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Sexual Violence » Women's Courage

Posts Tagged ‘Sexual Violence’

Sex Deprived? So, Rape Thy Comrad.

February 17th, 2011

“‘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.


[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.