By: S M Hali
Recent reports and surveys indicate that rape and moral turpitude in the US military has reached alarming proportions and even males are victimised. The demographics depict that in 2007 there were reports of 2,200 rapes in the military, while in 2009, the figure increased up to 3,230 cases of sexual assault.
A majority of the victims suffer from Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and are too ashamed to even report the assault. It is even more disturbing to note that the military officials tend to cover up this damaging issue and deflect blame. Kira Mountjoy-Pepka of Pack Parachute, an unofficial non-profit organisation, provides assistance to victims of sexual abuse in the military. Her findings shed some light on why the military system favours the perpetrators of the sexual assault and brushes the crime under the carpet. Kira quotes the Feres Doctrine (Feres vs. United States, 340 US 135 ) that made it impossible for the survivor to sue the investigators since it, “essentially prohibits people from suing the military and/or petitioning any non-military legal authority for interdiction without the military’s prior and explicit agreement and consent.” She explains that if a victim reports this crime and the military mishandles the investigation, they cannot be sued. This factor is contrary to the US Constitution, since it denies the victims their first amendment rights. The US military takes great pains to protect the perpetrators and discourages victims from reporting, although the Department of Defence claims to have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual assault in the ranks.
The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs states: “The rate of sexual assault on women in the military is twice that in the civilian population”, which is quite disquieting. A US Government Accountability Office report concluded that “most victims stay silent because of the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule and concern that peers would gossip.” While a civilian rape victim is ensured confidential advice from his or her doctors, lawyers and advocates, the only access a military rape survivor has is to a military chaplain. Compared with a 40 percent arrest rate for sex crimes among civilians, only eight percent of the investigated cases in the military lead to prosecution.
In 2006, the US Congress mandated the military track incidents, which has prompted Pentagon to commence a comprehensive programme to do so. Then there were 2,974 reported cases of rape and sexual assaults in the military; out of these, only 292 cases resulted in trials, while only 181 prosecutions of perpetrators resulted. Statistics indicate that 50 percent of the cases are dismissed due to lack of adequate proof or because of the death of the victim. Less than 11 percent of the cases result in a court martial. Often, those prosecuted merely suffer a reduction in rank or pay, and 80 percent receive an honourable discharge nonetheless. The victim, on the other hand, risks ending his or her career when they file charges.
In an interview with ABC News in 2009, Michael Dominguez, former Principal Undersecretary of Defence for Personnel and Readiness, when confronted with the stark figures admitted that “the US Military has to improve” in this aspect and informed that Defence Secretary Robert Gates has taken the initiative to improve the military’s ability to investigate, prosecute and convict. Dominguez’s replacement, Clifford Stanley has issued a Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2010-12, which addresses the need to “establish a culture free of sexual assault”, and puts forth goals of 90 percent “awareness” and 80 percent “confidence” in the sexual assault prevention and response programme by the end of 2015. The downside is that there is no specific mention of the means to accomplish these goals.
Susan Avila Smith, Director of the advocacy group ‘Women Organising for Women’, projects a dismal picture and states: “Some of the people she works with are of World War II vintage and she finds that the cases of moral debauchery remain the same. It used to be covered up then and is being covered up now. As previously, the drill sergeants, chaplains, and doctors appear to be the worst perpetrators. So when these professionals get convicted, rather than punishing to the fullest extent, they get away with just a letter of reprimand.”
Due to Mountjoy-Pepka’s work in the wake of her experiencing MST and taking action, in October 2005 then-Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld authorised the DOD Task Force on Sexual Assault in the military. However, the DOD took three years to name the Task Force, and the group’s initial meeting did not occur until August 2008. During that period, 6,000 service women and men were sexually assaulted or raped. Such is the state of moral decadence in the US military.
S. M. Hali is a retired Group Captain of Pakistan Air Force. He is a regular freelance writer who writes for newspapers and web publications.