On the Epidemic of Rape in the U.S. Military

May 26, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The U.S. military and the U.S. government have been rocked by a series of scandals and exposures about rape, a pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment of women, and covering up or excusing the men who perpetrate these acts. Over the past several months, this cascade of scandals has provided a glimpse into the ugly culture of woman-hating and homophobia that is a key ideological glue cohering the U.S. military.

“Two War Fronts (3)” by Jared Rodriguez

"Two War Fronts (3)" by Jared Rodriguez.
Image: flickr/Truthout.org

Several journalists have referred to an “epidemic” of rape in the various branches of the military revealed by these exposures. Former Defense Secretary (and current C.I.A. Director) Leon Panetta acknowledged that an average of 365 sexual assaults take place every week in the military. This figure is very likely a gross underestimation: as the organization Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) reported, while all “sexual assaults are under reported, this problem is exacerbated [made worse] in military settings.”

Further, one of the most damning aspects of the incidents coming to light is that several high-ranking officers and others charged with preventing violence against women and in other positions of authority have themselves been accused of assaulting, harassing, and raping women.

Among the incidents in recent months:

  • Rape and sexual harassment charges have been placed against 17 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base, involving attacks on at least 62 women from 2009 to 2011. Two former commanders at Lackland were disciplined for their role in covering up and concealing the crimes when the extent and duration of the assaults became public knowledge.
  • Lt. Colonel Jeff Krusinski, who was the Air Force’s “chief of sexual assault prevention,” was arrested on May 5 for a drunken attack on a woman in a parking lot in Virginia.
  • Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair is facing a court-martial on charges of “forcible sodomy”—rape—of a woman, herself an Army captain. Sinclair also faces charges for “sex-related crimes” for his assaults on four other women, three Army officers and one civilian. When Sinclair was initially questioned about these and other incidents, he replied “I’m a general. I’ll do whatever the fuck I want.” The jury in Sinclair’s trial is being selected from a pool of other Army generals.
  • Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to one year in prison for raping a woman in his home. But in late April his conviction was overturned and all charges against Wilkerson were dismissed by a commander, also a high-ranking Army officer, who said Wilkerson was more “believable” than the woman he raped. Wilkerson was sent to a base in Tucson, where the woman and her family live.
  • Army Sgt. First Class Gregory McQueen, who was “Sexual Abuse Educator” at Ft. Hood, is under investigation for operating a “prostitution ring” at the fort, and for sexual assault. McQueen was exposed by a woman he assaulted after she refused to become a prostitute in McQueen’s service.

The recent testimony of Rebekah Havrilla in a Senate hearing on sexual violence in the military concentrated how a nightmare brew of degradation, harassment, rape, cover-up, Christian fascism, and pornography tormented her while she was in the Army. She described being constantly harassed by her squad leader until she required medication to deal with her stress. Then, “one week before my unit was scheduled to return back to the United States, I was raped by another service member that had worked with our team.

“Initially, I chose not to do a report of any kind because I had no faith in my chain of command, as my first sergeant previously had sexual harassment accusations against him, and the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature towards women.”

“Two War Fronts (5)” by Jared Rodriguez

"Two War Fronts (5)" by Jared Rodriguez.
Image: flickr/Truthout.org

Havrilla finally did file a report against her rapist and the squad leader. A year later, she bumped into the rapist. “I was so re-traumatized from the unexpectedness of seeing him that I removed myself from training and immediately sought out assistance from an Army chaplain who told me, among other things, that the rape was God’s will and that God was trying to get my attention so that I would go back to church. Again, I did not file an unrestricted report against my rapist. Six months later, a friend called me and told me they had found pictures of me online that my perpetrator had taken during my rape.”

An Army investigator further humiliated Havrilla by forcing her to provide graphic descriptions of what was happening in each of the photos of her being raped. Several months later she was told that her rapist claimed that the sex was consensual. The Army said the case was closed.

The end of Havrilla’s case is typical. A fact sheet put out by SWAN states that in the military “prosecution rates for sexual predators are astoundingly low—in 2011, less than 8 percent of reported cases went to trial.” Of those that did, an estimated 10 percent of perpetrators resigned from the military, “which effectively means the military allowed rapists to quit their jobs in order to avoid facing charges.”

A Culture of Rape vs. A Culture of Emancipation

Congress recently held hearings on rape and sexual harassment in the military. Various political and military officials proclaimed that they are “shocked” by the situation, and insist on changes in the way crimes of sexual assault are investigated and tried.

