Military Rape: Sexual Abuse and Impunity in US Military
August 8, 2012 Rosiland Jordan / Al Jazeera &
Two US air force trainers have been sentenced in connection with a widening sexual abuse scandal at one of the busiest military training centers in the nation. Investigators say at least 38 female trainees were victimised at the Lackland Air Force Base in the US state of Texas. Fifteen instructors have been implicated.
On Sexual Abuse and Impunity in US Air Force Rosiland Jordan / Al Jazeera
(August 4, 2012) -- I recently spent time with some female trainees at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas -- both the place where all Airmen go for basic training and the site of a burgeoning sexual assault scandal. At the time, I was struck by their insistence that the Air Force would support them, if anyone dared to violate their bodies.
I am rethinking their optimism, thanks to an interview with the woman who first sounded the alarm about military sexual abuse.
Paula Coughlin-Puopolo says she felt the same way as those young women when she first became a Navy helicopter pilot. As the daughter and granddaughter of aviators, Coughlin-Puopolo says she had no reason to feel any other way. But then came the "Tailhook" Convention in 1991 in Las Vegas.
The annual gathering of Navy and Marine Corps aviators is part professional development, part socialising. But Coughlin-Puopolo says that year, the socialising degenerated into violent groping and fondling as she tried to make her way down "The Gauntlet" – a hallway at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Coughlin-Puopolo reported the assault, but says everyone from her boss -- a rear admiral -- to military investigators mocked her claims. Her skirt was too short. She had no business being in a hotel with hundreds of drunken aviators. She was jeopardising her career by filing the charge and going public.
In the end, the Navy Secretary had to resign, and the careers of fourteen admirals and 300 naval aviators were damaged. No one went to prison. That was 21 years ago.
Coughlin-Puopolo worries that today's young airmen are too optimistic, even naïve. So she is trying to help them, lobbying the government to fight the problem through better training and accountability.
She says she hopes the new Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh, will use every bit of power he has to erase sexual abuse from the military -- even though he has already told anyone who will listen, he's not sure he will be able to do it.
"The boys club mentality is not as overt as it was 30 years ago .... This only becomes a crisis when it gets out in public .... The whole process of victims feeling like they are victimized again by the system discourages reporting and keeps a lot of this under wrap."
-- Morris Davis, a retired US air force colonel who led the investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at the US Air Force Academy in 2003
(August 4, 2012) -- Two US air force trainers have been sentenced in connection with a widening sexual abuse scandal at one of the busiest military training centers in the nation.
Investigators say at least 38 female trainees were victimised at the Lackland Air Force Base in the US state of Texas. Fifteen instructors have been implicated.
Last year, nearly 3,200 rapes and sexual assaults were officially reported, but the Pentagon admits that represents just 15 per cent of all incidents.
A military survey revealed that one in five women in the US forces has been sexually assaulted, but most do not report it. Nearly half said that they "did not want to cause trouble in their unit".
A former army nurse told a member of the US Congress that during her tours in Iraq and Afghanistan she was more afraid of being attacked by her fellow soldiers than she was of the enemy.
But many of those attacked are men. In 2010 nearly 50,000 male veterans screened positive for “military sexual trauma” at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
In April, Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, announced new steps to deter assaults and make it easier to prosecute offenders. But some argue a military culture that makes it difficult for crimes to be reported is standing in the way of meaningful change.
Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, a former Lieutenant in the US Navy, was groped by at least 200 men at a convention of navy and marine corps aviators in 1991. She went public and what was known as the Tailhook scandal ensued. But no one was punished.
She says: "The situation in the military regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault has changed for the worse .... We've got a problem where victims are coming forward but their complaints aren't actually being handled .... and no one is actually convicted.
The actions of most of military leadership now towards a person that comes forward as a victim is to remove them from their job and ultimately punish them, while the perpetrators continue to march on smartly with their successful career .... Maybe it's a squeamish conversation that real leadership doesn't want to hear about the rape and the victimisation of their troops, but you can't solve the problem until you turn the lights on."
So what can be done to tackle widespread sexual abuse in the military? And why has the Pentagon failed to curb sexual misconduct and abuse in the armed forces?
Joining Inside Story Americas to discuss this are guests:
Morris Davis, a retired US air force colonel who led the investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at the US Air Force Academy in 2003;
Ariana Klay, a former US Marine Officer, who is one of eight current and former military members who have filed a lawsuit alleging they were raped, assaulted, or harassed during their service; and
Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University and the author of Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire. "This is not just a problem of a culture of underreporting and a system that punishes victims for reporting. This is really a rape culture in the military. Even if victims were more able to report the crimes, there is the bigger question of what's producing the rapes in the first place?
You have a rape culture and you have an organisation that is very masculinist and that places a lot of value on dominance and power and subordination. You also have a system that's trying to train people to overcome inhibitions against violence. So, to produce a warrior we have to train people how to become violent.
In the training scenario you create a master-slave dynamic where commanders have almost unlimited authority over people they are in charge of. When you put these three factors together, you have a recipe for rape."
-- Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University
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