Friday, October 23, 2009

Silenced: Sexual Assault in the Military

While underreporting of sexual assault in civilian life continues to be a problem for many complex reasons, the problem has reached epidemic proportions in the United States military.

The article excerpted below examines this issue, and begins to discuss the numerous reasons that female soldiers do not report rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Excerpts from
US: Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military
Thursday 30 April 2009
by Dahr Jamail - Inter Press Service

It is not difficult to ascertain the reason for so few sexual assaults being reported in the military. Jen Hogg of the New York Army National Guard told IPS, "I helped a woman report a sexual assault while she was in basic training. She was grabbed between the legs from behind while going up stairs. She was not able to pinpoint the person who did it."

Hogg explained that her friend was afraid to report the incident to her drill sergeant, and went on to explain why, which also sheds light on why so many women opt not to report being sexually assaulted.

"During training, the position of authority the drill sergeant holds makes any and all reporting a daunting task, and most people are scared to even approach him or her," Hogg told IPS, "In this case, the drill sergeant's response was swift but caused resentment towards the female that made the report, because her identity was not hidden from males who were punished as a whole for the one."

The incident displays another tactic used in the military to suppress women's reportage of being sexually assaulted - that of not respecting their anonymity, which opens them up to further assaults.
Furthering the difficulty many military women face is the "sexist and misogynistic" culture of the military:

Like countless others, Guzman learned early that the culture of the military promoted silence about sexual assault. Her experience over the years has convinced her that sexual violence is a systemic problem in the military.

"It has been happening since women were allowed into the service and will continue to happen after Iraq and Afghanistan," Guzman told IPS, "Through the gossip mill we would hear of women who had reported being raped. No confidentiality was maintained nor any protection given to them making them susceptible to fresh attacks."

"The boys' club culture is strong and the competition exclusive," Guzman added, "To get ahead women have to be better than men. That forces many not to report rape, because it is a blemish and can ruin your career."

"When victims come forward, they are ostracised, doubted, and isolated from their communities," Fitzsimmons told IPS, "Many of the perpetrators are officers who use their ranks to coerce women to sleep with them. It's a closely interwoven community, so the perpetrators are safe within the system and can fearlessly move free amongst their victims."

One note of hope on this issue is discussed in the article. Several former soldiers who experienced sexual assault in the military have begun to organize and speak out on the issue, such as Guzman herself. Guzman is one of the founding members of the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), which works to advocate for women in the military on numerous problems, including sexual violence.

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