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Silent No More: Women In The Military Speak Out Against Sex Crimes
February 19, 2013 2:20 AM   Subscribe

Sexual Assault In The U.S. Military is the focus of a serious contender for Best Documentary Feature at this year's Academy Awards. The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative doc that sheds light on the under-reported epidemic of sexual abuse against female members of the military, as well as the lack of punitive action in these crimes: of the 8 percent of sexual assault cases that are prosecuted in the military, only 2 percent result in convictions. A female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.

By official estimates from The Department of Defense, 19,000 violent sexual crimes occurred in the military in 2011 alone. Sexual assault is grossly under-reported in the military. In 2011, 3,191 assaults were reported when its likely that somewhere between 19,000 and 22,000 assaults occurred. The women in the film speak about the physical and mental abuse they underwent while serving in the military - and about the the lawsuit they joined and the verdict in which their experiences were labeled "occupational hazards". The film is already garnering much attention, especially as front-running Oscar Nominee - and lawmakers are taking notice.

The Invisible War has played an influential role in helping expose this ongoing epidemic. Shortly after seeing the film early last year, Leon Panetta held a press conference where he announced changes to military policy. The DoD shifted court martial authority to higher levels last year.

Then, the General Jeff Sinclair incident:

The former deputy commander of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, a decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been charged with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct and other violations of military law, the Army said.

-from the NYT Article

The Pentagon doesn't like this so much, and would much rather this all just go away quietly. Sinclair's wife even dropped a letter to the editor at the Washington Post.

As the trial continued last month, with all the details surfacing, Sinclair hired MWW to come up with his personal website to perform damage control.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic continues, victims have begun documenting their experiences via I Am One. It is estimated that over 500,000 women have been victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. military.

Invisible War director Kirby Dick firmly believes the film can create even greater change:

“This is the film that—if it does get an Academy Award—it will motivate Congress, it will motivate the [Defense Department], it will motivate the military to make even more changes. There will be a direct result from this winning the award and the reduction of rape. That will happen.”

Film Trailer (youtube)
posted by fantodstic (46 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Additionally, I should have linked this up there as well:

Military Sexual Assault Bill/Ruth Moore Act of 2013

A bill that seeks to help sexual assault victims get VA benefits.
posted by fantodstic at 2:43 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just for comparison purposes, what are the numbers for college campuses?
posted by empath at 2:46 AM on February 19, 2013


Thank you.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


empath: the numbers are stupidly difficult to actually tabulate because:
a) We're talking about non-reported numbers, which by definition have to be constructed by statistical methods,
b) about things that people by definition aren't so willing to talk about,
c) meaning that the assumptions of the person constructing the numbers tend to play a large role in determining the final answer.

And that's true whether you're a loathsome "men's rights" type person or an anti-rape activist who wants larger numbers to convince people of the scale of the problem. So rather than start a lengthy derail about who's numbers are more accurate, I'll just say that I don't actually trust any of the non-reported numbers.

What really matters here is that there is an epidemic of sexual assault in the US military, with a strict lower bound of over 3,000 women impacted. Some of these women are brave enough to tell their stories in front of a camera and that is incredibly awesome of them, because it affords us the chance to try to fix the system. And to be clear, the 'occupational hazards' decision is absolutely fucking loathsome, and new laws are needed.

I was hit by a motorcycle in Kenya about a week and a half ago, and the guy that hit me was all 'oh, these things happens, god work s in mysterious ways,' etc etc. It's funny, but god seems to pick on people a lot more in places with bad traffic infrastructure, where a guy without a driving license can borrow a motorcycle to make a few shillings. Likewise, putting reasonable laws in place in the US military can help root out the rape-culture there.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


Dick discovered through interviews with the victims that the real heart of the problem was the inadequacy of the military criminal justice system, where cases often were closed without punishing the offenders and therefore never were exposed to the public. Obtaining interviews with military court officials or investigators was equally challenging, since most were reluctant to criticize the military even though they knew these crimes were being covered up.