But the most vicious forms of hatred, degradation, and violence against women are deeply and ineradicably embedded into the culture and doctrine of the U.S. military. This begins from the very first days of basic training. Marching cadences for new recruits reek of contempt for women: “This is my rifle, this is my gun [pointing to genitals]; one is for killing, one is for fun.” Or this one: “Who can take a chainsaw, Cut the bitch in two, Fuck the bottom half and give the upper half to you...”

A young man who joined the military because he was “looking for a way to support my family” described his Basic Training experience: “In basic, the drill instructors' method was to abuse us, to break us down. They'd ‘shark attack’ us. Shark attacks are when four drill sergeants surround one of us, swearing and yelling and spitting, each with their faces inches away. They'd yell, ‘You're a girl. You're a wimp. You're a pussy.’”

Manila, Philippines, 2009. Protesting the U.S. military presence in the Philippines after the rape of a Filipina woman by a U.S. Marine. The U.S. refused to turn the rapist over to Philippine courts citing the "Visiting Forces Agreement" (VFA) which provides immunity for U.S. military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, including rape. On the protester's arms and on the ground is written "Jail Smith" (the Marine rapist) and "Junk VFA."
Photo: AP

Sprawling zones of institutionalized prostitution ring U.S. bases around the world. The standard U.S. Army policy toward rape was expressed by George R. Patton—regarded as a “giant” and “great leader” of the American military, when he said “there will unquestionably be some raping by U.S. soldiers.”

Today the composition of the military is in some important ways very different than in Patton’s time—World War 2—or even than it was 30 or so years ago. For one thing, there are more women in the military than at any previous time. In 1973, when the draft of young males ended and the “all volunteer force” was instituted, women made up 1.6 percent of the military; today they are 14.6 percent, and even more in the Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard.

The violent hatred of women and the environment of rape that has always been engrained in the U.S. military now focuses within the military itself, as well as outward towards women in countries occupied by U.S. forces. This has the potential to be a major problem for the rulers of this country, and the oppressive capitalist-imperialist system they lead.

Obama’s Record of Suppressing Exposure of Rape by U.S. Troops

As outrages of rape in the military have come to light, Barack Obama called the situation “shameful and disgraceful.” But how could this situation have been a secret to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military?

In fact, in 2009 Obama personally made the decision to defy a court order that would have brought hundreds of documented cases of rape and sexual assault by U.S. military personnel against prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court order was to release thousands of photos that, according to the U.S. General appointed to investigate torture carried out by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, “show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.”

Obama justified his decision by saying “the consequence [of releasing the photos] would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them.”

How could this decision by Obama to cover up and shut down public exposure of “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency” carried out by U.S. troops not have contributed to an atmosphere where male U.S. troops feel they have a free pass to rape and abuse women in and out of the military?

Rape: Deeply Rooted in the Nature of the U.S. Military

Rape is endemic to—deeply rooted in—the very nature of the U.S. military.


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In any army, the culture, the values, the way troops are trained, and the way they conduct themselves and relate to civilians are an expression of, and reveal a lot about the nature of the system that army is fighting for. While the U.S. portrays itself as bringing democracy, enlightenment, and women’s rights to the world, the reality is that it brings capitalist-imperialist exploitation and oppression, and it imposes structures and institutions that facilitate that, and crush any force—rival or rebel—that gets in its way. This is expressed in a culture of depraved torture (as at Abu Ghraib) and mass murder (“kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”).

In a system where the oppression of women and male supremacy are fundamentally embedded in and are bedrocks of social cohesion, this is expressed in a violently male supremacist military culture, where access to prostitutes and the idea that male troops have the “right” to rape with impunity is engendered spontaneously, and also consciously promoted from the highest levels—as witnessed by Patton’s quote that there will unquestionably be rape by U.S. soldiers. (And while it is beyond the scope of this article, the expression and enforcement of this culture of rape is also manifested in widescale rape of men by men in the military.)

Contrast the culture of armed rape and brutal degradation of women, including those in its own ranks, of the U.S. military, with the emancipatory approach taken in the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).

“Abolishing and uprooting all this (the oppression of women) is one of the most important objectives of the New Socialist Republic in North America. This is expressed not only in full legal equality between women and men, but beyond that in the declared orientation and policy of this Republic to overcome all ‘tradition’s chains’ embodied in traditional gender roles and divisions, and all the oppressive relations bound up with this, in every sphere of society, and to enable women, as fully as men, to take part in and contribute to every aspect of the struggle to transform society, and the world, in order to uproot and abolish all relations of oppression and exploitation and emancipate humanity as a whole.”

And the armed force that would make possible, and defend a revolutionary, socialist society would embody an entirely different culture consistent with a society whose mission is to end all oppression, including the oppression of women.




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