One in three female soldiers are raped during their US military service

Posted on October 20, 2011


Sarah Lazare

“My experience reporting military sexual assault was worse than the actual assault,” says Jessica (a pseudonym for her protection), a former marine officer and Iraq veteran who left the military because of her command’s poor handling of her assault charges. “The command has so much power over a victim of sexual assault. They are your judge, jury, executioner and mayor: they own the law. As I saw in my case, they are able to crush you for reporting an assault.”

Jessica is joining a civil lawsuit bringing claims against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, charging that under their watch the military failed to adequately and effectively investigate rapes and sexual assaults within the ranks.

The litigation, which was filed in Virginia district court in February of this year by the law office of Susan Burke, is set to go to trial in the coming months. The initial suit named 16 plaintiffs, all former or current military service members – but in recent months that number has swelled to more than 30, as more and more veterans come forward as survivors of sexual assault.

These plaintiffs join the growing crescendo of veterans, military service members, spouses and their advocates speaking out against the problem of widespread sexual assault and rape in the US military.

As the war in Afghanistan passes its ten-year mark, sexual assault runs rampant within the ranks, with an estimated one in three female service members raped during their service, according to at least one peer-reviewed study. This is in a military where women comprise more 11 per cent of active duty service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and more than 15 per cent of the total military, with at least 200,000 active duty women currently serving. This epidemic also affects men: 60 per cent of women serving in the National Guard and Reserve, along with 27 per cent of men, are estimated to have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Perpetrators rely on a chain of command that appears to offer virtual impunity for sexual assaults committed against lower-ranking service members.

‘Re-traumatising’ redress

Military reports and Congress-appointed task forces acknowledge that sexual assault within the military is widespread. While the Department of Defense (DoD) has repeatedly said it is attempting to curb the problem, the most recent evidence shows that it has failed to adequately address the spread of this outbreak.

The most significant change made by the military in the past decade was the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in 2005. This office, which encompasses the entire DoD, is responsible for oversight of sexual assault policies and the implementation of prevention and response programs. However, SAPRO is rife with problems. The primary role of the office is to track rapes and sexual assaults and release annual reports. According to the US Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) own evaluation, SAPRO has failed to work with the disciplinary arm of the DoD, giving its reports and findings little muscle. Furthermore, the Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military December 2009, which was ordered by congress, found that funding of SAPRO had been “sporadic and inconsistent”

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