A female U.S. soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. While they fight to help Afghan women obtain freedom from Taliban subjugation, our own female combatants are brutalized in their barracks in what has been dubbed “the invisible war.”
This week, 8 service members filed a lawsuit alleging they were raped, sexually assaulted, and harassed by officers while serving in the military. The complaint details how the military threatened the victims into silence, neglected to investigate the rapes and assaults, failed to prosecute the perpetrators, and retaliated against the victims for reporting the violence.
The lawsuit comes just weeks after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced new measures to improve military sexual violence prosecution. The complaint, however, alleges that: “Although defendants testified before Congress . . . that they have ‘zero tolerance’ for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and ‘zero tolerance’ for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.”
These allegations are consistent with recent Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs studies. It is estimated that more than 19,000 incidents of sexual violence occurred in 2010 and that 1 in 3 women experience military sexual trauma while serving- nearly double the rate for civilians. Less than 3,000, or 13%, of the attacks were reported. Less than 21% of the reported cases went to trial. And of the 529 perpetrators prosecuted, only 53% were convicted- even though the military’s conviction rate for all other crimes is about 90%.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier demanded reform to fix the military’s response to sexual violence by removing investigations from the traditional chain of command to an impartial office. “There [are] no circumstances under which women who are brave enough and patriotic enough to stand up and defend this nation should have to be subjected to being called ‘slut, whore, walking mattress,” the victims’ attorney told the press. That this happens in our military is absolutely unacceptable. Speier’s reform is critical to combat the culture of rape in the U.S. armed forces that protects perpetrators and punishes victims.