‘Wounded warriors’: sexual assault in the US military

At Open Democracy, Jenny Morgan writes:

First dinner of the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on ending sexual violence in conflict, and I had the good fortune to sit in on a wide-ranging conversation that started when Anu Bhagwati, the former US Marine Corps company commander who runs a campaigning organisation called the Service Women’s Action Network, told us that of the patients treated in US military veteran hospitals for sexual assault and harassment, 39 per cent are men.

These men have not necessarily been attacked for their sexual orientation, says Bhagwati, although homophobia is still very strong in the US military, along with discrimination against women. She believes one of the key features that leads to a man being sexually attacked by his male comrades-in-arms may be some form of outsiderness. She recounted the case of a tough 6-ft heterosexual man in the infantry, who spoke with an East European accent and was regularly teased, but then was gang-raped by his colleagues.

The phenomenon of sexual violence in the US military is massively under-reported — when the US airforce commissioned Gallup to do a poll, one in five serving women said they had been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and one in twenty men; but very few had formally reported the attacks to their commanding officer (or they may have tried, and been brushed aside and further victimised — Anu said the East European was actually discharged from the army for ‘being gay’. Rape survivors in the military are, she said, ‘hounded and hounded’, and the ‘final insult’ is to be kicked out for spurious reasons).

When the Department of Defence conducted a formal survey of gender relations in the military in 2010, it found around 19,000 sexual assaults happen a year (though nothing like this number are reported). 19,000 assaults a year breaks down to 52 rapes or assaults a day, most of them, says Bhagwati, on women, and most — contrary to what one might believe — on bases, not ‘in theatre’ where US forces are on active military service. Of the 3158 official reports made last year, only a quarter happened in theatre.

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