The U.S. military has a well-kept and shameful secret. It is called military sexual trauma, and it is of epic proportions, with over 3,000 reported rapes or sexual assaults occurring each year. Because of under-reporting, it is estimated that the actual number of incidents is closer to 19,000 per year or an average of 52 per day.
Despite previous public exposure of widespread sexual assault and despite the military stating that it has “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, this epidemic continues. In fact, the military allows for, and even encourages, military sexual trauma. The military is a command structure organization and this means the victim must report rape or sexual assault through the chain of command. Frequently that means reporting either directly to the perpetrator or to a friend of the perpetrator.
The commanding officer is not a trained criminal investigator. There is no separate system of police, investigator and litigators who represent the interests and well-being of the victim. This is completely different from civilian life, where survivors do not report to their rapist nor look to him or her for justice!
Most of all, for a commanding officer, an allegation of sexual assault in his or her unit will reflect badly on his or her leadership and hence any future promotion possibilities. Consequently, in the few instances when victims report the assault, the frequent outcome is that she is penalized and the perpetrator is absolved or even promoted.
Victims who report generally experience two traumas: the initial sexual assault and then the assault by the command system punishing the reporting victim. All the incentives in such a command structure are to stop the reporting, not to stop the assaults. Perpetrators get a clear message that they can get away, even get rewarded for raping and assaulting.
Congress has repeatedly failed to take significant action to require the military to change. The court has even declared that rape is an occupational hazard of enlistment in the military, hard as that is to imagine in this day and age.
Around the country there is a small, but growing, voice for real change so that victims have competent, independent legal help. Seemingly in response to this movement, the military has recently made two changes. They changed Department of Defense personnel in charge of SAPRO (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office) and they plan to move reporting from the immediate superior to the next higher officer. Those are not solutions; they are tinkering around the edges. The only solution is to institute a system similar to what civilian victims have, independent police, investigators and litigators who represent the interests of the victim, not the interests of the military.
Our goal is changing the military so that assault victims will get justice. This dirty little secret must be exposed and the system that sustains it must be changed.
To achieve this goal, both locally and nationally, many concerned groups and individuals are showing the film, The Invisible War. The film, using veterans’ stories, exposes the pain of the assaults on both male and female military members and the inaction of Congress and the military.
Help achieve that goal by attending local showings of the film, The Invisible War, at 7 pm Friday, Jan. 11, at the Wildish Theater in Springfield; at 2:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Siuslaw Public Library in Florence, and at 6:30 pm Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Community Center, 600 E Gibbs St., Cottage Grove. — Carol Van Houten, Shelley Corteville