Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Time Magazine: Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell
What does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted — for having gone out without her weapon? Or that, as Representative Jane Harman puts it, "a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire."
The fight over "Don't ask, don't tell" made headlines this winter as an issue of justice and history and the social evolution of our military institutions. We've heard much less about another set of hearings in the House Armed Services Committee. Maybe that's because too many commanders still don't ask, and too many victims still won't tell, about the levels of violence endured by women in uniform. (See TIME's special report on the state of the American woman.)
The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population. (See the top 10 crime stories of 2009.)
The problem is even worse than that. The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, and it's no wonder. Anonymity is all but impossible; a Government Accountability Office report concluded that most victims stay silent because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip." More than half feared they would be labeled troublemakers. . . .
While this article addresses a crucial issue in pointing out the prevalence of sexual assaults on female soldiers, once again a major news outlet publishes a story about difficulties faced by female soldiers without mentioning the directly relevant issue of abortion. (Here's another example from the New York Times.) The article should have mentioned that a female soldier who becomes pregnant as a result of rape must pay for her own abortion, even if it is performed on a military base. See more on abortion access in the U.S. military at this post.