Women in the U.S. Military "...are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire..."
These are the words spoken on the above video by Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) during her testimony at a hearing on sexual assault in the military held by the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs this week.
She shared this information as the result of a recent visit to a VA hospital:
"My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41 percent of the female veterans seen there say they were victims of sexual assault while serving in the military," said Harman, who has long sought better protection of women in the military.
"Twenty-nine percent say they were raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and downward spirals many of their lives have taken since.
"We have an epidemic here," she said. "Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."
This testimony, along with the heartbreaking stories of family members and the women soldiers themselves who were victims of rape don't even give the full scope of the problem.
Back in 2006, a little-reported finding from testimony at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration came from former commander of Abu Ghraib, Col. Janis Karpinski. It demonstrated that the fear of assault by their comrades-in-arms was so great, it led to the deaths of some women soldiers:
...several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.
The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.
Later she testified that "Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior US military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death..."
This week, we also saw how the military is taking a cue from the Bush Administration, going to any lengths to cover up the extent of the problem including breaking the law:
As part of their investigation, the subcommittee invited and then subpoenaed Dr. Kaye Whitley, the director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to testify. But Deputy Defense Undersecretary Michael Dominguez ordered her not to appear before the committee, claiming that the responsibility “rests with me.”
Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded by asking, “What is it you’re trying to hide.” Waxman then took him to task, even threatening to hold him in contempt:WAXMAN: We subpoenaed her. You’ve denied her the opportunity to come and testify and put in a situation where we have to contemplate holding her in contempt. I don’t even know if we could hold you in contempt, because you haven’t been issued a subpoena. […]
I don’t know if we need to subpoena the Secretary and then hold him in contempt; Mr. Chu, and hold him in contempt; you, and hold you in contempt. Those are better options to me than to hold her in contempt, when she’s put in this untenable position, when her — in the line of command — instructs her not to comply with a subpoena of the United States Congress.
Watch the video below:
The final slap-in-the-face happens when women veterans seperate from service.
In May 2008, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash talked to Veterans Affairs Department officials about her bill to specifically provide care to women combat Veterans, an underserved population. She was surprised to find resistence.
...they brought up several concerns:
* Providing child care for women seeking mental health counseling could take away from direct care for VA patients.
* There’s no need for a study of female veterans’ needs because VA is already working on one.
* Staffing requirements for health care workers who can handle military sexual trauma would force VA to take a “cookie-cutter” approach.
Specifically regarding sexual trauma:
Cross also said VA opposes staffing standards for military sexual trauma therapy, which has become an issue since post-traumatic stress studies have found that women may have a higher rate of PTSD because of prior sexual trauma or attacks that occurred in the line of duty.
In light of the amount of sexual trauma inflicted by fellow soldiers, this resistence is suddenly not so surprising.