News The Women’s War
posted by March 20 at 14:42 PMon
I wasn’t going to post about this—it falls pretty squarely into the category of Things That Make Me So Sad I Have to Look Away—but now that I’ve made it all the way through Sara Corbett’s brilliant, nuanced 12,000-word article about US women serving in Iraq from this week’s Sunday’s Times Magazine, I implore you to read the whole thing.
Here’s just one holy-shit detail that blew me away: One in three women who have served in the US armed forces say they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. One in three. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent said they were gang-raped. Others reported being coerced into having sex with men who were above them in rank and thus responsible for their health and safety. There’s even a term for it: “command rape.” Female veterans who have been raped are much more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder—with symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, and constant anxiety—than their male counterparts.
Randall’s life story was a sad one, though according to the V.A. psychologists I spoke with, it was not atypical. Growing up in Florida, she said, she was physically and sexually abused by two relatives - a condition that has been shown to make a woman more prone to suffer assault as an adult. Eventually she landed in foster care. She told me she joined the Navy at 20 precisely because she was raised in an environment where ”girls were worthless.” The stability and merit structure of the military appealed to her. Stationed in Mississippi in early 2002, Randall said, she was raped one night in her barracks after being at a bar with a group of servicemen. The details are unclear to her, but Randall says she believes that someone drugged her drink.The abuse of women by their own brothers in arms has become so prevalent, Corbett writes, that many women in the military adopt a “why-bother” approach and don’t report sexual assaults to authorities. Defense Department statistics bear that attitude out: Of the 3,038 investigations of military sexual assault charges in 2004 and 2005, only 329 resulted in courts-martial. More than half were simply dismissed. Corbett observes that sexual harassment and crass stereotypes contribute to an atmosphere in which sexual assault is accepted and encouraged.
A couple of months later, she discovered she was pregnant. In November 2002, she gave birth to her daughter. Less than a year later, Randall’s unit was deployed to the war, stopping first for several months on Guam. She put Anne in the care of a cousin in Florida. The second rape happened after another night of drinking. ”I couldn’t fight him off,” Randall says. ”I remember there were other guys in the room too. Somebody told me they took pictures of it and put them on the Internet.” Randall says she has blocked out most of the details of the second rape - something else experts say is a common self-protective measure taken by the brain in response to violent trauma - and that she left for Iraq ”in a daze.”
”You’re one of three things in the military - a bitch, a whore or a dyke,” says Abbie Pickett, who is 24 and a combat-support specialist with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. ”As a female, you get classified pretty quickly.”
Many women mentioned being the subject of crass jokes told by male soldiers. Some said that they used sarcasm to deflect the attention but that privately the ridicule wore them down. Others described warding off sexual advances again and again. ”They basically assume that because you’re a girl in the Army, you’re obligated to have sex with them,” Suzanne Swift told me at one point.