May 14, 2007
Sexual Harassment in the Military:
Prevention, Assistance, and Statistics
Amidst the intensity, the struggles, and the pressures of war, it’s understandable that soldiers overseas may not always behave in accordance with social norms. This line, however, is crossed when that behavior is exaggerated to the point of abuse towards fellow soldiers. According to interviews with women in the military who have returned from war, the amount of sexual harassment they are forced to endure has not only increased, but has been written off by officials and fellow soldiers. An act of sexual harassment towards anyone should be dealt with and the abuser should be punished, not disregarded or hidden. These statistics and reports should be publicized, in order to prevent the perpetrator from violating another, and help women soldiers know they are safe to come forward with their allegations, instead of hiding in fear of her superior officers.
According to the military, sexual assault is defined as “rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts” (Benedict 7). With such a substantial number of women joining the armed forces, these boundaries are being crossed more and more each day. Women today consist of fifteen percent of active duty forces, while a 2003 survey states that thirty percent of
female soldiers were sexually assaulted by a fellow member of the military (Benedict 11). Not only are these women dealing with surviving attacks from insurgents, but now they have to worry about their “comrades” attacking them behind the supposedly safe walls of the bases.
Caryle Garcia, a soldier in Baghdad, recalled of simple, everyday tasks that were made immensely difficult due to the sexual innuendos and inappropriateness of the men in their platoons. She explained in an interview, “Every time you bend down, somebody will say something. It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people…it really gets you down” (Benedict 17). This repeated demeaning of women either continues through their entire tour of duty, with the behavior of the men worsening, or eventually escalating into a sexual assault. The problem here is not only the behavior of these men; it’s how the superior officers deal with them and the outlets provided for women to report these crimes. Victims of sexual abuse should have the ability to file charges against their perpetrator without the risk of repercussions. According to Jennifer Spranger, a victim of sexual harassment by a team leader, explains “you can’t fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you’re screwed. You’re going to be a loner until they eventually push you out” (Benedict 23). The backlash from coming forward against a comrade includes demotions, continual abuse, being labeled a traitor, or being heckled ant tormented by fellow soldiers. Susan, a soldier in the US army, tells her account of abuse during her tour of duty in 1999. She was continually harassed by her fellow platoon members with “offers in Giannella 3
exchange for sex, sexually explicit jokes, [and] obscene comments” (Nelson 12). Once the abuse became too much to handle, she reported the incidents to her superior officer, hoping for the support she desperately needed. Needless to say, once the incident was reported, “she suffered repercussions and further abuse, this time from her company commander” (12). After dealing with this for such an extended period of time, with no way out, she attempted suicide and was eventually given an early discharge from the military. Some type of help and defense must be provided for these women to prevent the abuse from becoming this severe and unending. With situations like this arising more and more often, it’s obvious that not enough is being done to provide a safe haven for these women...