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Sex Deprived? So, Rape Thy Comrad. » Women's Courage

Sex Deprived? So, Rape Thy Comrad.

February 17th, 2011 by adakulen Leave a reply »

“‘Battle buddy bullshit’ said García from the Military Police. ‘I didn’t trust anybody in my company after a few months. I saw so many girls get screwed over, the sexual harassment. I didn’t trust anybody and I still don’t.’” [1]

In my introductory post I promised to look at the many ways war affects women’s physical and mental health and the role the media plays in spreading awareness and empowering women in difficult situations—so far we’ve examined rape as a tool in war, the hidden gender-war on the Mexican border, and the sweeping effects of social and mainstream media—now it’s time to turn to a new lens: women in modern warfare. In the midst if all the ROTC talk on campus, I figured, this would be an interesting exploratory piece for the week. It may appear strides have been made, as women increasingly choose to join military ranks along side men, but the story is much more complex. An excellent piece, written in the midst of Bush’s troop surges in 2007, titled “The Private War of Woman Soldiers” by Helen Benedict explores this exact theme with a unique twist: rape in the military.

After having interviewed over 20 female soldiers in Iraq, Benedict notes, “I can’t help wondering what the women [in the troops] will have to face. And I don’t mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear. I mean from their own comrades — the men.” [1]
The threat of rape was so bad, women were warned by their officers not to go outside at night nor to enter shower facilities alone without other female companions for security. [1] This suggests several things: first, that the trend of sexual violence is all too real in the US military; second, that the authorities are aware of the regularity of these violations and unwilling to respond; and third, that this sets a dangerous precedent for women entering military service and for the nature of relationships amongst the genders within combat troops. Danger in war should not come from the home base—the last fear that a US soldier should deal with is the threat of his or her own side. Yet, as Spc. Mickiela Montoya, age 21, member of the National Guard in 2005, explains, she 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.” [1]

In a time when going to war is low on the list of priorities for young American generations, there has been a trend to waive violent ad criminal records of enlisted army members—it seems the government is side-stepping laws meant to protect soldiers in an attempt to increase military participation and fight off soldier burnout rates. Consequently, these delinquent soldiers pose an increasing threat to the safety of other army members, particularly women.

Sex and war are a very tricky equation. Soldiers have been known to abuse and misuse foreign females for their own pleasure and carnal desire and (as discussed by several blogs from this course) have fueled the growing sex trades in the countries where they are stationed. As more women than ever before enter the US military service, our nation has to think about how we protect these brave individuals from falling victim to sexual violence in the midst of war.

The rape situation in Iraq became so bad that in 2004 former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force to investigate. The statistics remain largely unavailable, but women’s stories are becoming more accessible. Col. Janis Karpinski publicly released that one of the reason several women soldiers died of dehydration was because of fear of traveling to watering centers due to the ever-present threat of rape from their male troop members. [1] In effect, she risked losing her high profile military position because she dared speak out against these offenses. Her superiors threatened her on the charge that she was “bringing attention to the problem” [1]

What astonishes me is that these stories never struck big in the media—it is as if little action was taken to curtail these incidents in order to protect US army’s reputation and to avoid discouraging enlistment. When NPR ran a story on wounded soldiers focusing on women in the Iraq war, they did indeed explore the effects of changing warfare on a growing female military front. It was noted that women fighting in the Middle East make up approximately 15% of troops. [2] While this is still a minority group, it is a larger fraction than has ever before been observed. The article also looked at growing casualties, 1500 US personnel dead by 2005 [2] –and as we all know that number steadily grew.

The NPR piece notes that the nature of modern war is such that all soldiers are always on the front lines, because there are no clear distinctions. Women are in the combat units, despite formal restrictions. As a result women are facing the same wounds and traumas as their male counterparts. [2] There is no gender distinction when it comes to battle.

What this detailed history of women in combat failed to examine, however, is how the changing demographics of the military play out internally. In fact, few pieces covering the war did this. If they had, they would discover a story of perpetual abuse.

Why does the media not care to inquire about these abuses and the stories behind them, so that we can safeguard the lives of women risking themselves for our nation. Even Rumsfeld had taken note of the rising trend, as he ordered the elusive investigation– so how did this slip from the media’s eye?

I was shocked to read Benedict’s piece, and to hear that American soldiers live in fear within their own side’s safe zones as victims of more than just the external enemy, but also the internal “domestic” enemy.

Benedict’s investigation ends on a very somber tone, she concludes, “If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, and they all gave me the same answer: Alone.”

We need to start nurturing the physical and mental well being of our soldiers and ensuring that women are provided the necessary protections to serve their nation, not alone, but as part of the US team.

Sources:

[1] Benedict, Helen. “The Private War of Women Soldiers.” Salon. 7 Mar. 2007. Web. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military.
[2] “Wounded in War: The Women Serving in Iraq : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4534450.

