Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
May 29, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

Rudy Giuliani Retreats From Travel Ban Role He Once Bragged About

Rising Star

Truthdig Bazaar more items

Email this item Print this item

Surviving the Hell of War, and Then Some

Posted on Jan 23, 2012

Spc. Gena Smith embraces a student in Mosul, Iraq, while handing out school supplies.

By John Lasker

(Page 2)

The DOD’s numbers also reveal that the military is soft when prosecuting what is now being called military sexual trauma, or MST. In 2007, only 600 out of 2,212 sexual assault cases reported and investigated to some degree resulted in suspects facing any sort of accountability. And out of the 600 cases, only 181 were recommended for court-martial, the equivalent of a criminal trial. This means that in those sexual assaults reported and investigated to some degree, only 8 percent of suspects faced potential prosecution.

The problem of MST apparently is not abating; the DOD’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies” for 2010-11, published in late December, stated that reports were up 41 percent from the previous academic year.

The military in 2005 formed the first lead office to deal strictly with sexual assault, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO. It soon established a 24-hour global hotline, trained hundreds of sexual assault response coordinators, referred to as SARCs, and produced an elaborate media campaign to raise awareness.

Last Wednesday, Leon Panetta held a press conference at the Pentagon to announce a series of initiatives to curb sexual attacks in the military. The defense secretary called the assaults “an affront to the basic American values we defend and ... a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops and our families.”


Square, Site wide
The changes, which are limited in scope, are the first in a package to be advanced this year, and some elements of that package will require approval from Congress. [Click here to see an outline of the initiatives announced Wednesday.]

The most contentious issue surrounding MST is “re-victimization,” say female soldiers, who claim that commanding officers have a history of intimidating rape victims into silence.

SAPRO confronted re-victimization by establishing restricted and unrestricted reporting in 2005. Restricted reporting allows a victim to bypass the chain of command and report the assault to the SAPRO hotline or a chaplain. Once a restricted report is made, health counseling is initiated but an investigation of the incident is not triggered.

SAPRO believes restricted reporting has resulted in about 4,000 military members coming forward. But the Seattle-based advocacy group VETWOW, Veteran Women Organizing Women, points to the glaring drawback in the system: No investigation is initiated in response to such a report and the alleged perpetrator walks free and probably remains in the victim’s unit.

“Restricted reporting? It’s a joke,” says VETWOW Director Susan Avila-Smith.

Avila-Smith was an Army linguist who left the military after commanding officers refused to punish her husband, also a member of the Army, after he jumped on her stomach when she was pregnant. She says MST is equivalent to incest in some ways and is another reason the DOD needs to crack down.

“The military is your family. When you go into battle we’re like brothers and sisters. We would die for each other. But these same people will come into your room and rape you, and grope you, and think nothing of it. It’s like incest; it’s as if your brother sexually assaulted you. Then they act like it never happened. They flat out deny it and if the female were to pursue [charges], the military family says you should keep quiet, you shouldn’t pursue this, it was probably your fault anyway.”

Over the past year, several lawsuits were written in an effort to reform how sexual crimes are handled in the military. Yale Law School says it plans to file a suit alleging the military is surreptitiously promoting misogyny, while activist lawyer Susan Burke filed Cioca v. Rumsfeld, which charged the former secretary of defense with failing to take action against MST. That suit was dismissed by a federal judge in December.

Several members of Congress have heard the pleas of female soldiers. The most vocal of these officials is Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who has given 14 House floor speeches on the issue and vowed to give more. She introduced a bill that would take away the chain of command’s responsibility to investigate and prosecute sexual crimes and instead place it within a civilian-run office independent of the military. That office would be called the Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office.

Within 2012’s $660 billion defense spending bill, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., wrote provisions that included requiring the Pentagon to provide legal service to victims, something the military had never offered.

And when it released its annual report on sexual assaults in the academies, the Pentagon made a policy change regarding unrestricted reporting. Victims who file an unrestricted report now can ask for a transfer out of their unit to get away from an alleged attacker.

Greg Jacob, the policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), says that despite the shortcomings in restricted reporting—defects that Congress recognizes—there is value in having a system that allows victims to come forward anonymously and get care.

“A lot of these folks are so traumatized they just want to get the help they need,” said Jacob, a veteran of the Marine Corps. “In a perfect world we would change the culture of the military to be friendlier to survivors so they feel comfortable demanding prosecution. And you would have a judicial system that would actually prosecute these folks at the rate they should be prosecuted, and you would have a judicial system that would issue punishments that would fit the crime, instead of a court giving a person a $500 fine and [sending] them back to work.”

The fight against sexual abuse in the military surely will be waged for years. For now, Gena Smith also wages war with her own personal problems. “Sometimes, I can’t believe my life,” she wrote on her blog. “Seriously, I want to track down my dumb-ass guardian angel and strangle that fucker.”

Until she finds her guardian angel, Smith must wrestle with earthly matters such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the fallout of military attitudes that victimize women soldiers. The abuses she has described have no place in the American military of the 21st century. No woman should have to accept being degraded as part of military service, and those who put their lives on the line should not have to worry about being sexually violated by their own comrades in arms after the gunfire stops.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By gerard, January 25, 2012 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment

Jason and Tobysgirl:  Thanks for writing!