Why not just hand this over to civilian criminal justice system? America's federal courts don't seem have much problem filling the jails. Wouldn't that be an easy thing for the Commander-in-Chief to sort out? With or without Congress? Can't he just claim some emergency war power and ignore Congress?
posted by three blind mice at 3:24 AM on February 19, 2013


jurisdiction?
posted by kaibutsu at 3:31 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What really matters here is that there is an epidemic of sexual assault in the US military, with a strict lower bound of over 3,000 women impacted

I guess the reason I asked it is to find out whether it's really a problem that's a particular problem with the military, as opposed to some other group with a similar age breakdown (ie, college campuses). I don't actually have a preconceived idea about whether the military would be better or worse, because I can think of reasons for it to be either.
posted by empath at 3:32 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


kaibutsu's comment was spot-on, but to inform empath: Information about sexual violence on college campuses, from Sarah Lawrence College as compiled by the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
posted by mephron at 3:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


whether it's really a problem that's a particular problem with the military

Since the military has its own justice system, and from the summary I read I conclude that said justice system is at least part of the problem, I think the answer to your question may only be partly relevant to all of this.
posted by DreamerFi at 3:36 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was a study conducted on non-incarcerated men in the States that determined, all things being equal, that about 1 in 15 men is a rapist or attempted rapist, and of that 1 in 15, 3 out of 4 are multiple rapists/attempted rapists, and 2 out of 3 of THEM had raped an average of 6 times. There were also super-repeat offenders who were skewing the average upwards (the median was 3 times).

Quickie mental math bears out the usually reported "1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted" statistic, allowing for the fact that some of the offenders are probably assaulting the same woman repeatedly. If these were all different women, 1 in 4 would actually be low.

I briefly saw a study (don't remember where, if someone can find it, much obliged) that says 1 in 4 women get sexually assaulted in the military per two years, whereas for non-military women it's 1 in 4 for their entire lives.

So.
posted by Peevish at 3:36 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


threeblindmice: that has actually happened, but due to the chain-of-command issues (a sexual assault complaint is referred first to the commander of the accused, who then decides if they're going to send it up), that rarely happens. This story at Huffington Post (yes yes, huffpo, but at least look at it) talks about one of those cases and what happened (spoiler: the NCIS officer got the local DA to charge the rapist and brought it to conviction, and the Marines gave him an other-than-honorable discharge).

But that was a rare case, and often there's no one willing to push the case at all. The story also indicates that in the decision to charge, one of the criteria is "worth to the unit". Which strikes me as a way to wave damn near anything away, by declaring someone 'critical to unit cohesion'.
posted by mephron at 3:47 AM on February 19, 2013




that has actually happened, but due to the chain-of-command issues (a sexual assault complaint is referred first to the commander of the accused, who then decides if they're going to send it up), that rarely happens.

My thought is that members of the military for just this reason be able to file a complaint outside of the military in the civilian courts. That would solve both the military problem and the problem with the inadequate system of justice. Let's call it out-sourcing.

From the article mephron linked:

On Friday, Panetta called the military's record on prosecuting MSA an "outrage."

But the way forward isn't clear. Despite over 20 years of such "zero tolerance" directives and policies, some 10 years of record keeping and seven years in operation for SAPRO, there has been no marked decrease in sexual assault or uptick in the rate of convictions.


Yeah, whatever Leon. It was happening on your watch dimwit. The prosecution record of the military's own justice system has been inadequate and so why not outsource it to the existing civilian courts. Sexual assault is not a uniquely military crime and there are enough existing federal laws to successfully prosecute federal employees aren't there?
posted by three blind mice at 4:07 AM on February 19, 2013


My thought is that members of the military for just this reason be able to file a complaint outside of the military in the civilian courts.

If I am serving out side of the US (perhaps in a country not friendly to women in the first place), and I am assaulted, where would I file a complaint?
posted by Monday at 4:41 AM on February 19, 2013


If you're in the military, and you're sexually assaulted by another military member off base or post go directly to a civilian hospital AND report it to civilian authorities.
posted by vonstadler at 4:41 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Department of Defense is offering a secure 24/7 global and confidential support line through RAINN. You can get live help online or call 877-995-5247.

RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, also runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
posted by vonstadler at 4:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My person in Congress, Jackie Speier, has been working aggressively for a long time to address this. Relative to that and other things, I would vote for her for President.
posted by ambient2 at 4:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this is also an issue in other countries' military programs... I doubt it.
posted by CPAGirl at 5:04 AM on February 19, 2013


I wonder if this is also an issue in other countries' military programs... I doubt it.

