If you ever wanted to know just how bad “blaming the victim” can get, look no further than the U.S. military. It’s clear that blaming and shaming has gone far beyond just making someone have to live with a stigma that they completely don’t deserve – which is bad enough. Rather, the problem is a systematic denial of justice, a protection of the perpetrator, and an outright pursuit of punishing the victim. If this type of discrimination happened in the public sphere, people would be completely outraged; but what is it about this military culture that allows such behavior to go unpunished?
How to Commit Career Suicide
Al Jazeera English recently had an episode on their show “The Stream,” where they brought on several rape victims from the U.S. military to talk about their culture of rape. One of the victims, a man, describes the fact that he was not relieved of duty with a distinction known as an “honorable discharge.” If he had been, it would have allowed him to receive benefits such as paying for subsequent education, retirement dues, etc. Instead, his assailant ended up retiring with full benefits, essentially receiving the money that should be going to the victim. If you know nothing about the situation, I encourage you to watch the full show below:
With around 86% of rape cases unreported (a number that we really can only take at face value; because by definition if it’s unreported, we don’t know about it) it’s clear that people don’t feel safe to report sexual assaults. One woman in that episode mentioned that if you’re in the military, reporting a rape is essentially career suicide. The injustice in the military is incredible, because the victim first gets raped by the attacker, and then punished by the military.
There’s a feeling of “How dare you try to bring down another member of your military!” that doesn’t exist when talking about rape in the general public, making military rape a more systematically sinister problem. This goes well beyond blaming the victim; it’s more like persecuting them for reporting the rape.
So here’s another good question: Why don’t victims report rapes all the time? The 2012 documentary “The Invisible War“ mentions that a third of all female rape victims in the military don’t report them because the person they would have to report to are friends of the rapist. A further 25% of female victims don’t report because the person to report to is the rapist. Why are they being forced to report to their own rapists? Because there’s no independent body involved in such cases.
Unlike in the general public, someone who blows the whistle on a sexual assaulter isn’t considered “brave” for coming forward. They are considered a liability, a nuisance – nothing but trouble. Practically all whistle-blowers are accused of making up nonsense stories just to get back at someone who they don’t like.
Since the military bureaucracy is almost never equipped to deal with such cases, the way to alleviate the problem is to get rid of the person who is makes all the noise. That would of course be the victim.
As is seen in the film, a fifth of female veterans have been sexually assaulted during their service. And after service, things can go very wrong. 40% of homeless female veterans were raped while serving, which suggests that being raped significantly raises the potential of negative consequences following military service. In fact, just to put the trauma into perspective, the film also mentions that female rape survivors suffer more from PTSD than do men who have been in combat.
A System and Culture of Rape
The internal investigations into alleged rapes are always under the assumption that the victim is lying. Around 25 minutes into The Invisible War, you get the unnerving sense that the entire military was set up against these female victims.
One woman talks about how her very clearly incriminating evidence (i.e., rape kit) was lost after submission; but she privately tracked it and found it was not lost at all. Unfortunately, by that time the case had been closed and there was “nothing they could do.” Another woman had not only an incredible amount of evidence but also an eyewitness who caught the rapist in the act and reported it, but they still weren’t taken seriously, and nothing came of it. Another woman was charged with adultery, despite the fact that she wasn’t married. Her rapist, on the other hand, was married. In fact, this charge is not even such a rare event.
On top of the trauma and stigma that victims face, there is also the irreparable physical damage that the victims have to pay for themselves. Also, the rapist never gets the stigma; only the victim does.
Considering how many people get drugged at drinking parties, you might wonder why so many women are even attending such events, where there is such a potential for harm to be done. The matter is simple – they are ordered to go by the higher-ups. In fact, they are not only ordered to attend, but they are literally ordered to drink. It is not optional. It is mandatory.
Drinking and partying in bars is a regular part of military life, is probably not the best way to use military resources like time and money. Indeed, the military pays for the drinks.
Another incident from the film involved a women who was actually forced to drink at a bar, received unwanted sexual advances from her boss, tried to escape, and then was knocked out cold and raped while unconscious. The investigation she opened was closed after just three days without any actions taken; and even worse, a new one began against her for public intoxication, despite the fact that she was ordered to go there and drink. In fact, she was actually punished by drinking more alcohol at one point for ordering a glass of water.
Looking Out for #1
You may wonder now, why would the higher-ups in the military do this? Surprisingly, it’s actually a very simple answer. It looks bad on your record to report that individuals under your command have been involved in rape. For example, it may cost you a promotion.
Therefore, they do everything in their power to avoid reporting such crimes, such as by trying to convince victims that they should not try to break the cohesion of the unit, that the act doesn’t meet the definition of rape, or that it was the victim’s fault to begin with. The never-ceasing “you asked for it” defence is particularly common against women, such as by walking through a hallway where drunk males so happened to be, or wearing a regulation-length skirt that’s part of the uniform each female personnel receives for duty.
In conclusion, the people with power in the U.S. military are far more interested in their own careers than the lives of the people under their command. And of course, it makes the military look bad if they acknowledge the high amount of rapes.
In Part 2, we’ll see what rape is really about, and why certain places have more sexual assaults than others.