Report this

By Tobysgirl, January 25, 2012 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

I understood you perfectly, gerard.

War = rape, pillage, murder.

I am fully aware that people grow up in homes where they are never introduced to the real world, where they are brought up to believe the propaganda spread by institutions. I do fault their parents for this; the children I have known who enlisted were poorly parented, exposed to violence within the home and full of fantasies about the world outside the home.

The military does not equal a slumber party.

There is a reason we keep our young people naive and ignorant. If they knew what the military does and what war means, they would certainly not enlist. And if the readers of gerard’s comment would use the brains they possess, they would understand his sarcasm and his pointed message that you cannot condemn violence toward female soldiers and condone violence toward other people.

And by the way, rape of male soldiers is a feature of military life as well. When an acquaintance enlisted, his first experience of army life was seeing another recruit raped.

Report this

By jayson, January 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with Gerard. When you give someone freedom to
commit the most heinous crime of all at will and without
fear of repercussion, dont act surprised when they
engage in every other act beneath it. Someone should
have let the ladies in on the possibility that those big
bad men with big guns, ripping chunks of flesh and bone
from fellow human beings with their non-discriminating
bullets may not be perfect gentlemen. Just a thought.

P.S. 99% of all the dead soldiers are men. Focus on
that. Not trying to belittle “sexual abuse” but there
are a lot of dead american boys in the ground…
outraged about that.

Report this

By gerard, January 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment

Jen, I fear you misunderstood me completely. The “hilarious” was bitter sarcasm, the opposite of which is true, rape being a crime, and killing being an even worse crime.  People who can justify murder but gag at rape are totally lacking in balanced judgment. NEITHER is justifiable, and since murder in wars occurs much more often than rape, killing far more women and children than rape, anyone who thinks rape is worse than killing is both physically and statistically wrong. Yet war is a breeding ground for rape since war teaches the attitude that force is “justifiable in certain cases, etc.” and that “others” are worth nothing; that life itself is meaningless.
  I’m genuinely sorry you didn’t understand the sarcasm.  Far from being actually “hilarious” both offenses are evil and show the desire to injure, subdue, kill and destroy the human body and soul.  “Hilarious” in my comment meant the very opposite, as “good luck with that!” was meant to reinforce.  Often people do not understand sarcasm, so it’s a bit dangerous to use it.  However, I happen to be a cartoonist who can’t draw.  I see a lot of life as though it were a bitter and very unfunny cartoon. I hope you understand now. Thanks for writing.

Report this

By magus12, January 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From the article - the official policy is against women in combat.  The military disregards its own rules.  As for not wanting to recognize talented pilots of the opposite gender, time for you to grow up sonny boy.

Time to allow women to perform non-anesthetized penisectomies upon commission of unwanted sexual aggression by the male.  If such justified retaliation were as common as rape, then such unevolved males might begin to take rape seriously…and it would work far better as a disincentive to commit rape or any other crime than the death penalty.

Report this

By kavik, January 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Don’t belong in combat…good pilots but won’t take the risk when needbe…don’t even talk about ship or sub duty.

Report this

By omar, January 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My previous comment was meant for gerard, not gerald

Report this

By Karla, January 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Guess what its not any different for the regular working people either.  I do not know what its like to have a job where the boss or another superior positioned person is trying to sleep with me and because I don’t…...........I am not allowed to grow with the company.  Its like “do I want to play the game or not”  And these ridiculous laws and how they apply them makes it so if you do complain you will never work again!!!  Its a joke

Report this

By omar, January 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You are worthless scum. gerald. You need to be placed
in a jail cell with Bubba and have him have his way
with you.
To ridicule the victimization of women is beyond
reproach. You want to take up the cause of “collateral
damage” feel free, but don’t do it at the expense of
other victims of abuse.

Report this

By Anna, January 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I deeply sympathize with Ms. Smith. Her ordeal is proof that women do not belong in the military. It is strictly a man’s world in every aspect. Why would a woman want to be part of such an organization? Why commit such a sacrifice?

Report this

By Jen, January 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You are a terrible human being Gerard. The things that happen to people are not “Hilarious”.

Report this

By geral, January 23, 2012 at 11:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The cowards of fbi/cia direct our brave Young into useless battles & unjust wars.

The cia directs our young, brave men and women into useless battles and unjust wars, while the fbi threatens, arrests, imprisons, tortures and kills the soldier/citizen (whether decorated or fatigued) upon return home. Thus, no wonder *West Point and other military academies frequent my reports in search of an answer to this question, “Who will follow us into the next battle”?

By Location > Visit Detail
  Visit 111,210
IP Address
134.240.14.# (United States Military Academy)
United States Military Academy
New York
West Point
Jan 18 2012 10:49:26 am
Last Page View
Jan 18 2012 10:49:26 am
Visit Exit Page

Report this

By gerard, January 23, 2012 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

Hilarious!  It is okay to kill women and children but it is not okay to rape women and children?  Good luck with that one!  Meantime, why not start an Innocent Victims’ Action Network (IVAN) for the protection and support of all victims of “collateral damage” and an Armed Forces Regional Peace Enforcing Organization (AFRPEO) for preventing women and children from assault with deadly weapons? How can any rational person make the case that mass murder is okay but rape is not?

Report this
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide