See the original piece here.
Women in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire. I know what you’re thinking – it sounds too unbelievable to be true. But it’s not.
The Department of Defense estimates that more than 19,000 service members were raped or sexually assaulted in 2010. Due to a military culture heavy on retaliation and light on prosecution, only 13.5 percent of the victims report the rape.
The system of justice designed to adjudicate cases of rape in the military is in complete shambles. Victims are blamed. Assailants are promoted. Unit commanders – whose promotions are dependent on the conduct and performance of the soldiers they supervise – have an incentive to see that allegations are few and convictions are fewer. As a result, the overwhelming majority of cases get swept under the rug.
This abomination is not new. The Pentagon has largely ignored the recommendations of 18 reports on sexual assault and rape in the military over the past 16 years. As a result, the problem is now worse than ever. So I have pledged to speak about this issue every week on the floor of the House of Representatives until this Congress and this administration do something more than offer lip service.
While the incidence of rapes and sexual assaults is shockingly high, the personal accounts of victims add even more horror to the picture of a military at war with itself.
Technical Sgt. Mary Gallagher, an Air National Guardsman, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow sergeant in 2009. He pushed her up against a wall, took his right hand and pulled her pants and underwear down, and then used his hand to rub her private parts. He simultaneously ground his genitals against her, and talked about how much he was enjoying the assault. Command’s only response was to reassign the assailant and order him to refrain from any contact with her. She was then lectured by the base chaplain, who claimed that 96 percent of sexual assaults on women occur when drinking is involved. Technical Sgt. Gallagher had not been drinking.
Seaman Panayiota Bertzikis, a member of the Coast Guard, was allegedly raped by a shipmate in 2006. She reported her rape to Coast Guard Command, who told her to keep quiet or be charged with the military equivalent of slander. She obtained photographs and admissions made by her rapist through the Freedom of Information Act, but the Coast Guard Command failed to prosecute him. Coast Guard personnel called her a “liar” and a “whore” and said she would “pay for snitching.” When she reported this harassment, the Coast Guard’s “victim advocate” told her not to pursue disciplinary action because she would be seen as “difficult.” Seaman Bertzikis later said: “If I told them that my house was broken into not one person would question me, blame me or say that I am lying, but when I say that my body was broken into people automatically feel that they have the right to judge me, doubt me, and blame me.”
Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla was allegedly raped by a fellow soldier in 2007. After seeking the assistance of the military chaplain, he told her “it must have been God’s will for her to be raped” and recommended she attend church more frequently.
These are just three of the tens of thousands of stories that must be told. Gallagher, Bertzikis and Havrilla are among the 17 victims who have joined a civil lawsuit against the Department of Defense. Imagine a military system so inept that justice can only be sought outside of it. That’s what it has come to.
It took four years and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to finally establish a statutorily required commission to investigate reports of sexual misconduct in the military. His successor, Robert Gates, has yet to implement a statutorily required database that would centralize all reports of rapes and sexual assaults in the military.
It is time for the Pentagon to stop treating legal directives as mere suggestions. And it is time for Congress to abandon its role as a bystander.
Some say that we should focus on more important issues because America is at war. But it is precisely because we are fighting abroad that this problem must be tackled head on. Division and strife within the ranks hurts our ability to defeat the enemy. In addition, military service is one of our nation’s highest callings. We cannot, as a country, allow violent criminals to besmirch the honor of the armed forces, and we certainly cannot condone a system that is designed to protect the perpetrators and punish the survivors.
Lives are being ruined. Rape kits are being discarded after a year or less, often without the DNA testing necessary for conviction. This runs counter to standard practice in the civilian justice system. Victims can’t access treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder because records of their assaults are destroyed. This is a national disgrace, and the longer it goes unaddressed, Congress becomes an accomplice in these crimes.
For my part, I will continue to speak out. I will soon establish a Web portal for women and men – yes, men are victims as well – to share their suffering until our military brass realizes it can’t hide these crimes anymore.
Do you have a story?
Rep. Jackie Speier invites survivors to share their stories. E-mail email@example.com.
Jackie Speier represents San Mateo County and part of San Francisco in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jackie Speier is so disturbed by the numbers of rapes and sexual assaults in the U.S. military — and what is done about them — that the Hillsborough Democrat has given a dozen speeches on the floor of Congress, each time spotlighting a different rape victim. You can watch the speech she gave Nov. 17 above. In it she calls for creating an office outside of the Department of Defense to investigate and prosecute rapists and care for sexual assault victims, an action she says is needed to deliver justice, end abuse and protect our military readiness.
