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Do Military Sexual Assaults Against Men Trump Those Against Women?

7:44 am 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.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY

At a Capitol Hill news conference called in May by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in support of her legislation to address sexual assault in the military, Brian Lewis, a former petty officer in the U.S. Navy, told of how, at the age of 20, he was raped on board a ship by a superior officer, and then drummed out of the service and denied his Veterans Administration benefits when he took his complaint to his commanding officer.

While the Navy never denied the assault took place, according to the Guardian, Lewis’ attacker went unpunished. At the press conference, Lewis said that instead, he suffered retaliation for having made the complaint in the form of a false diagnosis of a personality disorder by a Navy psychiatrist—a diagnosis that led to his separation from the service without benefits.

Lewis’ story is not unlike those told by many military women who suffer sexual assault by members of higher rank, who endure sexual assault during their time in the service at more than five times the rate of men. (Indeed, at the same press conference, Jennifer Norris, a former sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, told of suffering post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] after enduring several sexual assaults, and then losing her security clearance because of her PTSD diagnosis.)

Despite the higher rate of sexual assault in the military against women, Pentagon statistics estimate a greater number of assaults against men—some 53 percent of all sexual assaults in the military—based on the fact that the services are overwhelmingly male. With the upcoming release of Justice Denied, a documentary that focuses on the stories of men who suffered sexual assault while serving in the armed forces, an emphasis on their stories is moving to the fore. And that’s a good thing for all survivors, one would assume, for it exposes a pervasive culture of sexual predation in the military.

But if a recent New York Times front page story is any indication, attempts are already being made to distinguish the rape experiences of male survivors as inherently worse than women’s, and to continue framing assaults on women in terms of the rapist’s sexual desire, not the same quest for domination that motivates those who assault men.

Given society’s default position in disbelieving the woman who dares to accuse her rapist, advocates for sexual assault victims express the hope that with more men coming forward to tell their stories, the military brass will take the problem—an estimated 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact in a single year, according to a recent Pentagon report—more seriously. Another reason that the generals and admirals have failed to prioritize the problem is that it’s seen as a “women’s problem,” and women comprise a mere 15 percent of the force, Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told the Times.

With more men coming forward, she said, “I think it places the onus on the institution when people realize it’s also men who are victims.”

While that may be a sad fact of the way in which assaults on women are considered to be somehow less important, more troubling is this paragraph, from the same New York Times article, by James Dao:

Many sexual assaults on men in the military seem to be a form of violent hazing or bullying, said Roger Canaff, a former New York State prosecutor who helped train prosecutors on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon. “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he said.

Note that this guy trains military prosecutors.

What are we to take from that? That assaults against women are the acts of lonely guys who are just looking for a little love? That the motivation for some of the horrendous attacks on women in the military by men, often of higher rank, has nothing to do with a desire to humiliate or torment the women?

Take the case of Navy veteran Trina McDonald, told in the documentary film The Invisible War, who says that in 1989 she was drugged, raped repeatedly, and even dumped in the Bering Sea after an assault. Sounds like something other than sexual motivation there.

Or that of Army veteran Ayana Harrell, who was drugged and gang-raped in 2001, and then, when she told her commanding officer that she was pregnant because of the attack, was told, she says, that it was her own problem.

More recently, there was the 2012 social-media humiliation of a female Navy midshipman who says she was raped by several Naval Academy football players after she passed out at a party.

And the assault last month of a civilian woman in a Virginia mall parking lot by the Air Force lieutenant who, at the time, led that service’s sexual assault prevention unit.

And multiple reports of assaults by military recruiters against young women in the recruitment process, including one that ended in a murder-suicide.

I don’t mean to suggest that sexual assaults sustained by military men are less important or less traumatizing than those endured by women. But I see in the offing an attempt to paint them as more so, and that’s deeply disturbing.

We’re told that men are left with the trauma of questioning their manhood, of not being believed by family members, of the humiliation of the assumption by many that they must have cooperated in some way with the assault. While it may be less likely for a woman to question her sexual identity as the result of an assault, she is usually left to question her own feminine virtue as construed by society, which is a torment unto itself. Each are different, and there’s no way that one sex can assess the other’s experience of sexual assault as particular to gender.

Likewise, no two sexual assaults are completely alike. Some are more brutal than others. But all are profoundly damaging to those who endure them.

I welcome airing the stories of the courageous men who are now coming forward to tell of how they were preyed upon by their brethren in the armed forces. My heart hurts for them, just as it hurts for all of the women who have endured such injustices. And if their coming forward puts more urgency into finally ending this scourge, that’s a good thing, and these men will have done a great service for servicemen and servicewomen alike.

But the framing of their stories must not be construed in such a way as to draw distinctions based on old tropes about the nature of sexual assaults against women, cementing the old saw about “boys being boys” when they prey on women, and something worse when they prey on men.

The military has a predator problem within its ranks—and a traitorous one at that. That the Senate Armed Services Committee, by rejecting Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, has chosen to leave the adjudication of these crimes within the chain of command that has allowed them to proliferate is a crime in itself. That the president has remained silent on the chain of command problem is disheartening.

If what it takes lawmakers to do their constitutional duty to protect America’s fighting men and women is the knowledge that roughly one in 100 men in the armed forces suffer sexual assault at the hands of their brother fighters—when, clearly, knowledge of the one in 17 military women who suffer the same didn’t do the trick—then so be it.

But rape is rape. Sexual assault is sexual assault. These are brutal crimes of betrayal designed to humiliate, dominate, and harm the person who is preyed upon, regardless of his or her sex.

Until we get that straight, the road to women’s equality remains strewn with the obstacles sown by history’s purveyors of sex libel.

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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Reproductive Health Services in the Military: It’s Time to Stop Denying Servicewomen The Basic Rights For Which They Fight

1:46 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


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

At the end of last year the Senate blocked the Shaheen Amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which would have restored insurance coverage of abortion for women serving in the military who are raped—giving military women the same benefits that federal employees, women enrolled in Medicaid, and women in federal prison receive.

The lack of support for this bill is shocking given the high rates of sexual assault and rape in the military that put the nearly 300,000 women serving in the US military (97 percent of whom are of reproductive age) at increased risk for unintended pregnancy. While the Shaheen Amendment would have been an important step forward in ensuring comprehensive health care for servicewomen, our research at Ibis Reproductive Health has documented a number of other gaps in access to reproductive health care that also need to be addressed. We urge policymakers in 2012 to put politics aside and support the women serving our country through policies that meet their needs and promote their health and well-being.

Servicewomen need access to abortion in military medical facilities to ensure safe, confidential, and timely access to care

In addition to military insurance not covering abortions except in cases where the servicewoman’s life is in danger, current federal policy also prohibits abortions from being performed in military facilities overseas even if a woman pays for it herself, with narrow exceptions for life endangerment, rape, and incest.

In a recent study we conducted with military women and dependents seeking abortion during overseas deployment, women with an unintended pregnancy overwhelmingly wanted to complete their tour of duty and continue serving their country, and did not want to interrupt their service by returning home because of the pregnancy. The majority, however, were stationed in countries where abortion is prohibited, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where abortion is banned except to save the life of the woman. Read the rest of this entry →