As I read through various articles relating to Military Sexual Trauma (MST) ‘epidemic’, my first thought was “well no shit!”. Pardon my language, but this topic strikes particularly close to home as I have suffered an unprosecuted MST. Even worse was how I was treated by the CID agents investigating the crime.
According to an article found in the Long Island Newsday,
More than 19,000 sexual assaults occur annually in the ranks, according to Pentagon data. That’s 52 a day. Only 13.5 percent of military sexual assaults are reported. Few cases make it to trial. Sentences often amount to slaps on the wrist. Among those who were convicted in military court, one-third were allowed to keep their careers and stay in the military.
THIS is where the problem lies. All throughout basic training we (the women in my company) were repeatedly told that when it comes to rape, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. What far too many women in the military have learned is that the opposite is true. Its not that our attackers are innocent until proven guilty, far from it. Those of us who were brave enough to come forward in an attempt to bring our attacker to justice were guilty until proven innocent. This is the reason so few rapes are reported in the military. The sad truth is, I was one of the lucky ones, I had a chain of command that supported me. I didn’t face retribution from my senior leaders. I had their support when I went to JAG, presumably to face charges of filing a false complaint until my JAG lawyer learned what really happened (lets just say the CID agents remember me quite well because of the heat that the senior JAG officers brought down on the senior CID officers…the ONLY good thing to come from the whole situation).
You see, in the military, we are all supposed to be equal. We are told from the beginning that we are not women, we are soldiers, marines, etc. When it comes to firing a rifle, there are no genders. However, when it comes to MST (which by military definitions also includes sexual harassment) we are anything but equal. We are still ‘skirts’ who by the military mindset had to have done something to deserve what happened, and heaven forbid you are a male who reports an MST. I can only imagine how much worse it is for them.
Further eroding our right to seek justice is the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice
and its understanding by the Supreme Court has made it impossible for victims to seek civil judgements against not only the military but our attackers as well. There is no pain and suffering, no civil penalties, in truth there is nothing. Statistics have shown that most rapists are serial offenders and an in environment where few are prosecuted and even less are actually convicted (its exceptionally rare to receive more than a slap on the wrist), these offenders are likely to continue preying on women. After all, they know the chances of being caught, let alone convicted are slim. Even if they are convicted, its rarely a career killer.
If the military TRULY wants to end MST, the first step is to allow victims to seek civil judgements. Perhaps the threat of having to pay for pain and suffering would make these offenders think twice and cause the military to actually peruse justice in a way that serves as a real punishment. If the military were to actually prosecute the cases, and give more than a slap on the wrist, then real change might be attainable. There needs to be REAL punishments for those who prey on their brothers and sisters at arms. There need to be consequences and they need to be severe enough to deter.
My personal opinion is that rapists need to face a ‘from the waist down’ firing squad, but I’m more than a little biased in this arena. However, allowing them to simply ‘resign in lieu of court marshal’ is beyond a slap in the face to the victims, although its a far better solution than allowing them to continue in their career with barely a slap on the wrist. Ultimately, my attacker didn’t even get an Article 15 (punishment) for adultery even after he claimed what he did was consensual. Yes, I was raped by a married man, in my barracks room, whose wife probably never learned what he had done. The most horrific part of my entire saga was when I sat in a rape support group on base. Yes, each attack was different in various ways, however the one thing we all had in common was how we were treated by CID. My case was not an isolated incident. Every single woman in that room who reported their attack through military channels had the same exact story about how CID treated their investigation. If change is going to happen, that is where it needs to start!