Several years ago I watched a brave woman soldier testify on Capitol Hill about abuse in the military. Even though it was televised and the politicians talked as if they would do something about it, I knew nothing would change. I grew up in a military family, and no one helped me either.
In Time magazine an article said that female soldiers who were deployed overseas stopped “drinking water after 7 PM to reduce the odds of being raped if they had to use the bathroom at night.1” Representative Jane Harman said, “A female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”
Both my father a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Navy who has passed away and my brother made the military their career. Both used violence, rape, and molestation to get their needs met at home. Who knows what they did when they were overseas.
I remember attending a conference in the early 1990s where the military was lecturing about family violence and how they were concerned about it. I stood up and said, “I was taken to every dispensary in the Navy from Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to the navy dispensary at Little Creek in Norfolk, Virginia, but no one questioned possible abuse at home.” Their response was, “The Navy is not a social agency.” And you wonder why soldiers get away with most of the violent attacks against their female counterparts. How many of these rapists are just like my father and brother who also molested their children at home?
Yes, there is more awareness. Yes, there have been edicts from the Department of Defense that this behavior is unacceptable. But the culture hasn’t changed. It is still a violent, macho environment where too many commanders look the other way and don’t make the need to prohibit sexual violence a high priority for their unit’s morale.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, worked very hard to address this issue, but as usual, could not garner the support needed to change the system.
The Senate Armed Services Committee cut the Military Justice Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation she wrote and introduced, from the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.2 She issued the following statement:
“I am deeply disappointed the voices of the victims of sexual assault have been drowned out by the military leaders who have failed to combat this crisis. While, in my view, we did not take all the steps required to solve the problem, there is no doubt we have taken several significant steps forward with the current version of the bill. I will continue to fight to strengthen this bill by offering the Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment when the Defense bill is on the full Senate floor for a vote. Our advocacy on this issue to remove the sole decision making of the chain of command in serious crimes has only just begun.”
I wish her all the best and support her 100 percent.
“The War Within,” Time, March 8, 2010