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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Women’s War

posted by on March 20 at 14:42 PM

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.

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.”

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.
”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.

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My mother was raped when she was in the Navy, by another sailor, in 1963, which resulted in my birth (abortion wasn't legal in 1963 obviously). The man who did it denied it officially but bragged about it to his friends. He was never charged nor ever had to pay child support.

My mother was given a general discharge because in 1963 you couldn't be a mother and a serviceman (or WAVE as they called women sailors back then).

Stories like the one in the NY Times make me sick because I feel nothing will ever be done about it. If anything it will strengthen those that believe women should not be allowed in combat, let alone the service.

There are few, if any women with the rank high enough to do anything about this, and when it comes to the military, politicians are ineffectual when trying to change the status quo (see Don't Ask Don't Tell). It would not surprise me if some of our top generals, including the Joint Chiefs, had raped some service woman in their past.

Posted by elswinger | March 20, 2007 2:58 PM

This is truly horrifying. Even though I don't want to, I think I have to read the whole thing.

Posted by Carollani | March 20, 2007 2:58 PM

I'd love to see this story get picked up by national television news, but I'm guessing they're afraid of looking "anti troops during wartime" or some such thing, especially in light of other military scandals already in the headlines.

I'm guessing young people - women - thinking about life in the military have no idea how rampant this is. *I* had no idea how rampant this is. It's sickening this is what's going on, and just as sickening it won't be the lead story tonight.

Posted by Dougsf | March 20, 2007 3:07 PM

Okay, that was a tough read. Sadly, it doesn't change my views (that being that the military sucks) it just made me cry.

Posted by monkey | March 20, 2007 3:22 PM

my stepdaughter was reading the article sunday morning & getting verklempt, so i told her "its unpatriotic to not support all troops unquestioningly, even if they're rapists. so suck it up, little missy, find a man & start making more troops. the next war's coming in 18 years."

"i was FOR the war, but AGAINST the troops, so..." - Bill Hicks, RIP.

Posted by Max Solomon | March 20, 2007 3:25 PM

I wish the 'civilized' children of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Pearle/Feith war-mongering Hawk brigade were on the front lines.

No, instead they send rural thugs like Pat Tilman and the like. From the view of the Hawks, war might be a good place for these boys to filter their aggressions. The women are a little naive to think they aren't going to be viewed as bitches, whores and sluts.

Posted by Nancy | March 20, 2007 3:29 PM

erica, you completely misread the important statistic cited - it's not 1/3 of all female service members. it's 1/3 of those who have received medical care through the VA (veterans only), and even then only a sample. that's still obscenely high, but i don't think they've done the necessary work to ascertain the numbers for active-duty soldiers (care received through army hospitals) or former soldiers who have private health insurance.

it's reprehensible the lack of support female soldiers are receiving throughout the command structure.

Posted by jason | March 20, 2007 3:48 PM

"Stories like the one in the NY Times make me sick because I feel nothing will ever be done about it. If anything it will strengthen those that believe women should not be allowed in combat, let alone the service."

Unfortunately, that's exactly the spin you'll soon see on this article from some quarters, just as it showed up after Tailhook and the Air Force Academy scandal and whatever other scandals I'm forgetting here.

Posted by tsm | March 20, 2007 3:49 PM

This is just one reason girls shouldn't be allowed to serve in the military.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | March 20, 2007 3:58 PM

@9: Girls aren't. Women are.

Posted by Sweeney Agonistes | March 20, 2007 4:05 PM

Okay. This is just one reason women shouldn't be allowed to serve in the military.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | March 20, 2007 4:07 PM

Nancy, can you provide a link that supports your assertion that Pat Tillman was a rural thug? I searched the news for articles that called him a rapist are a violent predator and couldn't find anything. All I found was that after 9/11 he joined the service out of a sense of patriotism, but was vocally opposed to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. According to Tillman's mother, when he was done with his tour of duty, he was supposed to meet with Noam Chomsky and today would probably be a vocal anti-war symbol had he not been killed by "friendly fire" while serving in Afghanistan.

But if you know more about him than Noam Chomsky, please share.

Posted by elswinger | March 20, 2007 4:11 PM

Nancy @6: How is Pat Tillman a "rural thug". He was born in San Jose and graduated in 3.5 years from ASU where he was the 1997 Sporting News Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

He was a well-read and well-rounded individual whose ill-advised decision to enlist was co-opted by the very government that killed him. If he had made it home he'd likely be an outspoken anti-war Democrat.

