By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
10/24/2011 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
According to at least one peer-reviewed study, one in three women is raped during their term of US military service. If true, this is an astounding statistic, and an ongoing national tragedy that must be stopped.
WASHINGTON DC (Catholic Online) - Now, a civil lawsuit is being brought against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, charging that under their leadership the military failed to adequately and effectively investigate and prosecute rapes and sexual assaults within the ranks.
The suit was filed last February, and initially named 16 plaintiffs, but has now grown to more than 30. As word of the suit spreads, a greater number of women are coming forward to report cases of sexual assault.
A growing number of advocates are claiming that sexual assault and rape are widespread in the military. At least 200,000 women currently serve with the US military on active duty. However, it is shortsighted to assume that only women are affected. According to other statistics, at least 27 percent of men serving in the military are estimated to have suffered what psychologists call "military sexual trauma" which is either sexual assault, or repeated harassment and threatened assault.
These figures raise several questions. First, why are sexual assault and rape so widespread in the military? Particularly, when the US military prides itself on discipline and honor. Second, should the role of women serving alongside men be re-evaluated? Finally, what should be done to protect all members of the service and to redress the egregious wrongs that these victims have suffered?
Answers to these questions are subject to individual opinion, however, one thing is certain. The male-dominated culture of the military both facilitates and actively encourages the concealment of such reprehensible behavior.
One woman involved in the suit, who spoke anonymously to reporters said, "My experience reporting military sexual assault was worse than the actual assault. 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." This victim was a former Marine Corps officer and a veteran of the Iraq war and was compelled to leave the military because of the way in which she was treated following her report.
The military and a congressional task force both agree that sexual assault in the military is substantial. The Department of Defense claims they're working to curb the problem, but even the most recent evidence suggests that their efforts, whatever they may be, are having little impact.
Worse, people are systematically intimidated and discouraged from reporting. Prosecution rates of sexual assault in the military is a mere 8 percent, and most cases are never reported. For most victims, the assault is merely the beginning. Following the assault, they are forced to re-live their trauma as they are persecuted for coming forward.
High-ranking officers have remained untouchable and free from prosecution for a long time. Soldiers are kept from their homes for extended periods of time, and they are deprived of close human contact. The stress of service and frustration builds and men become tempted to take advantage of women who are intoxicated, or to abuse power relationships within the chain of command to exploit victims. And in some cases, the victims are simply assaulted.
But to be clear, regardless of the factors, sexual assault is entirely without excuse.
Also, discouragement of its reporting is also without excuse and is tantamount to the abuse itself.
Finally, the act of persecuting the victim is dishonorable, and morally repugnant.
It is true that the United States demands much of its service personnel. While military service is both an honor and a duty, and carries with it substantial risk to life and limb, the risk of sexual assault and abuse is one risk that no service member should fear. But with a third of all women and possibly a quarter of the men experiencing some type of sexual abuse, or trauma, it is clear that changes have to be made.
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