Why would it be unique to the US?
posted by snofoam at 5:38 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


threeblindmice: that has actually happened, but due to the chain-of-command issues (a sexual assault complaint is referred first to the commander of the accused, who then decides if they're going to send it up), that rarely happens.

Right: Which is why Leon Panetta as SecDef changed the policy just recently. Now, the initial authority for trial isn't at the company level with a summary court martial, it's someone holding special court martial authority, which is O-6, a Navy Captain or USA/USAF/USMC Colonel.

Or, quoting the linked press release....

"In the past, the official said, a victim in that unit might choose not to report an assault because the commander liked the alleged attacker more, or because the victim’s performance in the unit might cause the commander to disbelieve the victim’s report. Now, that unit commander must forward such reports up the chain of command to a colonel-level special court-martial convening authority."

So, now, the reports won't be handled by your (and your probable attacker's) mutual immediate CO, they'll be handled much higher -- a company commander (commanding some 120 people) having to forward it up to the brigade commander (commanding 4000) is a pretty big move.
posted by eriko at 6:18 AM on February 19, 2013


Yeah, whatever Leon. It was happening on your watch dimwit.

That article was posted on October 6th, 2012. Panetta had been SecDef only about a year, and started taking action pretty much immediately when he understood the scope of the problem -- back in April, 2012. When you take over something as large and complex as the US Department of Defense, I don't expect you to understand *every single problem* that exists in the first month -- or hell, year. Doubly so when a good fraction of your troops are in combat zones.

Want to break your hate out? Robert Gates was SecDef from 2006 to 2011. Donald Rumsfeld was SecDef from 2001 to 2006.
posted by eriko at 6:26 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why would it be unique to the US?

Why does the US have the 6th highest rape rate in the world?

(disclaimer: this is based on reported statistics, so Sweden, for instance, has a very high rate partially because it has a broader definition of "rape." many nations make it difficult to report rape, or do not consider certain kind of rape "rape," and get low rankings. regardless, the fact that the US is so high on the list is probably indicative of something cultural.)
posted by Peevish at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2013


Since the military has its own justice system, and from the summary I read I conclude that said justice system is at least part of the problem, I think the answer to your question may only be partly relevant to all of this.

Very much so. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is serious business, and if you go to court martial there's often the sense that they're already pissed at you enough for there even being a court martial that you're gonna get slammed with something. The defendant in a court martial simply doesn't have as many avenues of escape as a defendant in a civilian courtroom.

Take all that into account and then consider how serious the problem of sexual assault in the military is -- rampant sexual assault even in the face of a court system that is stern and serious in most other matters -- and you get an even bigger sense of just how poorly the military handles sexual assault as a criminal matter.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:59 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, is the essay about masturbation in the military still funny?

The US wants to have a integrated coed professional standing army, but it also wants to enlist 17 and 18 year old boys... those two goals are in contradiction.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


ennui.bz --

So 17 and 18 year old boys are uncontrollable rapists? That would make having it impossible to have a professional army at all.

Your comment sounds like an unthinking reactionary diversion trying to deflect the blame from an Armed Services culture that doesn't take rape seriously.
posted by jclarkin at 7:27 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I saw the film recently. It's excellent. (And it's available for streaming through NetFlix.)

One of the points made in the film is that in absolute numbers, even more men in the military are sexually assaulted by fellow service members than women (the percentage of women assaulted is much higher, though). These assaults are absolutely about control, power, and keeping people "in their place" -- as are all sexual assaults -- and not about horny adolescents getting grabby.
posted by jaguar at 7:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


One of the points made in the film is that in absolute numbers, even more men in the military are sexually assaulted by fellow service members than women (the percentage of women assaulted is much higher, though).

I was wondering about same-sex sexual assault, with the mention of "hazing".

And here's hoping that more of the men thus assaulted also start coming forward. Yes, okay, fine, I know that the function of boot camp and the R.-Lee-Emery kind of drill sargeant is all about breaking someone down to an extent and that that kind of breaking-down serves a purpose, but no one is ever going to make a convincing enough argument to me that a sexual violation should be an accepted tool in achieving that goal. Period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, one of the big points the film makes is that the military does not breed rapists; the problem is that it attracts and protects rapists. So you have serial rapists who are protected and commit rapes in an environment that does not incentivize those in power to report and/or deal with sexual assaults.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:49 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Doonesbury is relevant.

