News “The Private War of Women”
posted by March 21 at 11:42 AMon
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.