For the more than 200,000 women serving on active duty in the U.S. military, sexual assault and harassment are issues not to be ignored – and now that the armed forces are taking steps to correct the problem, some wonder if it is doing enough.
In the fiscal year ’07, ending Oct. 1, military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan reported 131 cases of rape and assault. The Department of Defense recorded 2,688 cases of sexual assault last year; 60 percent were allegations of rape.
Some women claim the military does not respond adequately to allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Carolyn Schapper, 35, told the Associated Press an Army National Guard soldier repeatedly stormed into her room while she was dressing in Iraq. She began changing in her shower stall to ensure she had privacy. Schapper said she wouldn’t think of reporting the incident, because she believed administrative action would be taken against her instead of the other soldier.
Missing pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach’s body was found burned in a shallow fire pit located in Cpl.Cesar Armando Lauren’s backyard earlier this year. She had accused Lauren of sexually assaulting her and planned to testify against him before she vanished.
Lauterbach’s mother, Mary, blamed the military for being slow to act, denying her daughter’s request for transfer and not properly dealing with the sexual assault complaint – even after her daughter was punched in the face.
“I believe Maria would be alive today if the Marine system had been different,” she told a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee July 31.
A woman named Ingrid Torres worked with American Red Cross at a U.S. base in Korea. Torres took Ambien before bed, and an Air Force flight director raped her while she slept.
Testifying before the committee, Torres said, “He still comes after me in my dreams.”
After the hearing was dismissed, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said there is an “epidemic of assault and rape against women in our military.”
“Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire in Iraq,” she said.
According to a Government Accountability Office report released July 31, incidents of rape and sexual assault in the military are under-reported by nearly half. Many soldiers fail to report assaults because they worry “that nothing will be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip.”
Some victims argue that the military chain of command would punish or move them if they complained, rather than discipline the person responsible for the assault.
A Department of Defense 2006 Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members shows 34 percent of all female service member respondents were sexually harassed, and 6.8 percent indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact including rape, nonconsensual sodomy or indecent assault.
While evidence that war worsens the problem of sexual assault is lacking, women serving in the Army were most likely to be sexually harassed and/or assaulted than any other branch. Low-ranking, enlisted females were more likely than their commissioned or higher-ranking counterparts to be raped. Seventy-five percent of victims reported assaults occurring at a military installation.
A full 50 percent of female respondents experienced incidents of rape or attempted rape, 38 percent reported unwanted sexual touching and 12 percent did not specify. Most women did not report the incidents because they felt uncomfortable, thought they would be labeled a troublemaker, didn’t want anyone to know, did not think anything would be done or feared retaliation.
Under fire for its method of handling sexual harassment and assault cases, the military introduced a Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld charged the task force with investigating sexual assault in the military in 2004. The U.S. Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response confidential reporting system was established in 2005 – though reports still show half of female victims do not report the crimes. The military also conducts required classes on sexual assault and harassment.
The Pentagon has teamed up with Men Can Stop Rape, a non-profit organization that seeks “to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women,” to teach soldiers how to recognize signs of sexual assault.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs added a 16th inpatient ward for military victims of sexual trauma, the Associated Press reported. VA hospitals are also providing keyless locks on its doors so female patients can feel more secure.