In early 2007, just as B.D.'s counseling at the veterans' center was beginning to show results, readers met another wounded veteran: Melissa Wheeler, victim of some undisclosed sexual trauma. Through counseling with a specialist, this trauma was eventually revealed as command rape (or forced/coerced relations with a superior in the chain of command), which was then compounded by the skewed priorities of her commanding officer when she tried to report it. The strip chronicled Melissa's healing, which was aided at critical junctures by B.D., but it did not stop there:

After treatment, Melissa decided to reenlist, and returned to Iraq, where she supplanted Ray Hightower as the feature's most prominent active-duty voice. Her behavior remains informed by her previous experiences; she bristles at unwanted male attention mid-deployment, and descends into an understandable fit of paranoia at an officer's unexpected summons. Even three years after reenlisting (and having since been promoted to Sergeant), an innocent question from a high school student about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the military provokes an emphatic response.

Additionally, the prominent character Alex Doonesbury (daughter of the titular character Mike Doonesbury) flirted with enlistment, but was dissuaded when her stepmother noted the prevalence of military sexual assault.

The above was excerpted/adapted from this Reddit comment.
posted by The Confessor at 7:56 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


So 17 and 18 year old boys are uncontrollable rapists? That would make having it impossible to have a professional army at all.

Your comment sounds like an unthinking reactionary diversion trying to deflect the blame from an Armed Services culture that doesn't take rape seriously.


Actually I doubt raw recruits are responsible for the surge in assaults. Rape being what it is, I'd assume it involves power imbalances, if not rank, of varying sorts. On the other hand, read those masturbation stories in a co-ed context. Could you imagine having co-ed locker-rooms in high school? I think that would be great, but it would take a tremendous amount of social work to get there without huge problems. The sports locker-rooms of my youth had a fair amount of understated sexual menace between older players and younger players... in a context where it had little to do with being attracted to men and everything to do with primate power struggles. If anything, team psychology in the military is even more intense.

Actually, one of the big points the film makes is that the military does not breed rapists; the problem is that it attracts and protects rapists. So you have serial rapists who are protected and commit rapes in an environment that does not incentivize those in power to report and/or deal with sexual assaults.

As much as the US military is the pre-eminent liberal institution in American today, I think this sort of reads like liberal boiler-plate. If there was any place with education and training would change things it's the military, but my point is that it's unrealistic to combine that with a large military filled with immature men and men who can't get a job anywhere else. It's a much bigger problem than integrating the military was. It will involve not enlisting or kicking out lots of men and is incompatible with a military that must fight two wars in separate theatres...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:12 AM on February 19, 2013


Why does the US have the 6th highest rape rate in the world?

I think rape is a huge problem in the US, but take another look at your own link, specifically the list of countries with the lowest rape rates. Clearly this list has no connection with reality.
posted by snofoam at 8:52 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think rape is a problem of maturity. Bringing up the age of the men involved is something of a red herring. It's relevant to the problem, but it isn't the first or last word about it by any means.
posted by jsturgill at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US Military still actively recruits women in commercials and caters to parents - I saw this commercial the other day, and thought, if parents knew the entire truth would they happily escort their daughters down to the recruiting office?
posted by vonstadler at 9:23 AM on February 19, 2013


My husband watched this on Sunday, then told me about it.

"One of the women had to tell her father that she wasn't a virgin anymore. And her father was there with her in the film -- he was a military guy himself." By this point my husband had tears rolling down his face. "He cried as he said, 'Don't you dare let anyone tell you that you aren't a virgin anymore. That was taken from you. You have to give it willingly.'"

Last night, out of nowhere, my husband said, "If we have a daughter, she can forget about joining up."
posted by Madamina at 11:02 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why does the US have the 6th highest rape rate in the world?

Because the US actually takes rape seriously (compared to many other nations) and so, as much as we need to do better with rape reporting and justice, we still do a better job than most of the world? Combined with the fact that different countries report their rates differently, combined with the fact that the list is kind of bullshit to begin with.
posted by Justinian at 11:39 AM on February 19, 2013


The big problem is that the judicial authority is under the same authority as the policing authority.
You need a separation of power for any kind of oversight. As it is all power to arrest under the UCMJ is derived from the CiC (the president) as is all judicial procedures and punishments.
So there's no impartial agency whose only interest is justice and not covering anyone's ass.

