Past Event

Sexual Assault in the Military: An American Tradition?

While attending a House panel designed to address the ways in which the military handles claims of sexual assault, Congresswoman Jane Harman said that her "jaw dropped" upon finding out just how frequently female officers are sexually assaulted in the military. According to a recent report, 41 percent of female veterans at a Veteran Affairs hospital in Los Angeles said they had been victims of sexual assault while serving in the military. Moreover, 29 percent of the female veterans seen at the hospital said that they were raped during their military service. The women interviewed talked about the ways in which experiencing sexual assault demoralized them and left them with a sense of helplessness.

"We have an epidemic here," said Congresswoman Harman. "Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

Despite the Pentagon’s pledge to institute reforms and to be more aggressive in prosecuting sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, the release of preliminary results from an investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office indicates that "occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported." In cases where the assault occurs between a woman and her commanding officer, it is especially unlikely that the female soldier will report the abuse. Unfortunately, it appears that women who are sexually assaulted in the military have little recourse. Only 8 percent of sexual assault charges in the military were referred to courts-martial in 2007 compared to a 40 percent prosecution rate in civil society.

What can be done to stop sexual assault in the military? How can civilians and soldiers hold the military accountable for this unwelcome trend? What are the psychological effects of rape and sexual assault among military women who are not able to seek any recourse? What can explain the "jaw-dropping" frequency of sexual assault in the military?

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