The invisible war: The epidemic of rape inside the U.S. military

Lawrence Downes writes: Does the Pentagon know what “zero tolerance” means?

Military leaders have been claiming for at least 20 years that they have “zero tolerance” for sexual assault in the ranks, during which time the epidemic has raged on, infecting every branch of the service and spurring arrests, convictions, resignations, investigations, Congressional hearings, bills, speeches, reports, recommendations and, recently, a chilling documentary, “The Invisible War,” which will make any parent think twice about encouraging a daughter to serve her country in uniform.

“Zero tolerance” appeared most recently on Wednesday, when Jay Carney, press secretary for the Commander-in-Chief, said that President Obama had “zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military.” The statement was prompted by reports that a West Point sergeant had been videotaping female cadets without their consent, sometimes when they were undressed in the bathroom or in the shower.

Really? Zero? [Continue reading…]

“Zero tolerance” is one of those phrases like “responsibility,” “accountability,” and “transparency,” favored by those who think that fine declarations can function as substitutes for effective action. How many times have we heard a politician or corporate executive solemnly say, “I take full responsibility,” as though the utterance and its meaning were one and the same?

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5 thoughts on “The invisible war: The epidemic of rape inside the U.S. military

  1. delia ruhe

    This is a good PBS program, but it’s made without the understanding that rape and war are conjoined twins, the deformed offspring of uncontrolled militarism. If the US would work at demilitarizing its foreign policy — and if the American population would stop worshiping soldiers as if they were actually “making America safer” — perhaps they would see a significant drop in testosterone driven crimes against women and young men.

  2. Norman

    The above comment has a point about conjoined twins, though I see the continuous combat element perhaps being the cause. Consider that the stress factors of being in combat, heightens the abilities of staying alive by killing the “enemy”, which after some point, changes the chemical balance of the mind, such as the “testosterone” level, even in those so called mild mannered individuals. That a result of this is aggression, leaves the moral issues somewhere behind. Hero worship, perhaps both in service and civilian, as well as detaching ones self that this is O.K. I’m sure I’m probably alone in thinking this, but then, in my youth, I too joined up in the military, though I don’t recall this problem being as acute as it is today. Power is respected, but not anyone who is conceived to be weaker.

  3. Óscar Palacios

    I agree with Delia. But in reality I don’t understand women who join the military. War is so much a “guy” thing. Not that women are incapable of atrocities, but I can’t remember any woman being a war criminal, for example. Armies are about violence. You don’t join the military to learn good manners, or to learn about diplomacy or urbanity.

    But we’re now accustomed to twisting our minds into thinking differently. We do that by mischievously and quietly changing semantics. So we now have two words, like “war” and “genocide”, and they’re supposed to be different. And we demand that women can safely join military ranks. I mean, if *men* are raped in the armies of the world, why are we asking military institutions to be respectful of women?

  4. eugene

    Sorry war is not “such a guy” thing. It’s a “national thing” and women are very much part of the nation. After 25 yrs as a therapist working with abuse, I fully understand the massive violence of women. They do it differently than men as they are less physically powerful. It is more subtle, emotional and secretive but I can tell stories for hours. IF we ever decide to face ourselves as a nation, it will have to involve both sexes facing themselves. As Americans, we deeply believe in stereotypes and those stereotypes are always either/or. Men are this, women are this, war is this or that, everything is this or that so we seem incapable of thinking in a complex manner. Complexity is the real world. Mythology is fantasy.

  5. delia ruhe

    Oscar, I think you need to differentiate sex and gender. Having served in the navy for 5 years, I know something about why women sign up and sign on. For some, it’s a way of getting out of a dead-end town where it’s either get married or get out. For others, it’s rebellion against family and community pressure to be “feminine”–that’s a gender, by the way.

    Femininity has a very fickle relationship with female. Femininity is something you can to a significant extent ignore or cast off — and what better place than the über-masculine military to do that. Make no mistake: it certainly made a man outta me!

    Fortunately, I grew out of the military — as the majority of women in the service do. But I don’t regret my 5 years in it. There’s more to learn than machismo, such as personal discipline and service.

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