Rep. Speier has found that the rapes too often go unreported because the victims fear harassment, retribution and blacklisting that affects, if not ends, their military career.
She cites as a poster boy for the problem a 60-year-old Army officer, described by friendly witnesses at his courts-martial as “old Army.” The officer harassed his female reports in the interests of, as he said, boosting morale. The military convicted him on 14 counts. He will serve 90 days in jail and will retire with full benefits. He was not required to register as a sex offender.
Speier finds the military culture protects sexual predators. “The vast majority of men and women who have been sexually abused in the military have come to realize there is no justice in the military’s chain of command,” she said.
A Department of Defense survey revealed 19,000 rapes a year among the 1.4 million service members. “Of those, only 13 percent report because they know what happens — They get shoved out of the military, involuntarily honorably discharged for ‘personality disorder.’”
Starlyn Lara, Women Veteran Coordinator at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, said, “There is a critical need for improvement in all aspects of the way sexual assaults, rape and subsequent Military Sexual Trauma is handled within the military. The rates of military sexual trauma are inexcusable and the consequences for survivors have lifelong implications, including post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness and suicide.”
A list of Department of Defense survey respondents who said they had been raped broke down as: 55 percent women, 38 percent men, 7 percent remaining anonymous.
If the victim comes forward, he or she likely is further victimized by the chain of command system of military justice where the commanding officer gets to pick the prosecutor, the defense and the investigator. Only 8 percent of the rapes and assaults reported result in prosecution, as compared to 40 percent in the civilian justice system, Speier said.
The military has made changes in the past decade, including establishing a confidential hotline to support victims, investing in training and increasing prevention efforts, according to the Department of Defense.
“Sexual assault has no place in the Department of Defense — and it will not be tolerated. …,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently affirmed.
Tia Christopher, who was involuntarily honorably discharged for a personality disorder after she reported she was raped by a classmate at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey a decade ago, said the military has addressed the problem and made some positive strides. “I still don’t think rape is taken as a serious issue,” she added.
Congresswoman Speier has set up a website to tell the stories of the victims of sexual assault that she has spotlighted on the floor of Congress www.protectourdefenders.com.
Contact Speier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chronicle supports Rep. Speier in her efforts to address the problem and change the military system. Read our editorial here.
Click here to read the original article.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco, San Mateo) introduced legislation on November 16, 2011 to dramatically reform how sexual assaults and rape in the military are treated (download bill summary.) Speier stated, “For too long the military’s response to rape victims has been: ‘take an aspirin and go to bed.’ We owe our brave women and men in the military a justice system that protects them, not punishes them when they become victims of sexual assaults and rape committed by other service members.”
“To end this needless injustice, I am proposing a legislative remedy and fully endorsing the website, Protect Our Defenders, which will provide the grass roots mechanics required to make our military leaders and Congress understand that what has been going on before their very eyes for decades is unconscionable and must be stopped. We owe our brave women and men in the military a justice process that protects them, not punishes them when they become victims of sexual assaults and rape.”
The progress made in the civilian world regarding the treatment of sexual assault has not translated to the military world. This legislation aims to fundamentally change how sexual assault is handled in the military, with the goal of dramatically decreasing incidences of sexual assault.
This legislation takes the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and places jurisdiction in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts. The legislation also creates a sexual assault database within DoD that will be required to share information with DoJ civilian sexual offender database.
Establishment of a Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Council in the Department of Defense
The Council will review courts martial cases of sexual assaults and will determine if it should be referred to an appeals court within the military or referred to the Department of Justice. The Council will appoint people to the Sexual Assault Response Office, and advise the Office. The Secretary of Defense will appoint two members who must have served as military judges. The President will appoint one member from the Department of Justice, one member who has experience advocating for the rights of those sexually assaulted in the military, and one member who has expertise working on civilian cases of sexual assault.
Removal of cases of sexual assault from the chain of command in the military
This provision explicitly takes control of sexual assault cases out of the hands of base commanders and places jurisdiction within the Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office. This provision also takes away the possibility of non-judicial punishment or the consideration of service when looking at the perpetrator. Among the expanded rights of the victims in this section, a victim may appeal the decision of a general court martial in the case to the Sexual Assault Response Council who may refer the case to the Department of Justice. A victim may appeal a verdict that was decided previous to enactment of this legislation.
Sexual offender database
This provision directs the Department of Defense to collect and maintain information regarding sexual assaults in the U.S. Armed Forces. Upon a conviction of sexual assault this information will be sent to the Department of Justice to become a part of the National Sex Offender Registry.