Saturday, August 19, 2006

The US Military: A Culture of Sexual Abuse

An investigation by the Associated Press finds a growing trend of sexual assault against women and men among US military recruiters:

More than 100 young women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon sexually by their recruiters. Women were raped on recruiting office couches, assaulted in government cars and groped en route to entrance exams.

A six-month Associated Press investigation found that more than 80 military recruiters were disciplined last year for sexual misconduct with potential enlistees. The cases occurred across all branches of the military and in all regions of the country.
At least 35 Army recruiters, 18 Marine Corps recruiters, 18 Navy recruiters and 12 Air Force recruiters were disciplined for sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior with potential enlistees in 2005, according to records obtained by the AP under dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests. That's significantly more than the handful of cases disclosed in the past decade.

This is not just a matter of 'boys will be boys'. This is a situation where people with power, authority and the ability to determine a potential recruit's future have seriously abused their positions by taking advantage of others weaknesses. The military's code doesn't exactly help the situation either:

Although the Uniform Code of Military Justice bars recruiters from having sex with potential recruits, it also states that age 16 is the legal age of consent. This means that if a recruiter is caught having sex with a 16-year-old, and he can prove it was consensual, he will likely only face an administrative reprimand.

We all know how difficult it can be for some rape and sexual assualt victims to prove that what occured was anything but consensual. It's simply 'he said, she/he said' and an offender who can afford the best lawyer can easily win their case if it is, in fact, ever even prosecuted.

The AP also found:

-The Army, which accounts for almost half of the military, has had 722 recruiters accused of rape and sexual misconduct since 1996.

-Across all services, one out of 200 frontline recruiters - the ones who deal directly with young people - was disciplined for sexual misconduct last year.

-Some cases of improper behavior involved romantic relationships, and sometimes those relationships were initiated by the women.

-Most recruiters found guilty of sexual misconduct are disciplined administratively, facing a reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay; military and civilian prosecutions are rare.

-The increase in sexual misconduct incidents is consistent with overall recruiter wrongdoing, which has increased from just over 400 cases in 2004 to 630 cases in 2005, according to a General Accounting Office report released this week.

So, where can these victims actually find justice if prosecutions are 'rare'? And are they offered any type of counseling after they've been scarred for life by these recruiter's criminal actions? Why is this not addressed more forcefully by the US military? Didn't they learn anything from Tailhook? And what of the female soldiers who actually made it through the recruitment stage and were raped or otherwise assaulted while serving in Iraq and elsewhere?

Over 500 cases of sexual assault have been reported among U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the summer of 2002, according to the executive director of the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks sexual crimes in the military.
Services and advocate programs for the victims of sexual violence are also not getting the resources they need to operate effectively, says Hansen.

"Victim advocates, dedicated to protecting victims' rights, have been denied resources, forced off the base and unfairly dismissed," according to Hansen. She adds that victims are not entitled to the same protections as civilians and that they are unable to seek confidential counseling without the fear that counselors may be forced to turn over their records.

This, once again, is not a matter of 'a few bad apples'. This is a matter of institutional failure by the Pentagon to address this situation. And this isn't just a 'women's issue'. Men have been raped and assaulted as well.

The Miles Foundation keeps track of victims of other military-related abuse and provides help for those affected along with services to those interested in dealing with the issues. Their site lists a litany of examples that the general public rarely hears anything about.

It's quite obvious that military culture must be re-examined. But, how do you deal with soldiers who are trained to be heartless killers in the name of patriotism? How can they shut that off once they return home? And what about the soldiers who have untreated PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) who not only return to their families but are often redeployed before receiving adequate treatment due to troop shortages? That in itself is creating massive mental health problems which, if not properly addressed, will destroy far more people - soldiers, families, recruits - than can even be predicted at this time.

War and militarization leave many victims in their wake.

“A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves”.
- German proverb

Those thieves have been stealing people's dignity, justice and hope. The fact that they are enabled to do so by a Pentagon that simply looks the other way or hands out slaps on the wrist means that many more people will be victimized while Bush and his supporters continue to boast about the so-called greatest military in the world. These days, greatness is hardly the word to describe such a flawed institution.

Never forget that rape is all about power and control. It is not about sex and there is no justification for it whatsoever. Rape destroys not only the body, but the mind and the spirit. It is one of the most vile expressions of dominance ever perpetrated by those who have no conscience.

Today, August 19th, would have been the birthday of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the 14 year old girl who was allegedly raped and murdered along with her family by US soldiers in Iraq.

Abeer means "fragrance of flowers."

May she rest in peace.

Update: Prompted by the Associated Press' reporting of this abuse Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) 'said Sunday that he would push to increase penalties for sexual misconduct by military recruiters.'

That's fine Skelton, but they have to actually be prosecuted first.

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