Horrors faced by a women in a male dominated culture of the military 

“Can you keep a secret?” her superior asked her over a cigarette at the smoking pit of Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware. She said yes, sure she can keep a secret. “Well, I really just want to f*** the sh** out of you,” his response came. This was just one of 100 such remarks Staff Sergeant Anderson aimed at her, then a Senior Airman, over the following weeks. In her case, the inappropriate behavior stopped after she complained to another superior about how “uncomfortable and awkward” these made her feel.

His second victim, a newly arrived Airman First Class, who joined the base under his supervision in 2012, felt compelled to follow him into his office because “she felt she had no other choice since [the Sargeant] was her supervisor and she was a new airman in the Air Force.” There, after more verbal abuse and suggestive remarks, he physically assaulted her through inappropriate touching as she was trying to leave.

These are just two of the 26,000 cases of military sexual trauma (MST) in 2012. Out of these, the Pentagon estimates that around 85% of instances go unreported. In a male-dominated culture of overt misogyny, coupled with unrestrained, recognised control and power from their rank superiors, abused women within the military are coerced into shame and silence. Or, they are made to believe that complaining would be “more trouble than it’s worth”.

The 50% increase in reports and complaints announced by the Pentagon last year only mirror the fact that this culture of abuse is increasingly rife. Only percentages can sometimes be deceiving – although 6.8% of women reported assault compared to 1.2% of men, due to numerical discrepancies of each gender in the armed forces that translates to a more prevalent problem amongst men. Out of the total cases, 14,000 were reported by men who had been sexually assaulted.

Many cases that came to light happened within the United States military service. However, the British armed forces reached 200 allegations of sexual assault over the past three years, and more often than not, such cases are dealt with “in-house”, by the chain of command.

Only a small fraction of these cases end up in discharge or imprisonment for the perpetrators.

While in the U.S., victims can make use of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) units on base, in the U.K., the 2006 Armed Forces Act sees that only aggravated cases of rape are being reported to military police or the Service Prosecuting Authority – other “lesser” offences, such are groping or verbal abuse are kept within the military chain of command.

Every hour, more news of such cases inundate headlines around the world. Legislation has long been lagging behind in its attempt to stop these practices from happening, or ease the process of complaint and prosecution.

Military sexual assault is a danger that men and women who join the forces should not expect to face – and no amount of training could prepare them to face the enemy lurking among their own.

— Eva Grey, Correspondent (Our World)

Image Courtesy: Roland Balik, Released into the public domain | Wikimedia Commons