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Military Women Thankful as SWAN Combats Sexual Abuse

2:24 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

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By Jamie J. Hagen, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

The world may be concentrating on General Petraeus’ dalliance. But the real story of sexual misbehavior in the military is far broader – and far more serious and damaging to so many of our women and men who serve. SWAN, the Service Women’s Action Network, is one organization that knows the real scenario. It advocates for the 2.5 million women who make up 15 per cent of the United States military.

With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) more than a year ago, SWAN is now better able to provide services with more transparency. But it still has a lot of work to do.

SWAN’s efforts also include policy development, litigation and direct services. Earlier this year, in Washington, D.C., the organization hosted Truth and Justice: The 2012 Summit on Sexual Violence covered by Outserve Magazine. Outserve-SLDN is a gay rights group supporting LGBT troops. Violence against women in the military and harassment of LGBTQ women – and men – are connected, in that both actions arise from the same dangerous, irrational hatred of difference.

“This was the first mass globalization for sexual assault survivors on Capitol Hill,” said Katy Otto, a spokesperson for SWAN. “This is significant because there have been a lot of stories in the press, especially about sexual assault in the military, but those stories have not included LGBT survivors. The summit provided opportunities to get those voices out to the media.”

Anu Ghagwaiti, executive director of SWAN, recently lauded the appointment of Outserve-SLDN’s new executive director, transgender veteran Allyson Robinson. “’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ may have happened a year ago, but we still have a military that treats LGB service members and their families like second-class citizens, and bars transgender people from serving at all.”

Postscript:  This week the Air Force imposed what it calls a “wingman policy” requiring its trainees at the Lackland base in San Antonio, Texas, to be with at least one classmate at all times. The move comes in response to an Air Training and Command investigation that identified 23 instructors on the base who had allegedly raped, sexually harassed or had “unprofessional relationships” with 48 trainees.

Editor’s Note: In the upcoming January 2013 issue of On the Issues Magazine, Jamie J. Hagen will report on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among women military veterans.  As part of that report, she will describe how the Service Women’s Action Network, known as SWAN and founded in 2007, offers support to women who suffer from PTSD.

Trapped In The Story: Local Journalists Face Sexual Violence

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Lauren Wolfe, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine. Wolfe is senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Her report, “The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists” was published in June.

“I’ve never told anyone this before,” the email said. It was one of several that landed on my desk at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) after the news broke that CBS correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Egypt in February.

The letters were from foreign correspondents — women who travel to conflict areas to report the news. They wanted to tell me about their own rapes and sexual assaults. As I gathered their stories, I started wondering about the local journalists who actually live in these regions. After all, these journalists experience the brunt of violence globally: 93 percent of all journalists murdered around the world are local, the Committee to Project Journalists has found.

As BBC reporter Lyse Doucet said to me recently, “Lara Logan can go home. The Egyptian journalists still have to go out there.”

Regardless of violence, harassment or threats, many, many women journalists do go out there. Although they live amid the horrors of war and are intimately familiar with how it ravages their country, their loved ones and often themselves, they continue to report. With rape a constant companion to conflict, women from the Congo to Afghanistan told me they work in spite of this ever-present terror. Their bravery stunned me.

Take Jineth Bedoya. She’s a Colombian journalist who was gang-raped in 2000, when she was 27, while reporting on right-wing paramilitaries in the jungles of her country. Bedoya pushed for an investigation at the time, but little more than cursory inquiries came of it. Eleven years later, she has brought her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She said that she hopes that by publicly pursuing her case, she will encourage the three other journalists who came out to her about their own rapes to “denounce what’s happened to them and be able to ask for justice.”

She is one of the few journalists willing to go on the record as having been sexually assaulted. Their fear, they tell me, is that they will lose future assignments or culturally they will be shunned. In many countries, a woman who has been raped is unmarriageable or can face honor killings. One Afghan reporter told me she cannot have her name associated with her assault — which was carried out by a co-worker at gunpoint — because she fears her life may be at risk from her family if they learn of the perceived dishonor. Other journalists often don’t bother reporting an assault to authorities or their employers because “they know nothing will come out of it,” Mehmal Sarfaz, joint general secretary of South Asian Women in Media, told me. Police in some countries have been known to ask for bribes or even perpetrate further sexual violence when a woman reports a rape.

Losing assignments too is not just a fear — it really happens. An American journalist told me about being pulled off her Iraqi posting after reporting to her female manager that her government minder had repeatedly sexually harassed and finally assaulted her. “I was crushed by the response of the people I worked with and trusted,” said the journalist, who recounted the story on condition of anonymity. To her, the punishing response of her news outlet was worse than the actual assault, she said.

With more than 50 journalists — 27 local and 25 foreign — telling me they’d been groped repeatedly, sexually violated or raped while working in conflict zones and on dangerous assignments, it’s clear that something needs to change. Media outlets need to prepare both foreign and local correspondents through specialized sexual assault training and put into place confidential processes in which assaults can be reported without retribution. Women need to know that if they come forward with their stories, they will receive medical and psychological counseling, not judgment or punishment.

Local journalists, in particular, need awareness and support from the international community, including advocacy groups like the Committee to Project Journalists. Without major news organizations backing them, these journalists may find themselves on a long and painful road to justice. We must advocate for better legal protection and let these women know that their suffering, and their effort to bring us the news, is not in vain.