March 7, 2007

Problems with Gender in the Military

Helen Benedict is writing a book on woman in the US military based on her interviews with 20 some female veterans. I've never been in the military myself but what these woman had to say is a bit disturbing. Benedict describes her findings in an article in Salon this week. Read it here. Here are some quotes:

"the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal "

"A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military."

"I was sexually assaulted by a superior officer when I was 19, but I didn't know where to turn, so I never reported it."

"you can't fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you're screwed. You're gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out."

I'm just wondering how the military can protect Iraqi woman if it is having a hard time protecting female soldiers. Again, not having been in the military myself, or having done any of the research myself I can't say that this represents the majority of woman in the military but even a minority with this kind of experience is more than enough.

One particularly insidious aspect of how the culture of the military can deal with these situations is that woman are isolated and pressured if they report an incident while the perpetrators are better protected. There is no problem if it's not reported.

I would certainly doubt that this is a universal experience but unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to support Benedict and her interviewees statements that it is a widespread problem. I believe the strongest source is a study by AG Sadler and others of female veterans. That is the study mentioned in the first quote about 30% of female veterans having experienced sexual assault. Not available online but citation is at the bottom of this post...

Second, the Department of Defense Task Force Report on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault from April 2004 does not paint a pretty picture either. You can download the pdf here. It is a fairly detailed document which supports, describes, and validates many of the findings of other studies. I also find few motivations for Department of Defense to exaggerate this problem as opposed to sweeping it under the rug of doubt. It is interesting to compare this Report on Care with the DoD's Sexual Harassment Survey of 2002 (again pdf). In light of the later Task Force Report, the Harassment Survey seems too weak because it ignores problems with under reporting.

I'm trying not to bore with a list of studies but here's another available online. And then there's the Denver Post articles.

Sadler, A.G., B.M. Booth, B.L. Cook, and B.N. Doebbeling. 2003. Factors Associated with Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 43:262–273.

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