CNN's front page reports on the epidemic of rape against female servicemen serving abroad.
According to Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) a recent visit to a VA hospital revealed that
"My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41 percent of the female veterans seen there say they were victims of sexual assault while serving in the military," said Harman, who has long sought better protection of women in the military.
"Twenty-nine percent say they were raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and downward spirals many of their lives have taken since.
"We have an epidemic here," she said. "Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."
It is likely that most of these assaults go unreported.
After all, a high percentage of civilian sexual assaults go unreported, thanks to our culture of shaming and blaming victims. Now add the factor that women in the military, trying to overcome rampant stereotypes, sexism, and hostility to their presense, are particularly pressured to not make waves, and to downplay their gender. And then, think about how few of these cases are ever prosecuted, or even pursued, how few of their perpetrators are actually punished. Think of the scapegoating that Maria Lauterbach suffered after filing rape charges against Cesar Laurean. According to her uncle, Peter Steiner, in USA today,
Authorities said they were not concerned that Laurean would flee because they had information the pair carried on a "friendly relationship" even after she reported the assault to military authorities. There is no indication Lauterbach asked the military to protect her after she leveled the rape allegations, investigators said.
Steiner, however, said his niece didn't have any kind of relationship with her attacker, and that Lauterbach had been forced to rent a room off base because of harassment at Camp Lejeune.
"She was raped," Steiner said. "The Marines, unfortunately, did not protect her, and now she's dead."
This creates a climate where sexual assaults are grossly underreported:
The Government Accountability Office released preliminary results from an investigation into sexual assaults in the military and the Coast Guard. The GAO found that the "occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported."
"At the 14 installations where GAO administered its survey, 103 service members indicated that they had been sexually assaulted within the preceding 12 months. Of these, 52 service members indicated that they did not report the sexual assault," the GAO said.
And cover up?
According to the CNN piece:
In 2007, Harman said, only 181 out of 2,212 reports of military sexual assaults, or 8 percent, were referred to courts martial. By comparison, she said, 40 percent of those arrested in the civilian world on such charges are prosecuted.
Defense statistics show that military commanders took unspecified action, which can include anything from punishment to dismissal, in an additional 419 cases.
But when it came time for the military to defend itself, the panel was told that the Pentagon's top official on sexual abuse, Dr. Kaye Whitley, was ordered not to show up despite a subpoena.
"I don't know what you're trying to cover up here, but we're not going to allow it," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, said to the Defense official who relayed the news of Whitley's no-show. "This is unacceptable."
Rep. John Tierney, the panel's chairman and a Democrat from Massachusetts, angrily responded, "these actions by the Defense Department are inexplicable."
"The Defense Department appears to be willfully and blatantly advising Dr. Whitley not to comply with a duly authorized congressional subpoena," Tierney said.
The CNN piece focuses on two servicemembers who are, Lauterbach and Ingrid Torres, both of whom are white. No mention whatsoever of the horrific LaVena Johnson rape, murder, and subsequent cover-up which has been covered at length here, including my diary and call for action that I posted yesterday. From that diary (and a Color of Change call to action:
<LaVena Johnson was a 19-year-old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. Despite overwhelming physical evidence, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case.1</p>
For three years, LaVena's parents have been fighting for answers. At almost every turn, they've been met with closed doors or lies. They've appealed to Congress, the one body that can hold the military accountable. But, as in other cases where female soldiers have been raped and murdered and the Army has called it suicide, Congress has failed to act.
LaVena's death is part of a disturbing pattern of cases where female soldiers have been raped and killed, and where the military has hidden the truth and labeled the deaths suicides.6,7 In virtually all cases, Congress has been slow to investigate or hold the military accountable in any way. Unfortunately, most families simply don't have the resources, time, and psychological strength to push back.
Color of Change requests that you send a note to Us Rep. Henry Waxman to investigate this and other military covers of the rapes and murders of US Servicemembers. You can do so at their website. It's fast and easy, and hopefully can make a real difference.
Note: In These Times also ran a very informed article on this subject in March '08.
I'm honored to make my first foray onto the rec list, particularly if it can raise awareness of this heartbreaking issue. Thank you.
Reading these comments and responding to them when I felt so moved, has given me the opportunity to reflect on what I really want to see happen as a result of this diary. I think there are three main things I would like to see happen:
- I would like people to stop looking away.
- I would like the systematic problems that perpetuate this culture, not just of rape but also of concealment, to be investigated by an external source.
- I would like the individual perpetrators to face justice.
And I honestly believe that all of these things can happen, of good people refuse to be complacent, talk about this, and press their elected officials for change. It's my goal to be a voice in the storm, and to work towards the election of people who are not afraid to take this on.