color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: Sexual Assault in the Military

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sexual Assault in the Military

Terri over at A Soldier's Mind has a post up about the Army's newest efforts to stem the unacceptable level of sexual assaults in the Army. As the video at ASM and as Terri notes, there have been over 1,800 convictions for sexual assaults since 9/11/01 -- but, as she rightfully notes, that would be just the tip of the iceberg because as statistics prove, sexual assault is probably the most under reported crime in the world. Here's a 2006 article that says that only about 26% of assaults in the military are reported...

I was not able to participate in the roundtable noted by Terri, but I have reviewed the materials and the official program information -- and IMHO it still gives way too much power to the attacker. For example, unless a soldier is willing to go through the formal investigation (Unrestricted Reporting) process -- which only provides limited confidentiality ["Details regarding the incident will be limited to only those personnel who have a legitimate need to know."] but in practice might as well be published in the base newspaper -- a victim must use the alternative process that allows them to be treated for the assault but leaves the attacker unidentified and unpunished -- and requires the victim to remain in the same unit and/or duty station as their attacker AND his "friends", no criminal investigation is conducted, etc.

I personally know of a young soldier... after she and her NCO had been drinking with other unit soldiers at AIT, this young woman was attacked. She was told by her company CO after she filed for a formal investigation that they'd rake her over the coals in a formal investigation, that she'd be subject to corporal punishment and maybe jail if the case against her attackers wasn't proven (and they were going to claim consensual sex as were their friends)... but the CO convinced her it would be so much easier on her if she'd just drop the formal charges, they'd put in a transfer order for her to another unit. When this 18 yr old girl withdrew the formal charges, she was then threatened with being charged with filing false charges and then given the "opportunity" to be discharged. The papers she signed WITHOUT counsel included waiving all her rights to any benefits.

Sexual assault changes the victims, and in this case -- victimized by the people charged with protecting her -- didn't just change this woman's life, it damaged it -- forever. She says that if she had to do it all over again, she would never have reported her rape... she thinks she would have gotten a better deal if she had killed the guys! Fortunately, she has now gone to the VA and registered with their military sexual assault counselor and is now receiving counseling while her case in investigated.

In this 2004 story from the Washington Post discussing the rise in sexual assaults and rapes, it was noted that, "Army officials noted that the five-year tally included reports of abuse that proved to be "unfounded" after investigation, a number said to have tripled from 48 to 157 between 1999 and 2003. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Diane Battaglia said she could not explain why the number of cases deemed false had risen so much." Well, now you know how that can happen.

I also know of the case of a teenage soldier whose NCO IN COMBAT approached him and when the soldier rebuffed the advance, the NCO threatened to make the young man WALK point in an area where the unit had encountered 2-5 IEDs daily if he spoke of the incident. As this young soldier reported, "I had to do whatever he assigned me to -- he controlled my life and my death... so I didn't mention it until we redeployed... but I did what I could to be sure no one was ever alone with him when I could do it." When the unit redeployed, he sought counseling and, through counseling, reported the NCO. The other members of the unit -- although threatened and punished (because the NCO remained with the unit) -- did agree to give statements supporting the allegations... but the NCO remained in the unit for more than a year while the investigation proceeded. The 17-year Army veteran eventually agreed to leave the Army but no one seems to be able to say the nature of his discharge. This unit was combat-hardened and stood up to this NCO until he was removed -- but I'm certain it's a rarity.

The statistics in this 2008 CNN story will make you go back and re-read the numbers:

"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, [ Rep. Jane Harman, D-California] 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.


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.

I do believe the Army is taking this seriously. I do believe the Army is trying... but until the process requires the investigation of every sexual assault... until every victim is protected from reprisal and punishment (unless false accusations are involved), and until the process offers full confidentiality and alternatives (like anonymous evidence gathering, immediate removal of victims from the unit of her attacker or removal of the attacker from the unit, etc.), and until soldiers are guaranteed that the attacker will be harshly punished (and for those whose allegations are PROVEN to be false), soldiers will refuse to report sexual assault. The Army and other branches of the military will not correct this problem until punishment is swift, terrible and assured. It must make the process immediate and the punishment so horrible and sure that it serves as a deterrent and a reminder of the zero tolerance the military professes.

Here's a link to last year's (2007) Report on Sexual Assault in the Military . You can read all the words, but be sure to look at page 31 which shows the number of attacks and the responses. Frightening. Can't wait to see this year's numbers....


At 2/02/2009 10:22 AM , Blogger Trish | eMOM said...

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At 2/04/2009 9:32 AM , Blogger Guard Wife said...

I'm glad to see that this is being addressed. Just like in the civilian world, one bad apple can spoil an entire bunch. Those who use such claims as a weapon make it so much harder on those with legitimate claims. That's why it is so important that there is a process in place that will handle all the contingencies, offer swift justice and make it appropriately uncomfortable for the deserving.


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