Rolling Stone reports: The scandal of rape in the U.S. Armed Forces, across all of its uniformed services, has become inescapable. Last year saw the military’s biggest sex-abuse scandal in a decade, when an investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio revealed that 32 basic-training instructors preyed on at least 59 recruits. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is currently facing court-martial for sex-crimes charges, including forcible sodomy, for alleged misconduct against five women. In October, an Air Force technical sergeant filed an administrative complaint describing a work environment of comprehensive harassment – in which all women are “bitches”; and claimed that during a routine meeting in a commander’s office, she was instructed to take off her blouse and “relax” – edged with menace and punctuated by violent assaults. In December, a Department of Defense report revealed that rape is rampant at the nation’s military academies, where 12 percent of female cadets experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” And an explosive series of federal lawsuits filed against top DOD brass on behalf of 59 service members (including Rebecca Blumer [a 23-year-old Navy intelligence analyst whose story of being raped and then penalized by command and ostracized by her unit, features in this report]) allege that the leadership has done nothing to stop the cycle of rape and impunity – and that by failing to condemn sexual assault, the military has created a predators’ playground.
“Sexual assaults make up the fabric of daily American military life,” says former Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network. Research suggests that one out of every three women in the U.S. military is the victim of sexual assault, making military women twice as likely to be raped as civilians. (Victims are disproportionately female, given that women make up less than 15 percent of the military, but men are victimized, too: More than 40 percent of vets receiving treatment for Military Sexual Trauma are men.) An anonymous DOD survey found that in 2010, an astonishing 19,000 service members were sexually assaulted; a mere 13.5 percent of those attacks were reported to authorities. Victims have little incentive to report, since the military’s insular justice system rarely holds perpetrators accountable. Of the sliver of sexual assaults reported last year, 92 percent never saw the inside of a courtroom but rather were dismissed or administered wrist-slap penalties like fines, reduced PX privileges or counseling – a prosecution record even outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called “an outrage.”
Incredibly, this ugly picture comes after two decades of very public sex scandals – Tailhook in 1991, Aberdeen in 1996, the Air Force Academy in 2003 – after each of which the DOD swore “zero tolerance,” then resisted any meaningful reform. But as survivors have begun to speak up, and legislators resolve to take action, the military finds itself facing a public relations crisis at a time when it’s not only trying to justify its $633 billion budget but also desperate to step up recruitment. Women, widely seen as a way to help stop attrition of troops – and now, for the first time, cleared to serve in combat alongside their male peers – are projected to make up one-quarter of the armed services by 2025. [Continue reading…]