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7 comments

  1. vcarcia says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this important issue that very often gets forgotten. Rape is very often used as a tool in war and this tool can also be used by men within the military as a way to make sure that the female soldiers serving alongside them know that they are not welcome.
    It was also incredibly shocking and angering that military personnel would warn women to be careful of rape, encouraging them not to got out at night and to travel in groups. This statement just shows that although the military know that violence against women in the military is a usual occurrence they refuse to protect the women that risk their lives for America’s safety. I also feel that the argument that men need sex and will make sure that this happens no matter what the means is ridiculous. rape is not natural to any human being. It is LEARNED behavior that many men realize from a very early age. They are taught that women are objects, men have power and are entitled to control, and that rape is not a crime that gets taken seriously in most societies. It is society that makes men into rapists and, as such, it is society that has to implement harsher punishments for men in order to send the message that rape will not be tolerated.
    Lastly, I think it is important to realize that rape is not about sex, it is about power and control and coercing someone to another person’s will. If one follows the incorrect assumption that rape is about sex and sexual urges then little change and justice will happen and women will be hurt because of it.

  2. anna says:

    Ada, thank you for this post. Like those comments above me, I had no idea this was happening in the U.S. army. Last week, reading about rape in conflict and refugee systems, we never touched on rape and sexual abuse from within one’s own troops – but as you point in, this is clearly a large problem in the U.S. forces. What comes to my mind first is, how do we stop this from happening? Of course, stricter enforcement and punishment of offenders could deter soldiers from committing such acts. But you mentioned the challenge there – the army may not be able to afford to lose many soldiers (though if they would lose so many as to affect the war, this speaks to just how many men are perpetrating this crime). What else can be done? It seems that, in so many instances, there will be a proportion of the male population that will have its sexual desires fulfilled by whatever means necessary. Men will rape, buy sex, beat women into submission. Humanitarian workers will do it to refugees in camps and soldiers will do it to their comrades. How is it that society allows this? And how does society raise men that become like this? And what are the alternatives? I do not think that there is ANY excuse for rape, ever. But, when you take a group of men far from home and deprive them of their families and frankly of any opportunity for a “normal” life, how do you support them so that they do not become rapists? It’s not just a matter of punishing those that do commit this atrocious acts, but perhaps also of changing the system that gives rise to these acts.

    I think two things might be important here: 1) changing the culture of these camps such that it is socially unacceptable to commit these acts, and 2) somehow offer alternatives to prostitution and rape. I am not a man, so I suppose I can’t speak to their needs, but I doubt that it is impossible to find a replacement to rape to find sexual satisfaction during war.

  3. aherrera says:

    I was shocked to read this bog entry- I had never before heard of this treatment of women in the military. I cannot believe that it has come to a point where female soldiers must be warned by their officers against showering alone or going out at night. I cannot understand how this has not been further covered in the media. Even more appalling, how it is tolerated and hidden by military officials. I can only imagine the horrifying situation that women find themselves in once they realize the situation they have signed themselves up for- while agreeing to serve their country, they are in fact subjecting themselves to rape from the men they are expected to work with on a daily basis. I cannot believe that this is a story coming out of the United States, and wonder whether women in the militaries of other countries encounter the same violence from their peers.

  4. jennawg says:

    Ada, thanks for writing this post. I had heard about this issue before, but never in such detail, and I had no idea what little action was being taken to protect female soldiers. What a horrifying and traumatic situation for women to be put in. It’s hard to imagine living in constant fear of people who are supposed to support you, especially in the foreign and intense environment of war. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine getting little to no support from the government you are risking your life to fight for.
    One idea that keeps coming back to me with respect to rape and sexual violence is that it’s the manifestation of a power imbalance. Men rape because they have the power to, because it asserts their power over women. I feel like that idea makes a lot of sense in the context of one soldier raping another. As long as no one is taking action to stop this abhorrent behavior, men are in a position of power to continue raping their fellow soldiers, who have few resources–emotional, physical, legal. It seems like a crucial step to help these women is to raise awareness and let the government and military know that supporting our troops means ending this awful trend.

  5. abui says:

    I think that it is so interesting that you mention women are afraid to travel to water centers for fear of their male troop members, and that if they publicize the issue they risk losing their status. This is very analagous to the situations women face in poor countries, who also risk rape whenever they travel to collect water and who are also afraid to speak up about their rape for fear of being shunned by their own family. However, we would don’t usually think that our women, from powerful and sophisticated America, live under the same fears. It just demonstrates that violence against women is so widespread, and whether we want to believe that our country has overcome its gender inequities or not, we still have many steps to take to address the disparities.

  6. labrian says:

    Rape has long been used as a tool of war, but it is a different, more horrifying kind of war against one’s own comrades that you’ve mentioned. I’m not as well educated on this subject, but I wonder what the statistics are for rapes committed against Iraqi women by American soldiers (if statistics or reports are even available). I’m just now thinking back to the talk that Nicole gave on sexual abuse, and how alcoholism or stress or other such “triggers” can never justify abuse. War would seem to fall under these kinds of categories, an external environmental factor that manifests itself in rapes. Yet, we cannot simply allow these crimes to continue simply because our male soldiers are under extremely difficult circumstances and we have to support our troops abroad. Female members of the army are fighting under the same flag; we disrespect them by shoving them to the sidelines.

  7. adakulen says:

    Note: Benedict wrote a book in the memoirs and stories of women in Iraq titled The Lonely Soldier .

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