Representative Jackie Speier of California delivered a fiery speech from the floor on last Wednesday in response to the Pentagon's releasing of the latest sexual assault statistics within the ranks, calling the statistics an “abomination.” She took the House of Representatives itself to task from the floor. Transcript:
I rise today to speak about an abomination, and I vow to speak about it every week until this Congress and this administration, does something more than offer lip service.The Congresswoman goes on the describe the story of Technical Sargent Mary Gallagher, and goes into pretty graphic detail (warning NSFW, if your volume is up). Gallagher's story is here. She concludes, "Sgt Gallagher fought for us, it's time for us to fight for her."
Read my lips, the military must end rape in this country. And those who commit such crimes must be brought to justice, the fact that women are being raped and our government is turning a blind eye is disturbing enough. Even worse, it is not our enemies abroad that are committing these horrific crimes, it's American soldiers abusing many of our own, often with nothing more than a slap of on the wrist and sometimes with an unbelievable promotion.
We have a military culture that condones and sometimes rewards this kind of abusive and violent behavior against female soldiers, who are now more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire.
This is a national disgrace and the longer it goes on unaddressed, Congress becomes an accomplice in these crimes.
You know we in Congress do something really well, we hold hearings and then we do nothing.
Congress has held 18 hearings in the last 16 years on this issue and nothing has changed.
The Department of Defense estimates that over 19,000 servicemembers were raped or sexually assaulted in 2010. But due to fear of retribution and failure to prosecute these crimes only 13.5% are reported. These are Department of Defense figures. 19,000 soldiers raped in the military every year.
So beginning today I'm going to tell these women's stories on the House floor, and I"m going to keep telling them and keep telling them until something is done about it.
Earlier this year, 17 servicemembers, 15 of them women, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government, accusing the Pentagon of ignoring their own cases of sexual assault.
The most recent report was released on March 18, 2011
Last year, the U.S. Armed Forces received a total of 3,158 reports of sexual assault involving Service members - a 2% decrease in overall reporting from 2009, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
The report entitled, “Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” includes a broad spectrum of offenses ranging from rape to wrongful sexual contact, which are addressed by Articles 120,125, and 80 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Incidents involved assaults on people in uniform by fellow military members and by civilians, according to the DoD’s report.
A 2% decrease from 2009 sounds great. But consider this, in March 8, 2010, Time Magazine reported a 9% increase in 2009 from 2008:
The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population..
Four steps back, one step forward. Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), [PDF] had this to say about the report of March 18, 2011:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) published the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The 622 page report details sexual assaults from each branch of the service for fiscal year 2010. The numbers indicate that cases of rape and sexual assault have not decreased, and that the military is no closer to ending this crisis in the ranks.
In FY2010, there were 3,158 total reports of sexual assault in the military. The DOD estimates that this number only represents 13.5% of total assaults in 2010, making the total number of military rapes and sexual assaults in excess of 19,000 for FY 2010.
“This latest report clearly shows that the military’s response to rape and sexual assault within its own ranks has been both inadequate and ineffective,” said Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps captain and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network. “This crime continues to see massive amounts of underreporting because victims do not feel the climate is safe to report, and perpetrators are not being brought to trial in sufficient numbers.”
Sexual assaults flourish in environments where the assaults are two-fold, the initial attack and a process that further victimizes the reporters of the attack. Women's rights groups have done much work to address this dynamic in civilian life. Many police departments and criminal justice systems have adopted practices that protect victims from consequential backlash that used to be far more common. But there's good reason to believe the military has been slow to follow suit.
The problem is even worse than that. The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, and it's no wonder. Anonymity is all but impossible; a Government Accountability Office report concluded that most victims stay silent because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip." More than half feared they would be labeled troublemakers. A civilian who is raped can get confidential, or "privileged," advice from her doctors, lawyers, victim advocates; the only privilege in the military applies to chaplains. A civilian who knows her assailant has a much better chance of avoiding him than does a soldier at a remote base, where filing charges can be a career killer — not for the assailant but the victim. Women worry that they will be removed from their units for their own "protection" and talk about not wanting to undermine their missions or the cohesion of their units. And then some just do the math: only 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sex crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those convicted are honorably discharged nonetheless.
Also from SWAN, [PDF]
Along with the Annual Report, the DOD also released its 2010 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members, which surveys service members every two years about sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. This report indicates that the military’s climate of fear and intimidation around sexual assault reporting still exists. The survey reveals that:
- 67% of women are “uncomfortable” with reporting
- 54% “fear reprisal”, and
- 46% of both men and women in the military believe that sexual assault was “not important enough” to report at all.
Representative Jane Harmon told CNN in 2008:
"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.
Harmon's gone, and there seem to be no legislative movement call on the Pentagon to address necessary institutional reforms and I have to ask why?
We may soon see redress come in the form of the judiciary remedy. The lawsuit Congresswoman Speier references is Cioca et al v. Rumsfeld et al which also names current Defense Secretary Gates. Technical Sargent Mary Gallagher is among the plaintiffs. The firm of Burke, PLLC, in consult with SWAN, filed on a class action lawsuit filed in February. It alleges the Pentagon's failure to act on allegations under the military justice system violated the Plaintiff's Substantive Due Process rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. The complaint is here, it reads:
Cioca et al v. Rumsfeld et al
1. This action seeks monetary damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 397 (1971) and Davis v. Passman, 442 US 228 (1979) to compensate Plaintiffs for being raped, assaulted and harassed while serving this nation as member s of the military.
2. Defendants violated Plaintiffs' Constitutional rights. As detailed in the allegations below, Defendants failed to prevent Plaintiffs and others from being raped and sexually assaulted. Defendants failed to (1) investigate rapes and sexual assaults, (2) prosecute perpetrators, (3) provide an adequate judicial system as required by the Uniform Military Justice Act, and (4) abide by Congressional deadlines to implement Congressionally-ordered institutional reforms to stop rapes and other sexual assaults.
3. Instead, Defendants ran institutions in which perpetrators were promoted and where military personnel openly mocked and flouted the modest Congressionally-mandated institutional reforms. Defendants ran institutions in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subjected to retaliation, were encouraged to refrain from reporting rapes and sexual assaults in a manner that would have permitted prosecution, and were ordered to keep quiet and refrain from telling anyone about the criminal acts of their work colleagues. Defendants lack any legal justification for their failures to remedy such a flawed system. Defendants' failures to act violated Plaintiffs' individual Constitutional rights.
SGT deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. Her supervisor sexually harassed her, stating on one occasion that he “really wanted to fuck [her] right now.” On another occasion, as SGT's peers watched, he walked up behind SGT Havrilla, grabbed her waist and kissed and bit the back of her neck. He began to slap her bottom whenever he passed by. He also belittled and mocked SGT. SGT suffered from the harassment to such a degree that she sought medical assistance.
Subsequently, SGT worked with an individual from a canine unit. That same colleague raped her. He pulled her into his bed, held her down, and raped her. He also photographed the rape. SGT reported the sexual harassment and rape within approximately one month, under the military' s restricted reporting policy.
In February of 2009 SGT reported for four weeks of active duty training. During this training, she saw her rapist in the shopette on Fort Leonard Wood. Upon seeing her rapist, SGT went into shock. She immediately sought the assistance of the military chaplain. When SGT met with the military chaplain, he told her that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped" and recommended that she attend church more frequently.
SGT suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression.
Another victim's story:
Private served in the Army from February 2009 until June 2009. During basic training, PVT Jeloudov was verbally harassed by his fellow soldiers. One two different occasions, PVT colleagues said “We'll send you back to Russia split in half, you commie faggot,” and “Now you champagne socialist faggot from New York gonna get what you deserve.”
On May 17, 2009, PVT was raped in his barracks. PVT reported the rape to Command. His Command laughed at him. His drill sergeant turned to another sergeant present, stating “Can you believe this shit?”
Rather than properly investigate the matter, Command instead forced PVT to sign a typed statement on May 19,2009, stating - falsely - that he was a “practicing homosexual.” Command then used the statement to discharge PVT under the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
PVT suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
This private is hardly an isolated incident. The military is finally taking notice of male on male sexual assault as well. From Newsweek, April 3:
In fact, it is the high victimization rate of female soldiers—women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat—that has helped cast light on men assaulting other men. For most of military history, there was neither a system nor language in place to deal with incidents of soldier-on-soldier sexual assault. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Defense Department even acknowledged such incidents as an offense, and initially only female victims were recognized. But last year more than 110 men made confidential reports of sexual assault by other men, nearly three times as many as in 2007.
Perhaps just as judiciary pressure helped pushed DADT repeal through congress, this action will prove helpful for moving the DOD on the issue.
What can be done?
This seems like a no-brainer for Democrats to tackle, although from Speier's speech we need to do more than hold hearing. After 18 hearings, it's time for Congress to flex some real civilian control over this issue.SWAN has a petition up at Change.org asking:
Take action today and demand your representatives in Congress hold the Armed Forces accountable for this crisis and to immediately develop and implement a comprehensive plan to eliminate rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment from our nation's military forever.
In a recent discussion of this, I was dismayed to see someone respond to concerns about women being assaulted as thus:
The day rape never happens in the military will be the day rape never happens on college campuses and in college dorms.
Sexual assault need not be just an ugly fact of serving and to suggest so is to excuse the Department of Defense's responsibility to care for all its troops. As long as the DOD is actively recruiting Americans' daughters and placing them in an environment that is unacceptably unsafe they must be called to answer for this problem.
The military has to move beyond the "boys will be boys" attitude that has allowed a culture of preying on women to flourish in the military. The rates of rape in military setting are nowhere near what anyone should consider an acceptable level of risk. The overwhelming majority of these are within the ranks, not "enemy assaults." With the military's tightly controlled population, traditions of strict discipline it's perfectly reasonable to expect assaults to be lower in a military environment than in civilian life.
One wonders what sort of more ordinary day-to-day indignities our women in uniform must suffer in an environment where the crime of rape is too often not taken seriously?
When I heard New York's Senator Kirsten Gillbrand was added to the Senate Armed Services Committee it struck me as a good opportunity for an ambitious woman to use her power to continue to push our military to embrace a new era. We can, even the face of Speaker Boehner continue to push for a lasting progressive agenda of change. First Lady Michelle Obama too has taken on military issues as a cause, I would suggest she might be well-served to look into this one as well.
The DOD currently has access to decade after decade of study data to crunch to identify what it is about this environment that makes it such a very unsafe for women. They also have access to billions and billions of dollars to hire the best minds in the field of psychology, human resources, criminal investigation and sexual assault experts to task of solving this problem.
It's way past time to see real progress made.
Time magazine concluded:
The failure to provide a basic guarantee of safety to women, who now represent 15% of the armed forces, is not just a moral issue, or a morale issue. What does it say if the military can't or won't protect the people we ask to protect us?
I couldn't agree more. We've been assured the military is doing all they can. But it's past time to demand they do more still.