Posted by DOUG. | March 20, 2007 4:17 PM

if our military cannot enlist the type of soldiers who will respect people, and if our military cannot train those unrespecting solders to respect other people, then at the very least our military ought to put the infrastructure in place to protect people and punish those who do not respect.

Posted by infrequent | March 20, 2007 4:23 PM

YGKM - Why restrict the opportunities of the victims instead of trying to change the culture that makes it okay to rape them? The problem isn't the women. It's the men raping them. Or do you have such a low opinion of men that you think it's just natural for them to rape and nothing can be done about that?

Posted by anarkallisti | March 20, 2007 4:43 PM

I'd like to pretend that this doesn't happen, or that it isn't covered up and not prosecuted - but in reality it does happen and is rarely prosecuted - and not just in the US, but in Canada's Armed Forces as well.

Based on inference from years in the Army and many many many personnel files, charge sheets, and court martials.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 20, 2007 4:53 PM


I have a pretty low opinion of San Jose (which is nothing more than a glorified suburb pretending to be a city), but even I wouldn't call it rural.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 20, 2007 4:58 PM

ECB... LIke Jason pointed out @7, why don't you correct the stat in your second paragraph?

Posted by DOUG. | March 20, 2007 5:01 PM

Alright, you guys got me on Tillman- apologies to his family. I just knew he was a football player (a stupid game of adults running into one another for applause and money - money that mostly goes into other hands).

So, now that you've gone out of your way to prove me wrong on the least significant part of my post, I realize you're either ignorant or don't care about what matters.

Down with Puppeteering Hawks!

Posted by Nancy | March 20, 2007 5:04 PM

To add, it's pretty easy to cut down idiot Bush. But if you want to go after an intelligent guy who drew up the plans for Iraq, read about Paul Wolfowitz.

Haliburton is tiddly winks compared to The World Bank, and Wolfowitz now heads it.

Posted by Nancy | March 20, 2007 5:32 PM

i read this on sunday. it shocked me and hasn't left my mind since. :-(

Posted by kim | March 20, 2007 7:24 PM

" I realize you're either ignorant or don't care about what matters."

Sheesh, can't take being corrected with grace huh?
Yet another person who thinks that since they can't chew gum and walk at the same time, then the rest of us can't either.

And no, I don't have anything to add to the main subject at hand. it's too damn depressing. Other than; although I know it is unrealistic, I think both women and gays should boycott the military until it accepts them and is safe for them. Ja, like I said, not realistic, in any way...


Posted by K X One | March 20, 2007 10:41 PM

Thanks #15. By the way, men shouldn't be able to serve in the military, either.

#11, your logic escapes me. Your answer to rape is that women should be barred from this particular workplace? That's like blaming the bank for the robbery. Bizarre.

Posted by hey | March 20, 2007 11:20 PM

This war is a monster that keeps growing new heads of hideousness. Look at what Vietnam gave us - fifteen years of high crime rates, whole populations going down to heroin, crack ghettos, a thrill-seeking murder media culture, and private terror and trauma in half a million bedrooms. Now this. Brace yourselves for having these folks around when they've all been back home for a few years and the demons start to come out of the backs of their minds. Then we'll learn our lesson again as a nation, and forget it again a generation later.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | March 21, 2007 1:07 AM

Sorry, meant to say what the Vietnam WAR gave us - we gave ourselves. Vietnam gave us pho.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | March 21, 2007 1:09 AM

How do other militaries handle this? Israel has a gender-integrated military and has been in similar combat situations for the past few decades. Do they have the same problems? How have they been dealing with them?

Posted by Aexia | March 21, 2007 8:02 AM

Nancy, yes, your character assassination of someone who died in a senseless war was the least significant part of your post.

So the important part of your post is "I wish the 'civilized' children of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Pearle/Feith war-mongering Hawk brigade were on the front lines."

So does this mean you are for the war? Wouldn't a better wish be for no war, and therefore no deaths at all?

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 8:12 AM

Sorry for the punctuation error. I meant:

Nancy, yes, your character assassination of someone who died in a senseless war was the least significant part of your post?

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 8:26 AM

It's just pathetic that Barnett has not fixed the gross statistical error in her second paragraph. It throws the credibility of everything she writes in question. As if it weren't already...

Posted by DOUG. | March 21, 2007 10:17 AM

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