How the U.S. military protects its own rapists

National Journal reports: Based on the Pentagon’s most recent survey on the issue in 2010, the epidemic [of rapes and sexual assaults] affects more than 19,000 victims each year. Meanwhile, according to annual Veterans Affairs Department surveys, 20 percent of female veterans screen positive for “military sexual trauma,” as do 1 percent of male veterans — many of them victims of male-on-male rape. Cumulatively, the data suggest that hundreds of thousands of current and former members of the military have been raped, sexually assaulted, or subjected to “unwanted” sexual contact. In 2010 alone, the VA conducted nearly 700,000 free outpatient counseling sessions to veterans suffering from military sexual trauma.

And the military-justice system has failed to check that epidemic. Persistent, corroborated accounts (by victims and sex-crimes experts) describe a command climate that tends to cast suspicion and blame on victims. Too often, the system treats reports of rape and sexual assault not as heinous crimes to be prosecuted harshly but as unwanted distractions from “good order and discipline” to be dealt with, hastily, at the lowest command level. Frequently, this means simply transferring or demoting suspected perpetrators for “sexual harassment” and referring distraught victims to uniformed mental-health experts who diagnose them with “personality disorders” and help wash them out of the military.

A decade of conflict has almost certainly exacerbated the scourge. The Army had to relax its recruitment standards to fill the ranks at the height of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an anonymous 2008 survey by the Naval Health Research Center reported that as many as 15 percent of incoming recruits had either committed or attempted rape before entering the military — twice the rate of their civilian cohorts. Counterinsurgency warfare also placed service members in a high-stress/low-oversight environment that was tailor-made for sexual predators: 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who claimed “unwanted sexual contact” said that the assaults occurred in combat zones. Army investigators received increased reports of combat-theater rapes only after units returned to their home bases, where victims felt safer to report the assaults. (Of more than 130 women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 40 percent died of “noncombat-related” injuries, often gunshots. Some were suicides, but others occurred under suspicious circumstances. A number of the deaths came after the women reported being raped.) “About half the women we see with military sexual trauma also have trauma from combat exposure,” said Deleene Menefee, a psychologist at the VA’s medical center in Houston. “On top of taking fire from the enemy outside the gates, they’ve had to cope with the trauma and fear of being attacked by the enemy from within.” [Continue reading…]

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