Could use U.S. Marshalls I suppose. Or civilian courts. Or some completely independent judiciary just for that. It's not impossible to make one. Just takes Congressional will to do it.

Unfortunately we've gone a long distance in the other direction handing a lot that should otherwise be covered by civilian courts to the military.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:18 PM on February 19, 2013


So is this the thread where we really talk about it? Or the thread where we pretend that what happened to James Landrith didn't happen (by which I mean both pretending that he wasn't raped, and that he wasn't viciously personally attacked for coming forward about it by "a few bad apples" who "don't represent" the views of right-thinking people)? Or the thread where it gets mentioned in passing along with a comment about how it's incredibly hard to calculate the real gender breakdown because of shit like that plus societal pressures and norms, but somebody says that this victim doesn't count because, I dunno, he didn't check his privilege hard enough to stop someone from raping him in his sleep? Or the one where most people ignore this comment and story except for a few folks who yell about how it's derailing to mention the rape of a military service member in a rape-in-the-military thread?
posted by ubernostrum at 1:19 PM on February 19, 2013


No, this is the one where I go "Who is James Landrith"?

[googles james landrith]

Looks like he was raped while a member of the military and has become a sexual assault advocate. Good for him for speaking out. I hope his story is heard and that he affects positive change.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nthing that this is a really terrific movie.

Also wanted to note that Chuck Hagel was asked in his nomination hearing (maybe by Kay Hagan? I forget) if he had watched it, and he said he had. It makes me somewhat hopeful that people in power are beginning to take this issue seriously.
posted by naoko at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2013


When I was looking at colleges for undergraduate I applied to both the Air Force and Naval Academies. I was pretty excited about it, even received a vice-presidential nomination (you need a nomination from the president, vice-president, or a Congressperson to be accepted).

Then the scandal about sexual assaults in the Academies broke. A ridiculous number of female recruits had been assaulted, and those that attempted to report their attackers were thrown out. As I was adverse to being a sexual assault victim I withdrew my application.

There are still "What ifs" and "Maybes" and thoughts that I might have overreacted . . . Then things like this pop up and I thank God I never became a 17-year-old girl throwing herself into that milieu.
posted by schroedinger at 6:52 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I told my brother about this story and his immediate thought and reaction were that he said women shouldn't be allowed in the military - if they can't do it because of rape it's a sign that like he's always said they shouldn't be allowed in military combat situations or in the military altogether. I asked him if he was seriously fucking kidding and I realized that there are probably millions that think just like him and I became a little embarrassed that he was my relative. This has never happened before.

I then considered how weird it was that I've been thinking lately that it must be really shitty to be part of an institution that turns a blind eye to rape. Maybe my bro has some kind of a point there. Maybe women shouldn't go into a military that treats them this way.

The right thing is for us as a species rise higher than letting an animalistic, violent practice dictate the behavior of institutions instead of the other way around.
posted by fantodstic at 10:52 PM on February 20, 2013


Maybe women shouldn't go into a military that treats them this way.

Given the high rates of sexual assault in the general population, what's the "solution" for women who aren't in the military? Hiding in their houses? (Alone, of course, because most rapes are committed by men that the victim already knows, like husbands and boyfriends.)

Limiting women because of the antisocial actions of men is looking at the wrong side of the equation.

I think embarrassment is the right response to that suggestion.
posted by jaguar at 7:09 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I told my brother about this story and his immediate thought and reaction were that he said women shouldn't be allowed in the military - if they can't do it because of rape it's a sign that like he's always said they shouldn't be allowed in military combat situations or in the military altogether.

Ask your brother from me if the reason for this is because rape is a common thing in the military.

And if he says yes, then ask him whether he thinks that in itself is a problem.

And if he says "no, but it would be if more women were there," then ask him if soldiers aren't supposed to have better control of themselves, wasn't that the whole point of Boot Camp to learn discipline and not do whatever the fuck you want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to try to give your little brother the benefit of the doubt, maybe what he was attempting to say was, if captured, women were more likely to be sexually assaulted and that was something they should be psychologically prepared for?

Though Jesus Christ, you shouldn't be expected to prepare for it by having your own comrades rape you.
posted by schroedinger at 9:29 PM on February 21, 2013


The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer - "Inside the military's culture of sex abuse, denial and cover-up"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:13 PM on February 27, 2013




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