Why Women Should Not Enlist

by , July 04, 2012

Just the other day, I saw a girl running along the side of the road. She looked like she was about high school age. She was wearing a ‘USMC’ t-shirt. And I thought, ‘If she joins then she’s going to have to accept rape and the destruction of her life.’ I cannot in good faith recommend for anyone to join while the way the organization is set up now. I would not wish that on anybody – Lt. Ariana Clay, who was raped during her time in the Marine Corps.

Lt. Ariana Klay (Associated Press)

Really, truly, why would women want to join the military?

I’m not so much of a “a bubble-headed, antiquated hippie,” that I cannot understand why men join up – I come from a family of earnest, decent men who volunteered for the Army. I’m just curious about the women.

This is meant facetiously, in part. I know why they join, too. Just like the men, their reasons are varied and most always valid: they are looking for better personal opportunities and income to raise a family, status, pride in self, family history, love of country, an education, a chance to escape an intolerable life back home.

But are they aware there might be a wicked tradeoff involved, suddenly rendering those noble goals insignificant if not nearly unattainable as a result?

Antiwar wrote about the increase of sexual assault and rape against women in the military as recently as May. But as shocking new reports this week reveal, the problem is more widespread than it was reported even a month ago. The U.S Air Force has acknowledged that it is investigating at least 12 male boot camp instructors who allegedly assaulted, harassed and/or raped their female recruits at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, which turns over some 36,000 recruits a year for the Air Force. One in five of the recruits are women but 90 percent of the trainers are male.

One quarter of the alleged perpetrators in this year-long investigation hail from the 331st Training Squadron. One of those trainers, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, is accused of 28 criminal counts, including rape and aggravated sexual assault involving 10 recruits. Reports indicate there are 31 female victims overall. The Air Force has filed criminal charges against six of the men it is investigating. According to the Washington Post:

Senior Air Force officials said they have found problems in other units as well, prompting them to open multiple investigations to determine the extent to which female recruits face harassment and whether the Air Force’s selection process for male instructors is fundamentally flawed.

Fundamentally flawed. You can say that again, and again. The Marine Corps also announced last week a 10 percent increase in sexual assaults year over year – 347 cases in 2011 – throughout all its bases worldwide. A majority of those occurred at its largest base, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Officials estimate that some 80 percent of these crimes go unreported.

According to the Pentagon’s own figures (.pdf), there were 3,192 cases of sexual assault and rape in the military in 2011 and it estimates a total of 19,000 were never reported. Fear begets silence, say the advocates who have been working on this problem for years. Fear of failure and of retribution, from fellow soldiers, and from their superior officers. This is especially keen in the boot camp environment, said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Women’s Service Action Network (SWAN).

“It’s the kind of environment that where you’re being yelled at 24-7, where you’re terrified of everybody around you,” she said, commenting on the new Air Force scandal to The Washington Post last week.

We’ve reported before that the number of reported assaults and rapes have increased over the course of the wars, as women have been “shock integrated” into the ranks and are pulling duty that puts them closer to combat – and in closer quarters with their male cohorts than ever before.

But as these other new revelations indicate, the problem isn’t merely where the women are stationed, but in the military culture itself, which many critics would say has evolved little since the Stone Age. Remember back in 2003, the Air Force Academy revealed that some 19 percent of its female graduates had reported a sex assault, with 7 percent of them reporting a rape or attempted rape, before graduation. It starts early.

Relations between male and female servicemembers have undergone some positive growth since the wars began, veterans have told me, but many complain that the super-warrior ethos ingrained in the military’s highly traditional institutions continues to breed hostility toward women, and even a resentfulness against the advancements they’ve made in the ranks. This has caused a “circling of the wagons” when real crimes occur. Commanders who do not take accusations seriously, or worse, single out the accusers as trouble for their command, set the tone for the rest, giving victims nowhere to turn.

Last month, Antiwar talked about several women who were given mental health discharges – the kiss of death for a military career – after they had reported rapes and sexual assault while on duty. More recently, screenings of the award-winning documentary, “The Invisible War,” which charts the emotional torture of numerous rape victims, or as the film’s creators describe, “the epidemic of rape within our U.S military,” has bought some critical public face time for this largely ignored issue.

“Today, a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire with the number of assaults in the last decade alone in the hundreds of thousands,” the movie’s promotional tag announces.

