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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Military Sexual Assault: 'The Other PTSD'

Sharing a couple of reports that I didn't have a chance to share earlier; want to ensure they're available here for future searches. First up, NBC Nightly News (May 4) explores what they call 'The Other PTSD:' military sexual trauma. Then grafs from a Salon piece that appeared back in March, The private war of women soldiers.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From Salon:

Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. ...

Unfortunately, with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, these measures are not keeping women safe. When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed, and the fact that the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, the picture for women looks bleak indeed.

On the task force, from June 2004's APA Psychiatric News:

The eight-member Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault found a limited number of programs on sexual assault that address education and training, prevention, reporting, and victim support. These "pockets of excellence" contrast sharply with the military's policies and programs regarding sexual harassment, according to the task force report.

The task force defined sexual assault as alleged rape, forcible sodomy, assault with intent to commit rape or sodomy, and indecent assault or an attempt to commit any of these offenses. If the military finds the alleged perpetrator guilty of any of these charges, a commander can choose from several disciplinary actions including separation from the military resulting in a loss of pay and benefits and imprisonment for up to several years, according to the task force report [pdf].

The task force recommended several actions [pdf] to Rumsfeld including that he establish an office in the Department of Defense (DoD) to implement the task force's recommendations. Rumsfeld began initiating some of the more urgent recommendations last month when he met with the military commanders to discuss how they handle sexual assault complaints and what can be done to fix problems they discovered, according to a DoD press release.

But the Iraq War is proving to be a unique challenge for women and men serving side-by-side (collocating) in similar roles. Back to Salon:

Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. More than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, and 71 have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. And women are fighting in combat.

Officially, the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm's way. But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff.

"Of course we were in combat!" said Laura Naylor, 25, who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. "We were interchangeable with the infantry. They came to our police stations and helped pull security, and we helped them search houses and search people. That's how it is in Iraq." ...

All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, raided houses, guarded prisoners, rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Some watched their best friends die, some were wounded, all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens.

Yet, despite the equal risks women are taking, they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. As Pickett told me, "It's like sending three women to live in a frat house."

Not that sexual assault in the military is anything new. What is new is that women are serving on those front lines -- and are served up a double dose of stress and trauma compared to their male counterparts:

Rape, sexual assault and harassment are nothing new to the military. They were a serious problem for the Women's Army Corps in Vietnam, and the rapes and sexual hounding of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news. A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. And in a third study, conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at.

"That's one of the things I hated the most," said Caryle García, 24, who, like Naylor, served with the Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. García was wounded by a roadside bomb, which knocked her unconscious and filled her with shrapnel. "You walk into the chow hall and there's a bunch of guys who just stop eating and stare at you. Every time you bend down, somebody will say something. It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people because I didn't want to hear their comments. It really gets you down."

"There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke," said Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection. "This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don't have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead."

The Salon piece is quite long and well worth a read if you are interested in researching the subject further. One more snippet:

Having the courage to report a rape is difficult enough for civilians, where unsympathetic police, victim-blaming myths, and simple fear prevent 59 percent of rapes from being reported, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. But within the military, reporting is even more risky. Military platoons are enclosed, hierarchical societies, riddled with gossip, so any woman who reports a rape has no realistic chance of remaining anonymous. She will have to face her assailant day after day, and put up with rumors, resentment and blame from other soldiers. Furthermore, she runs the risk of being punished by her assailant if he is her superior.

These barriers to reporting are so well recognized that even the Defense Department has been scrambling to mend the situation, at least for the public eye. It won't go so far as to actually gather statistics on rape and assault in Iraq (it only counts reported rapes in raw numbers for all combat areas in the Middle East combined), but in 2006 the DOD did finally wake up to the idea that anonymous reporting might help women come forward, and updated its Web site accordingly.

The Web site looks good, although some may object that it seems to pay more attention to telling women how to avoid an assault than telling men not to commit one. It defines rape, sexual assault and harassment, and makes clear that these behaviors are illegal. The site now also explains that a soldier can report a rape anonymously to a special department, SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), without triggering an official investigation -- a procedure called "restricted reporting." And it promises the soldier a victim's advocate and medical care.

On closer scrutiny, however, the picture is less rosy: Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, which means that neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged to report rapes to a chaplain, and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors; if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, that friend is legally obliged to report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, gender, age, race, service, and the date, time and/or location of the assault, which in the closed world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, in practice, since most people in the Army are men, the soldier will likely find herself reporting her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work. Worse, no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim agrees to stop being anonymous.

Please read the rest.

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