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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

“The Private War of Women”

posted by on March 21 at 11:42 AM

I posted yesterday about the cover story from this week’s NYT Magazine, The Women’s War, about the prevalence of sexual violence against women in combat by their own military comrades. (Although no comprehensive survey has been done, one in three female veterans who used VA health services reported rape or attempted rape by fellow soldiers.)

About a week ago, Salon ran a similar, and equally affecting piece by Helen Benedict, who is working on a book on the subject. She writes that female soldiers

at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, for example, where U.S. troops go to demobilize, told me they were warned not to go out at night alone.

“They call Camp Arifjan ‘generator city’ because it’s so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can’t be heard,” said Abbie Pickett, 24, a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Yet, she points out, this is a base, where soldiers are supposed to be safe.

Spc. Mickiela Montoya, 21, who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, took to carrying a knife with her at all times. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” she told me. “It was for the guys on my own side.”

Spc. Montoya even uses nearly identical language to that used by one of the woman in Corbett’s NYT story: “There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke.” If you resist sex with fellow soldiers, you’re a bitch; if you have sex, even if it’s with a boyfriend, you’re a ho.

The situation got so bad, Col. Janis Karpinski reported last year, that in 2003 three women died of dehydration because they were afraid of being raped if they walked to the latrines for water after dark. The army has called her charges unsubstantiated.

“I sat right there when the doctor briefing that information said these women had died in their cots,” Karpinski told me. “I also heard the deputy commander tell him not to say anything about it because that would bring attention to the problem.” The latrines were far away and unlit, she explained, and male soldiers were jumping women who went to them at night, dragging them into the Port-a-Johns, and raping or abusing them. “In that heat, if you don’t hydrate for as many hours as you’ve been out on duty, day after day, you can die.” She said the deaths were reported as non-hostile fatalities, with no further explanation.

The US Bureau of Justice estimates that only 59 percent of rapes are reported in civilian life. The underreporting problem is only exacerbated in a combat situation, where a victim has to face her assailant every day (and may rely on him for her own health and safety.) The Department of Justice has belatedly recognized this problem, Benedict reports, and put up a web site that allows anonymous reporting. Unfortunately, the site places most of its emphasis on how women can avoid rape, not telling men not to commit rape, but it appears to be working—according to Benedict, the number of reported rapes rose from 1,700 in 2004 to 2,374 in 2005.

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Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are on the Senate Armed Services Committee and are running for President. Someone with press credentials needs to ask them what how they are going to fix the current problem and change the culture in the military.

I'll email them the stories, but coming from a nobody, I don't expect anything.

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 12:16 PM

It's probably these guys who are doing the raping, especially that one in the center.

Yeah, it's more fun nit-picking about the those who are fighting/dying/getting raped because of this ASSHOLE, who is currently enacting policies for The World Bank in order to perpetuate the war that he designed! Read his Bio!
After all his neo-con cronies (Libby, Cheyney, etal) get rich and retire, commit suicide or develop alzheimers, he'll still be in the game, tweaking his Weapons of Mass Destruction debacle!

Posted by Nancy | March 21, 2007 12:26 PM

NPR had a good piece on this last Friday, including an interview with Mickiela Montoya:

Posted by Kate | March 21, 2007 12:28 PM

"Unfortunately, the site places most of its emphasis on how women can avoid rape, not telling men not to commit rape, but it appears to be working—according to Benedict, the number of reported rapes rose from 1,700 in 2004 to 2,374 in 2005."

Is it not possible that this rise is actually due to an increase in willingness of victims to come forward, and not due to an actual increase in rape? (Just theorizing ...)

Posted by tsm | March 21, 2007 1:01 PM

Nancy, once again your ignorance.

The picture of Wolfowowitz is surrounded by the American Soldiers who had died up to the point the mosaic was made (2003). If you look closer, at least one of them was a woman.

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 1:17 PM

Iraq Coalition Casualties: Female Fatalities

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 1:19 PM

Sorry for the bad grammar. I meant to say: "Nancy, once again you show you ignorance."

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 1:22 PM

Elswinger, obviously you like Wolfowitz. I'll be looking for every bullshit comment you make from now on. You're in ASSHOLE's camp.

Posted by Nancy | March 21, 2007 1:22 PM

Wow, Nancy, are you still all pissy because people called you on it when you unnecessarily defamed a dead man with no particular transgression to his name?

Posted by tsm | March 21, 2007 1:35 PM

TSM @4

I think that was actually their point. The site is working because more women are reporting rape, not becuase more women are being raped. The goal of the site is to get more women to report what happens.

Posted by Jessica | March 21, 2007 1:46 PM

@10: Ah, I see. It just sounded like ECB was being sarcastic in the context.

Posted by tsm | March 21, 2007 2:05 PM

@11 - ECB is never sarcastic. You're just upset she won't quote you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 21, 2007 2:19 PM

You're right, I'm pissy, a bad character flaw. I'm pissy as much as you are content.

Could you just step out of the shadows and defend the elite who started this war? So far I'm taking your silence on the matter as an admission of support for the bloodshed.

Posted by Nancy | March 21, 2007 2:27 PM

This is everyday reality for many women soldiers throughout the world. In combat situations, it is even worse.

As a combat veteran( different army) I gotta say, I've seen some of this crap up close, though, I can't say I ever saw a fellow soldier raped, or threatened with violence, I did see so much harrasment, inapropriate behaviour and hostility towards women soldiers and people ( higher ups) doing absolutely nothing. At times the officers and lifers were the worst. I of course can not speak for the US armed forces for I have never served in them, but after reading both articles cited on this post, I gotta say, it is all very familiar and the patterns are the same. I do hope that this does not go away like previous so called scandals like the Navy one many years ago and that armed forces arent allowed to say that this culture of violence towards fellow soldiers is an isolated or a series of isolated incidents.

Posted by SeMe | March 21, 2007 2:35 PM

If you even bothered to examine the point of the picture, you would realize the message is that Paul Wolfowitz has the blood of these dead soldiers on his hands, which I whole-heartedly agree.

I'm liberal, but you are a knee-jerk liberal which makes you just as insipid on as the NeoCons who are keeping us in this war.

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 2:49 PM

I'm learning to shrug off the insipid label like the neo-cons have been doing for the last 30 years. There's lots of catching up to do. You'd think more people would be upset by the actions of these guys. Instead, we settle for Bush is bad, bad, bad. Say it again.

Maybe the WTO movie will get people revved about the IMF and World Bank again and it's obvious link to the Iraq war, more now than ever with YOU KNOW WHO in charge!

The last sentence at that site:

That people in the U.S. are barely aware of the fact is a disgrace.

Posted by Nancy | March 21, 2007 3:26 PM

I really like what you wrote. If you want to read an interview with Michelle Manhart, the woman who was kicked out of the air force for posing nude in Playboy, go to:


Posted by Orato | March 22, 2007 11:28 AM

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