Earlier this week the Defense Department [DoD] issued its report on sexual assault in the military during 2009. It detailed that in 2009, compared to 2008, reports of military sexual assault witnessed an 11 percent increase and, most disturbing, a 16 percent increase in reported assaults in combat territories like Iraq and Afghanistan.
American female soldiers are paying dearly for America’s imperialist misadventures. When these young and committed women enlist in the military they are unlikely told that they will be fighting a two-front war: One fight involves foreign combatants, the other their fellow male soldiers. Many male soldiers, like their brethren on the football field and into extreme fighting, likely see the military as the last bastion of traditional virility. For them, the battlefield remains a sacred terrain of orgiastic violence. And for some of them, the eroticism represented by the female soldier is more disconcerting then the threat posed by the “terrorist” enemy. These women, postmodern warriors, are all too often the victims of premodern masculine rage. The past dies slowly.
The sexual assault of female soldiers by male soldiers is the third front in modern U.S. warfare. The first front is the ostensible enemy, whether al Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks or Iraq for its oil. The second front is the occupied domestic population that resists invasion and occupation by the U.S. military, even if such occupation is ostensibly for their own good.
The third front is the internal struggle within the military itself as it battles to maintain global imperialism. As American’s political and military leaders learned during the Second World War, racism contributes to military inefficiencies. More telling, in Vietnam, fragging of officers by enlisted men spoke to the deeper class and race crisis wracking America and contributed to military failure. Today, class and race tensions have been intensified by battles over gender and sexuality. With the likely end to the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy and the final full integration of America’s all-voluntary military, the privileges of the (white) heterosexual patriarchal soldier are becoming memories of by-gone days.
White Christian heterosexual patriarchy continues its sputtering crisis. It has maintained a tyrannical reign over Western civilization for two centuries. The slow emergence of a secular, hedonistic and globalized culture, an alternative value system freed from gender- and race-based religious superstition (but nonetheless mired in capitalist exploitation) may finally undermine patriarchy.
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In December 2009, the DoD issued a long-awaited report on sexual assault in the military. A “blue ribbon” committee, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Task Force, spent nearly a year-and-a-half interviewing over 3,500 service members in 60 U.S. military facilities throughout the world. Its 179-page report is a study in a bureaucratic whitewash. [Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services]
Whether due to clerical error or whistle-blower subversion, the report’s underlying methodological weakness is stated clearly: “DoD’s procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity.” Can one believe anything the DoD says?
Ann Wright, writing in TruthOut, pointed out that the DoD agency setup by former Secretary of Defense Donald (“the war criminal”) Rumsfeld to track incidents of sexual assault “has not established a database or the necessary tools to accurately track the incidence, investigation, and prosecution of sexual assaults in the Armed Forces.” She notes that the Task Force’s website lists 20 reports on sexual assault since 1988 and there are many more reports prior to that date. [Truthout, Feb. 17, 2010] Cover-up, obfuscation and deception are the watchwords of today’s military leadership. The fiscal crimes committed on Wall Street are mirrored in the shameful practices of those in the Pentagon.
Women have served in the American military since the Revolution. A Massachusetts volunteer by the name of “Robert Shurtliff” was actually Deborah Sampson in drag; when she was outed, Gen. Washington awarded her an honorable discharge. In the Civil War, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman cut her hair, donned men’s attire and served as Lyons Wakeman, a decorated Yankee.
During World War II, military necessity and domestic political pressure brought women and African-Americans into the Armed Forces. Some 350,000 women served and 16 were killed in action. However, patriarchy being what it was, women did not serve in active duty but were nurses or assigned to “auxiliary” corps, including the legendary WACs.
In the wake of Vietnam War and the failed experience with an unpopular draft, the demands of empire required an ever-larger pool of willing (i.e., “volunteer”) cannon fodder. The Panama invasion of 1989 marked the formal integration of women into combat with Capt. Linda Bray’s commanded of U.S. soldiers in battle. The U.S. military’s push into the Middle East to protect its oil interests and client state, Israel, established the operating environment of today’s military. The 1991 Gulf War saw over 40,000 women serving in active duty positions.
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The SARP Task Force identified an often-overlooked fact of today’s military: sexual assault of male soldiers. For example, it notes that Pfc. Cody Openshaw was raped by a noncommissioned officer in charge of the medical unit while recovering from a parachute accident. Openshaw did not report the incident when it happened and, five years later and after suffering nightmares, excessive drinking and increasing isolation, sought help. Failing to find solace, he committing suicide. In 2007, 12 percent (approximately 260) of the reported 2,200 rapes in the military were male victims.
Nevertheless, sexual assault within the military is predominantly targeted at women, active duty soldiers and private contractors assisting the military in war zones. Rep. Jane Harman [D-CA], speaking before a House panel investigating sexual assault within the military handles, reported visiting a Los Angeles area VA hospital in area and being shocked by what she learned. “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,” she said. “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.
Most telling, Harman observed: “We have an epidemic here. … 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.”
Like civilian sexual assault reports to local police, DoD rape reports are significantly underreported. According to the Pentagon’s own estimate, 80 percent of assaults are not reported. However, a series of third-party studies provide shocking evidence to the extent of rape within the military.
A 2004 study published in “Military Medicine” of Vietnam and subsequent war veterans found that 71 percent of the women were sexually assaulted or raped. A 2003 study published in the “American Journal of Industrial Medicine” covering women serving from Vietnam to the Gulf War found that 30 percent of the women soldiers said they were raped. Earlier, a 1995 study of female Gulf War veterans and published in the “Archives of Family Medicine” found that 90 percent of women soldiers had been sexually harassed.
In 2008, there were nearly 3,000 reported cases of rape and sexual assault in the military, up nearly 9 percent from 2007. Of these, there were 165 sexual assault reports in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from 131 sexual assaults reported in 2007. Of the 2008 cases, approximately 10 percent (317) were referred for courts-martial or military trials and another 247 were referred for non-judicial actions.
Today, some 200,000 active-duty women are among the 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. military. The latest DoD data, which came out after the Task Force met, states that there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault filed during 2009. “One sexual assault is too many,” puffs Kaye Whitley, the director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office. The report showed that 87 percent were male on female while 7 percent were male on male.
One can only ask when is enough enough.
DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.