Groups » Sexual Assault and the United States Military: A Crime Against Both Genders

The men and women who protect our country and defend the freedom and safety of millions around the world are subjected to victimization and sexual assault in growing numbers every year. It is something few people have historically talked about, given the culture of "don't ask don't tell" that is so much a part of military training and doctrine.

Beyond hazing rituals for new recruits, and across every division of the United States Army are increasing incidences of sexual assault. It becomes difficult for the average American to understand, and perhaps even entertain empathy for the crime, when U.S. military personnel are expected to be among the strongest, best trained and most emotionally seasoned members of our society.

How does it happen and how often do these violent sexual assaults occur? Where do they happen, and how does the military address the problem, both from a policy and from an educational standpoint? We will examine the statistics, statements and take a look at the support programs available for military personnel who have been victims of sexual assault. We will also take a closer look at the penalties for conviction and deterrents in place to reduce assault incidents, and educate on the psychological aspects of sexual victimization, and delve into why the crime is not related to gender, but stress, power and emotional subjugation.

The Statistics for Sexual Assault in the American Military

The most recent sexual assault statistics were reported for the year 2014, "Facts on United States Sexual Violence" by DoD (Department of Defense) SAPRO Annual Report and the RAND Military Workplace Study.

The report (which surveyed 100,000 military members) revealed that:

• 20,300 members of the U.S. military reported a sexual assault in 2014. Of that number, 9,600 were female and 10,600 were male members of the armed forces.

• Cumulatively in 2014, there were 47,000 individual instances of sexual assault reported.

• 76% of female military members who reported a sexual assault claimed to have been assaulted two or more times in 2014.

• 57% of male military members were assaulted two or more times in 2014.

• 86% of military members (both genders) did not report the crime in the same year it happened. Pressure and fear of retribution or military discipline from superiors were cited as reasons for delaying the report of the crime. Approximately 1 in 4 personnel feared punishment or punitive measures and treatment by superior officers for reporting a sexual assault.

• 160,500 male and female military personnel were severely sexually harassed in 2014, and in many cases, the harassment lasted for several months without intervention from superior officers.

A male serviceman is 49 times more likely to be sexually assaulted after being harassed systematically. A female servicewoman is 14 times more likely to be assaulted after being a long-term victim of intimidation or verbal harassment.

Despite the fact that the American military has claimed that it has addressed issues of sexual intimidation and assault, and that the crime happens less frequently, the data reveals that the annual rate of assault for both genders has remained virtually unchanged since 2010. What has prevailed is a sub-culture that intimidates victims from coming forward.

In civilian cases, encouraging a male or female victim of sexual assault to come forward is difficult enough, given the emotional trauma that occurs, but for military personnel, reporting a sexual assault can be a career limiting move, that can also result in punitive measures from senior officers and resignation from service. Military personnel crimes in Colorado Springs are one indication of the violent behavior that can present itself in civilian populations, such as the Fort Carson incident where Brandy Fonteaux, a 28 year old member of the infantry was stabbed 74 times as she slept in her own barrack, by another soldier, who later claimed temporary insanity. The threat is not implied; it is real for male and female soldiers.

A Culture of Retaliation Against Victims

Jessica Hinves was in the Air Force, First Class, and a member of the military when she was sexually assaulted by another serviceman in her division. While she hesitated to officially report the crime, by talking to friends within the Air Force, the news "got out" about her assault and that she was considering her options to report the crime officially. She faced tremendous scrutiny, verbal and physical harassment by her colleagues, before being told by superiors that her safety could not be guaranteed if she remained in service. She was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force in 2011.

Hinves sought legal advice, and began to speak publically about her experience. Shortly afterward, Jessica Hinves penned the documentary "The Invisible War" to address her experience with sexual assault and the prevalence of victimization of military personnel who attempt to report or address the crime.

After the documentary was released, the Air Force called her back in for psychological evaluation, and placed a diagnosis of "Borderline Personality Disorder" as a reason for her unsubstantiated charges. The unfounded diagnosis (tests by mental health experts outside of the military did not arrive at any disorder) reduced her disability support to 30% of her pre-loss wages. A civil suit against the military however with evidence refuted the diagnosis, and her disability leave for post-traumatic stress and other concerns stemming from her assault, was restored to 70% of her pre-loss salary.

In 2014 the Human Rights Watch, in conjunction with Protect Our Defenders (POD), wrote an extensive fact finding white paper "Embattled: Retaliation Against Sexual Assault Survivors in the Military", which reported on the violence, harassment and threats encountered by individuals who attempted to report their assault through official channels. From friendly fire to subsequent sexual assaults, demotion to demeaning and abusive treatment by superiors, the report also found that peers and colleagues within the military who attempted to support, substantiate or intervene in assault instances were also subject to systematic abuse, demotion and discharge.

It is through the bravery of men and women who do step forward that more information is available on the biggest threat that the United States military has faced in decades; the loss of cohesive comradery, performance and the level of comrade community support that leads to superior performance for military members. Not only is it a matter of an illegal and violently pervasive act that is being permitted, but it also represents a threat that degrades the efficacy and effectiveness of the American military at its very core, creating a culture of abuse that hinders servicemen from optimal performance. From all aspects, humanitarian and tactical loss, it is a problem that should not be ignored.

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