Sadly, a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual assault seems to mean “zero tolerance except when we decide it’s okay to tolerate rape.” According to The Daily Beast, nineteen service members are suing the current and former secretaries of defense for failing to properly investigate sexual assault accusations they made. While it is a good thing that this extremely troubling problem is at least being brought to light legally and in the media, it’s also flat-out disturbing to learn the facts.
Around 19,000 rapes are alleged to have happened in the military in the last year, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, but only 20% of those were even reported for “fear of retaliation.” And after actually reporting sexual assault, survivors can often expect being isolated, intimidated or worse, retaliated against. They can also expect for the chain-of-command to not bring them justice; just waiting and hoping that eventually, something might be investigated and changed.
The individual stories so far reported on are equal parts depressing and anger-inciting: One of the defendants, Kole Welsh, alleges that he was raped by his staff sergeant during his time as an army cadet. This attack led him to be infected with HIV. His attacker was eventually convicted of sexual assault and intentionally infecting his victims with HIV. Another defendant, Daniele Hoffman, looked up to an army recruiter she met at age 17 as a “father figure,” even going so far as to join the military in part to “make him proud.” However, he began to make inappropriate physical advances towards her, finally attempting to rape her. His warning: “I gave you everything you have, and I can take it all away.” When Hoffman came forward two months later, she found that she was not alone in her experience with the man. Six other women stated that they, too, had been attacked by him. As they were no longer active duty, they pursued the case and he was charged with 31 assault-related counts. His prison sentence? Four years.
Neither felt that their allegations were taken seriously within the military:
Both plaintiffs say their complaints were never taken seriously within the military. Hoffman says she was subjected to ongoing retaliation and harassment for the duration of her time in the National Guard—treatment that she says caused her more trauma than the attack itself. Speaking just prior to announcing the lawsuit, she told The Daily Beast that she almost didn’t get on the plane to California from her home in Indiana because she was so nervous. “But there are still women in the military who are going through this and who can’t speak up,” she said, her voice cracking. “And it’s really, really, really lonely. I just want them to know that they’re not alone, and we’re fighting for them.”
To me, “supporting our troops” involves keeping them safe, including keeping them safe from danger within their own ranks. Not supporting rape victims is detrimental not only to the individual, who will potentially suffer PTSD for the rest of his or her life after already risking that same life for the United States, but it’s also detrimental to the overall military. How can one person ever depend on another human being that has so little regard for human life? Keeping rapists safe puts everyone else at risk, so let’s all collectively cross our fingers and hope this lawsuit makes some serious waves.
Image via U.S. Army