The film has been shaking audiences to the core. It’s that brutal. Like when the aforementioned Clay’s husband, Capt. Ben Clay, holds back the tears recalling his wife’s treatment by the chain of command after she reported her rape by a superior officer:

“She went to war and gave nine years of her life and for them to take it and come back and say, ‘Yes, they called you a whore. Yes, they called you a slut. Yes, they called you a walking mattress. It’s documented over and over and over again. But you deserved it and when you complained about it you were welcoming it.’”

There’s plenty of unfiltered honesty from women who could very well be your daughter or wife or sister, alone and facing a wall of aggressive resistance from the very institution they had believed in, had called “family,” and in many cases shed blood for. Rape kits are conveniently lost, investigations curiously shuttered, military attorneys finding ways to turn the tables on the victim. Every slimy, primitive, brutal way they could shut these women up seem to be employed. They couldn’t have done any better cutting their tongues out or dunking them as witches.

“The Invisible War” gives these victims a chance to set the record straight – and give the rest of us a dose of reality. Carl Prine, a former U.S Marine and Army National Guardsman who served combat duty in Iraq in 2005 and now writes about military issues for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and his own blog, Line of Departure, appeared ready to explode in a June 18 column:

“After viewing the scathing documentary The Invisible War, I was so sickened by the [U.S Marine Corps’] leadership and their treatment of rape victims at Headquarters Marine Corps that I swore an oath: If I ever sire a daughter, she’ll never wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor,” he wrote.

The Marines won’t deserve her. They also don’t deserve your wives or daughters, your sisters and girlfriends. It’s an all-volunteer force, and until the Corps rediscovers the meaning of honor, courage and commitment, convince your women to stay away from the institution I once loved.

It’s rare for any work of art to fundamentally reorient an adult man’s conception of an American institution, but that’s the strength of The Invisible War. For 1 ½ hours it remorselessly indicts – rightly – a toxic culture within the armed forces that tolerates the systematic violation of more than 16,000 women and men annually. Our commanders let sexual predators hunt their victims, escape justice and then return them to unsuspecting hometowns nationwide to perpetuate their crimes, all while piously pledging hollow promises to never tolerate that sort of misconduct.

The movement to protect these women need more people like Prine, i.e strongly empathetic observers with both X and a Y chromosomes who can make the case about the evils of this insular, misogynistic culture without being called a “bubbleheaded hippie” or a “feminist harpie.” They can also help figure out why it is happening and maybe try to work to fix it before we get into more wars that demand we send young kids into the meat grinder unprepared for both the enemy across the line and the one within.

Like, does the military attract predators? H. Patricia Hynes explored this question in a January Truthout article entitled, “Why do Soldiers Rape?” While not coming to any solid conclusions, Hynes offered some possible theories beginning with the tolerance of sexual harassment and ambivalence against females starting in boot camp, which “sets the stage” for sexual violence. Also, the recruitment of bad apples (including sexually violent individuals attracted to military life) via lowered standards and insufficient psychological screening.

Why do soldiers rape? The answer may start with the convergence of an early life of abuse which turns the abused into an abuser, a military culture that glorifies violence and is saturated with hostility toward women from basic training to the battlefield and barracks, and a military leadership that permits, encourages or participates in sexual abuse. Which is to say that soldiers rape because they are socialized in physical and sexual violence, and because they can get away with it.

For now the military is taking “baby steps,” and is certainly not asking why military men rape, at least not yet. In April, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said each branch of service will set up its own “special victims unit” which will send all rape and sex assault cases to a special “court martial convening authority” in hopes of making commanders more accountable for the crimes alleged under their watch.

Advocates say that doesn’t go far enough, that they need a special investigator like an inspector general at the Pentagon, with independence from the branches. Plus the other “initiatives” rolled out by the Pentagon don’t sound exactly gangbusters: more training on sex assault prevention for the commanders (which they will probably resent); more publicity for the 24-hour helpline; commanders will have to conduct annual “organizational climate assessments” (which they will probably resent), and a requirement that new recruits get “briefed” on sex assault policy in the first two weeks.

I think Carl Prine has it right, the Marine Corps doesn’t deserve these women, and until the military can prove it has what it takes to properly investigate and prosecute these crimes, they should be placed in the hands of the U.S federal criminal justice system. I will go a step further and say until the military can guarantee they won’t be molested, raped or treated like dogs because of their double X chromosomes, women should not enlist. Period.

This would be a shocker to the system, seeing that without the women, the United States would never have been able to wage its expansionist military policies and ten-year, two-front war. So maybe asking women to stand down for their own safety and dignity might not be such a bad idea — for themselves, and for the rest of the world.

Read more by Kelley B. Vlahos