Reports of rape in the military have increased

20 03 2009

The Huffington Post has an article out, “Military rape reports rise, prosecution still low” which sheds light on newly released figures relating to sexual assault/rape in the military, which is neither a shocking or a new phenomenon: (Bold emphasis mine)

The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That’s about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.

Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged.

The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported a figure similar to estimates of reported cases in the civilian sphere.

…The yearly increase in reports is more likely due to larger numbers of victims being willing to come forward than to an overall increase in sexual violence, Whitley said.

That increase includes a jump in cases from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to 165 from 131 the year before.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, a congressional critic of the military’s handling of sexual violence, said the statistics show the problem is still rampant.

“While the report shows modest improvement, we’re far from Mission Accomplished,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”

According to the Pentagon, numbers have increased because more survivors are coming forward. However, even for military survivors who come forward, just as civilian survivors who come forward, there is little chance that the perpetrators will be justly prosecuted. That’s reason enough for not coming forward for many survivors, because if you’re not likely to be believed and supported, why put yourself through more trauma?

I also wonder, what institutional structures in the military exist to support and protect survivors who come forward? (I doubt there are many. Most “justice” processes for survivors are slanted in favor of the perpetrators.) Why does the Pentagon think that there is simply more reporting now? Was there something specific implemented recently to encourage the alleged increase in reporting?

Regardless of whether or not there is increased reporting of sexual assault/rape in the military, there are still many incidents that are unreported. Statistics of sexual assault/rape generally tend to be higher than the ones reported and publicized due to the general silence, shame and stigma around sexual violence.

Furthermore increased statistics of sexual assault/rape are never good because they just illustrate the prevalence of sexual violence. One rape is too many and should not be tolerated. And the fact that women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to die in combat is not specific to Iraq. It’s been true for quite some time now, and this needs to change.

Another thing that needs to be examined is how the military is an institution that supports and enables violent masculinity to thrive. The military is the bastion of patriarchy. It is a deeply hierarchical structure that celebrates and demands hyper-masculinity. Inherent in the construction and the embodiment of violent masculinity is the condoning of violence against women.


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