institution they believed in is bad enough; unfortunately appealing to the US Congress, its men or women or the courts will not bring much satisfaction either.  Soldiers are workers’ in uniform and as workers we must appeal to them as our class brothers and sisters defending their right to organize, to have power over their own lives and the right to a future outside of fighting the 1%’s wars.

There were a number of books mentioned in the documentary but I can only recall two of them: The Lonely Soldier and Betrayal in the Ranks

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