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A Case Study in Awful: The 8 Worst Parts of the Recent Naval Academy Rape Hearing

11:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Erin Matson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Recently, attorneys defending three former Naval Academy football players against allegations of sexual assault at an off-campus party spent more than 20 hours over five grueling days questioning, taunting, blaming, shaming, and what appears to be re-victimizing a 21-year-old female midshipman.

At one point, the midshipman said she was too exhausted to continue testifying and the commander presiding over the hearing granted her a day off. “This is borderline abusive,” her attorney Susan Burke said upon leaving the Navy Yard that day. Abusive, yes, and sadly all too instructive in how rape culture encourages attorneys, members of the media, and others to turn sexual assault victims into the accused.

The routine process of victim blaming, as illuminated by this Article 32 hearing, serves to silence other sexual assault victims, generate sympathy for rapists, and create doubts that the definition of sexual assault includes anything beyond a stranger jumping out of an alley and raping a sweet, chaste woman wearing modest clothing.

In this case, the midshipman saw social media posts that led her to believe she was raped while drunk. All three defendants admitted sexual contact with the midshipman on the night at the center of the allegations—either to her, or prosecutors. What follows is a look at some of the horrible insinuations, statements, and questions used by defense attorneys to impugn the character of the midshipman, which offer an entry point to talk about and refute rape culture as a whole.

How do you perform oral sex?

Defense attorneys repeatedly asked the midshipman how she performs oral sex. This question is irrelevant, even though one of the defendants has said that he put his penis in her mouth that night. Here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if a sexual assault victim has had sex, and it doesn’t matter how she (or he) prefers to have sex. People are biologically driven to have sex. Sex is part of normal life. A history or manner of having oral sex, or rough sex, or any specific style of sex, does not mean that you can’t be sexually assaulted orally, or roughly, or in that specific style. There are infinite ways to have sex, minus one: Sex without consent isn’t sex. By definition, it’s rape.

Tell us about your sex life.

Along with repeated queries about how she performs oral sex, the midshipman was asked to describe her sex life in detail. This, like the oral sex question, is also irrelevant and demeaning. Casting the spotlight on a victim’s sexual history in the context of discussing her (or his) rape serves to make others imagine the victim sexually. It serves to degrade her (or him). Sharing your sexuality with others is a personal choice. Being cast in a sexual light can be highly desired, even great, when freely chosen. But painting a sexual picture of someone when they haven’t asked you to serves to shame, silence, and sluttify.

You had sex with him before, right?

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The Ongoing Battle to Remove Military Sexual Assault Prosecution From the Chain of Command

1:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Adele M. Stan for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As the Senate Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to take up its version of the Defense Authorization bill, senators will likely devote at least as much verbiage to discussion of sexual assault in the military ranks as they do to the finer points of the Pentagon budget that is the bill’s main focus. But missing from the committee’s final version of the bill will be the one measure that advocates for survivors of sexual assault and rape say is critical to ending the crisis that grips the military: removing the reporting and prosecution of sexual assault cases from the chain of command.

Despite its bipartisan support and 27 co-sponsors, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the committee chairman, struck from the bill a measure offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have moved the adjudication of all serious crimes (such as murder, rape, and sexual assault) into the hands of independent prosecutors in order to create a safer environment and more impartial judicial process for those who have been the targets of assailants in the military ranks.

Levin made the decision Tuesday, replacing the provisions of Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act with a measure that simply requires that any command decision not to prosecute a sexual assault case be reviewed by a high-ranking officer. But as demonstrated in at least one recent case—the overturning of the sexual assault conviction of Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin—the top brass often exhibit the same deference to defendants as commanders lower in rank.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has condemned Levin’s decision. “They basically embrace the status quo here. It’s outrageous,” she told the New York Times.

As Gillibrand and others noted in a June 4 day-long hearing on sexual assault in the military, victims often don’t come forward because of well-founded fears of reprisal by their commanders. Testimony by victims’ advocates laid out a picture of a landscape on which retaliation against those who report sexual assaults—including being drummed out of the service on the basis of mental-health diagnoses made by military medical personnel—seemed almost as common as the assaults themselves.

Citing a recent Pentagon report that estimated some 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact experienced by members of the military at the hands of others in the ranks, Gillibrand addressed a panel of top military officials: “Of the victims who did report … 62 percent said they received retaliation.”

Of those estimated 26,000 incidents, only 3,300 were reported, and fewer than 200 went to trial.

Most U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and Israel, have altered their command structure to reflect the kind of change that Gillibrand and co-sponsors of her bill seek in the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). But the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t want it, and Levin is not disposed to make them do it, despite the fact that the Constitution places control of the military under the leadership of civilian elected officials.

Among the measures attached to the bill, which allocates the annual budget for the whole of the armed forces, will likely be several that aim to aid members of the military who survive rape and other sexual violence at the hands of their colleagues, measures that victims’ advocates applaud but that only deal with the aftermath of assault.

Proponents of Gillibrand’s measure contend that because it would encourage rape survivors and assault victims to come forward, and would likely result in a higher number of prosecutions, it could change the current military culture marked by rampant predation on lower-ranking members by their superiors.

On June 5, the House Armed Services Committee included in its markup of the bill some 11 amendments designed to address, in some measure, the crisis of sexual assault that has plagued the military for the last 25 years. They include measures to provide services to victims and to prevent commanders from overturning convictions made by military courts. But a change to the chain of command structure, proposed by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), was not among them.

Wednesday morning, news came that a measure co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that would form a Special Victims Counsel—a special military lawyer tasked with assisting sexual assault victims throughout the process of adjudicating their reports—in all branches of service had won a thumbs-up from Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Where Are the Women?

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STOKING FIRE: Ultra-Conservative Doctrine May Be the Reason for Unreported Sexual Crimes in the Military

10:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units–trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since under-reporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report rests with an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians, and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns in 1971, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” The school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

While most of its students are undoubtedly attracted to this mission, others attend Liberty because tuition is low: $1900 a term for residential students and $2200 for distance learners. During the 2011-2012 year, nearly 9000 students from 46 countries registered for online classes; of them, more than 1000 hope to complete the 72-credit program and become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—an article posted on Times Union.com in February 2011 blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given. Read the rest of this entry →

Defending the Rights of the Women Who Defend Us

6:26 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This week, Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Robert D. Andrews (D-N.J.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) stood up for U.S. servicewomen, and submitted an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would end the unconscionable policy of denying rape survivors serving in the military health coverage for abortion care. The all-powerful House of Representatives Committee on Rules will decide this week whether this amendment — protecting the health and rights of U.S. servicewomen — deserves to get a vote.

Sexual assault in the armed services is at crisis levels. Tragically, we see story after story of servicewomen being attacked by their own colleagues. In the fiscal year 2010, according to the Department of Defense, 3,158 military sexual assaults were reported, many of which were reports of rape. As DOD officials have stated, even “one sexual assault is one too many,” but the above number — which is in the thousands — barely scratches the surface. Most servicewomen who have experienced sexual violence do not report the incident. Researchers estimate that up to one-third of women experience an attempted or completed rape during their military service.

In the face of this epidemic, federal law denies servicewomen and military families coverage for abortion care, even in cases of rape or incest. … Read more