#62 Private War of Women Soldiers by Helen Benedict

April 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

In Helen Benedict’s essay “Private war of women soldiers,” she talks about the common problem of women getting raped in the military. In Iraq, rape is so common by other soldiers, that women are told to only to go showers and latrines with another woman and not to go out at night alone. From this constant fear of rape, 3 soldiers died from dehydration because they avoided going to the latrines, where they could water, in the evening. Helen points out the Iraq war is very different, with 1 in 7 soldiers being a woman (160,500+ female American soldiers) Furthermore, while they are officially prohibited from frontline duty, they still see plenty of combat. So while women are taking equal risks, acting bravely in defense of their fellow soldiers, their fellow soldiers are attacking and raping them. Studies have documented the high rates of rape and sexual assault, including one showing 71% of the women with PTSD reported sexual assault or rape since the Vietnam War. Part of the problem is the severe climate against any whistle-blowing. Within the military you do not question let alone report someone higher than you, and this has led to an environment where abuse is commonplace and tolerated. The Department of Defense claims to be making progress and point to the-DOD website, which now defines sexual assault and tell women how to avoid it. However, this website says nothing to men about how they should conduct themselves. They see success in this website and a few reporting changes because of the increase in reports, but women in the services report being ignored when they report. The women did not get the care that was supposed to be offered, and usually had their cases brushed off and little punishment is seen for the male perpetrators. Nearly 5,000 military accused sex-offenders have avoided persecution between 1992-2003 alone. One case she pointed out was of Spc. Suzanne Swift. The Army tried to force her to sign a statement which said she had lied about being raped, after refusal and going AWOL for a short time, she has been imprisoned and stripped of rank. The man accused of raping her has only had a reprimanding letter sent to him. So women are in danger of abuse and rape from fellow soldiers and anyone higher than them in rank. Overall, women feel alone and without camaraderie the other men feel.

While I was already aware of the major issues surrounding rape in the military, I was surprised at the lack of commitment shown by the DOD in responding to and preventing rapes. From this essay, it seems that women in the military are not valued as soldiers. Why don’t the values of camaraderie and support apply to female soldiers? Is the military simply too masculinized and overtly sexualized in nature to accept the help of women soldiers? Will they ever have a place?

§ 2 Responses to #62 Private War of Women Soldiers by Helen Benedict

  • boilerbballfan says:

    This situation is extremely problematic for women in the military. I knew this happened, but I was shocked at the amount of women affected. The DOD can put whatever they want on their website, but it doesn’t mean that the information is accurate or the rules are being enforced. This is a measure by the DOD to save face because of scrutiny. The story of Spc. Swift is heartbreaking, because she, just like other soldiers, enlisted to serve her country. Not only is she put in a position to fear the enemy, she is also in a position to fear her fellow soldiers. There is a constant threat for these women that their efforts will not be taken seriously and that there may be danger in simply being in close proximity to other soldiers. In a time of war, soldiers need to be able to focus on combat against the enemy, not combatting their fellow soldiers sexual advances. Additionally, it was certainly worth pointing out that many anti-sexual assault information tells women how to avoid situations in which they may be victimized. The information should be directed at men, and it should tell men that it is immoral and unlawful to rape a woman, and vice versa.

  • katielee87 says:

    I think your question regarding if women will ever have a place in the military is a good one. I wonder the same thing and I honestly feel that there will be no change until attitudes towards rape and assault against women are changed at a systemic level in our society. I feel that it is a trickle down effect and until things change for women for the better at an institutional level, then things will not change at an individual level. The question is how can this happen?

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