“The Invisible War”
Sexual Assault against Women in the Army
In 2012 a documentary entitled “The Invisible War” dealing with sexual assault against women raised attention to an issue that has been rarely spoken about. As an issue, it has been gaining attention in recent years however, and even President Obama (Office of the Press Secretary, 2014) describes it as a “profound injustice” in a speech he made in January. Sexual assault in the army affects a certain category of the American population that is abused. This paper will focus mainly on veteran women, explaining the causes behind their victimization, the measures the U.S officials have been trying to implement to limit such incidents, and finally it will provide some real study cases.
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The Report to the President of the United States on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (Depatment of Defense., 2014) came as a response to president Obama’s request to the defense department to improve their policies against sexual assault in the military system. It defines sexual assault as “[intentional] sexual contact characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent” (2014). Based on this definition, the rapport states that the number of victims of sexual assault between 2013 and 2014 are as follows: 4,3% for women and 0,9% for men. It also shows that despite the increase in 2012 concerning the number of sexual assault cases against women in the army, there is a decline from 6,1% to 4,3% in 2014 (same as 2010). In simpler terms, women are 5 times more likely to get sexually assaulted than men in the army. These figures imply an aggressiveness against women in particular considering that veteran women make up only 14,5% of the active-duty force (Statistics on Women in the Military, 2011).
Some would explain this behavior through the feminist theory; that sexual violence against women is a way for men to reinforce their power, hence label it as a gender issue (Peterson & Bailey, 1992; Hagan & Peterson, 1995; Baron & Straus, 1987). In chapter eight of Crime and Inequality (Hagan & Peterson, 1995), the writers explore different surveys and experiments made to prove the relationship between gender inequality and violence against women, especially rape. They argue that such violence is intended to “keep women in their place” (1995). Clark and Lewis (1997) also argue that in societies where women are regarded as possessions of men, it is more likely that men would exercise their power by forcing and threatening women into sexual activities (cited in Baron & Straus, 1987).
Although this theory does not relate to women in the army in particular, but it tries to establish the relationship between the socioeconomic inequality between men and women from one hand, and the sexual abuse women suffer from. (Hagan & Peterson, 1995). “The central argument is that rape is rooted in male domination of sociopolitical and economic activities (Williams and Holmes 1981). Thus, rape is expected to be more common where women hold little political or economic power […] and the occupational status of women is inferior“ (Peterson & Bailey, 1992).
In Addition to the view that men assault women sexually to reinforce their power, sexual assault might be attributed to some other causes. One of the main factors which are associated with high risk of rape, in particular, is the work place environment. Veteran women share their sleeping quarters with male soldiers which provide an environment in which the assailant has an easier access. Women also may experience pressure and may be obliged to hear demeaning comments or gestures (Sadler, Booth, Cook, & Doebbeling, 2003).
According to Pauline Jelinek (2012) in her article “military alcohol abuse ‘culture’ is now a ‘crisis’.” It is known that drinking alcohol and consuming drugs within the ranks of the military is a ‘culture’, and is considered as an escape from what they experience in the war. However, this has numerous drawbacks such as sexual aggression against veteran women. In fact, it is reported that half of perpetrators in the military are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of (Sadler, Booth, Cook, & Doebbeling, 2003).
Man’s tendency to act violently is another factor associated with high rate of rape. This is proven by a meta-analysis of sex difference in physical aggression. It shows that men are more likely to act violently and that 62 per cent of those who are injured by a partner are women (Archer, 2000). This is explained by what Melissa M. McDonald, Carlos David Navarrete and Mark Van Vugt (2012) call “The male warrior hypothesis.” They argue that men are programmed to act aggressively “to gain access to mates, territory and increased status.” This tendency to act violently can be interpreted as one major cause of sexual assault.
Furthermore, women’s silence increases the rate of rape. This is attributed to barriers to justice where women feel that they are at risk of retaliation by the assailants. In fact, offenders usually outrank the victims and consequently, women are obliged to make a choice between their military career or seeking justice. What is worse is that commanders not only fail to enforce the protection of those women but also they put the blame on women for ruining the careers of “good soldiers” claiming that this is not “a big deal” and “not worth causing conflict in the unit” (Stalsburg, 2011).
Despite the existence of sexual crimes in the military, a great number of methods and victim assistance programs have been actually implemented by the American army to prevent the occurrence of such cases. “Bystander Intervention Training” provided by the Department of Defence is one of the methods that encourages and shows all the service members how “to intervene safely when they see situations at risk for sexual assault” (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2013). Another training that only commanders receive is “The command training and efforts to address sexual assault” (2013). It teaches commanders to assume an effectual responsibility by adopting certain rules and initiating some directions. It trains therefore high ranked officers to prevent the setting up of “environments that foster sexual harassment”(2013).
As far as the military response to victims is concerned, two major reporting options are available for military members to opt for. The first, the unrestricted reporting option, implies “criminal investigation in which command and law enforcement are provided with details of the incidents” (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2013). The restricted reporting option, on the other hand, provides help for victims in terms of “medical and healthcare,” but it does not imply an official investigation. This option is made specifically for women who prefer not to reveal the harasser’s identity or to call legally for their rights.
In addition to these methods, “every military installation has a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and at least one Victim Advocate [who is] responsible for connecting victims with appropriate resources and services” (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2013). Although several measures have been adopted in the military, most women being raped prefer to be silent and not to uncover the truth.
Even though America have the most powerful army in the world, it has in its ranks a secret –an invisible story- that many women won’t dare to reveal. However, in 2012 these women decided to break this silence and speak out in an investigative and a documentary film entitled “The Invisible War” (2012) which evolved around the sexual assault and harassment in the US military. This film aided these women to uncover the truth, tell their stories and share their experiences.
One of these women is ‘Kori Cioca’ who was serving “in the US coast guard and was stationed in Michigan” and was raped by one of the commander officers back in 2005 (Stebner, 2013). During the aggression and while calling for help, her assaulter hit her and broke her jaw. She didn’t have the courage to report this incident because of the threats she received and the fear of losing her job (Stebner, 2013).
In her article “the Invisible War: New Film Exposes Rape, Sexual Assault Epidemic in U.S Military” Amy Goodman (2012) interviewed Ms. Cioca where she told her horrible story about the aggression. In fact, her superior began by harassing her verbally but she refused these sexual suggestions. She said “he didn’t rape me because I was pretty or that he wanted to have sex with me; he raped me because he hated me, and he wanted to show me that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was.” This statement can be interpreted in favor of the feminist view of sexual assault discussed earlier. As for the victim, she thought about committing suicide but she changed her mind when she knew that she’s pregnant. Until now, although she feels traumatized and fights everyday to win her right back, she remains hopeful and confident that one day justice will take its course.
To sum up, sexual assault against women has been an ‘invisible war’, a blight in the most honorable institution like the U.S. military. Its causes go back to different factors; human nature in general and the environment of the army in particular. The U.S officials and mainly the department of defense have been implementing different measures in the different levels of the armed forces to eliminate this problem. However, what the story of Kori Cioca reveal can imply the limits of such measures and the commitment to stop this sexual aggressiveness against women.
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