- Aug 27, 2004
15% of our active duty forces, and this kind of problem has been allowed to grow to this scale?Report: Sexual assault of women soldiers on rise in US military
By Tom Regan
Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 2007
In the online magazine Salon, Helen Benedict reports that every female veteran she interviewed for a book she is writing on women in the US military said that "the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection." Ms. Benedict also reports that some women soldiers started carrying knives to protect themselves, not from Iraqis, but from their male peers in the military. [Check out the embedded link on the first page of that article about criminal record waivers, also the starred reader comments (bottom of page); those are very interesting as well. --y.]
Although no comprehensive statistics have been compiled on the number of women soldiers raped in Iraq, rumors of the problem were so prevalent that in 2004 then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created a task force to look into the issue. Although the findings were never released publicly, the military created a website to deal with potential sexual assault in the military and also initiated classes on preventing sexual assault and harassment. The number of reported military assaults rose from 1700 in 2004 to more than 2300 in 2005.
But Benedict says, as with most sexual assaults, the actual number is vastly underreported. This situation in Iraq is compounded because often those committing sexual assaults are senior officers or members of a woman's unit. There is also the problem of widespread availability of hard-core pornography on US military bases in Iraq, which helps create an atmosphere of sexual tension. Women who have reported sexual assaults, Benedict alleges, have often been ignored or treated as pariahs by fellow soldiers. Also, as she points out in the salon article, there's a long history of such allegations.
In an interview with radio program Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, Iraq veteran Mickiela Montoya talked about why she carried a knife in Iraq to protect her safety.
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: No, safe from the other soldiers. I never intended on using the knife for an Iraqi. I had my M-16 for that. But my knife, I always just kept it for another soldier, because any time I would have any type of strong sexual harassment words spoken, I just mainly felt a little bit more secure, and it was visible, too, to the other soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: Did anything specifically happen to you?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah. That's why I would carry the knife. I remember it was really late, and over there they don't have electricity, so we run off generators, and if you scream or if you were to yell for help or anything like that, nobody could hear you, because you're not going to shoot a comrade, because these are your supposed battle buddies. So I would just use the knife as, I guess, a scare tactic, and it worked for me, because after that I never really had a problem.
In response to a request from the NPR show "Day by Day" for comment on Benedict's allegations, the US military issued a statement that said it takes reports of sexual assault in the military seriously, and describes the measures the military is taking to deal with such reports: "...Sexual assault is a crime and is incompatible with military values. It inflicts incalculable harm on victims and their families; it tears at the very fabric of civilian and military communities; and it destroys trust among individuals and faith in our institutions. Our policy has three major components: prevention through education and training; enhanced treatment and support of victims to speed their recovery; and accountability measures to ensure system effectiveness..."
Finally, the Boston Globe reports that the US military is considering installing surveillance cameras in recruiting stations across the US in order to address a rise in misconduct allegations against recruiters. Those allegations include charges of sexual assault by military recruiters: "...More than 100 young women who had expressed interest in joining the military reported that their recruiters had victimized them, [an Associated Press] investigation found. The abuse included rape on couches in recruiting offices, assaults in government cars, and gropings en route to military entrance exams..."