How would you feel if your mother was raped by a co-worker? What if she was forced to work side-by-side with her attacker every day for months on the job? This is a deafening reality for a unconscionable number of women serving in the United States Military. Nearly one-third of female veterans say they were sexually assaulted or raped, and at least 71 percent were by men with whom they had served.
Memorial Day is a time to recognize the struggles and efforts made by our country’s bravest on the front lines. It is now clear that the front lines are not always the most dangerous places in wartime.
This Memorial Day, President George W. Bush addressed a crowd in Arlington, Va. to commemorate the fallen veterans of the Iraq war, but he paid no special tribute to the nation’s quiet crisis of sexual assault in the military. Remaining silent about the issue is not giving way to neutrality — it actively clears a path for further sexual assault and violence.
Why are there so many cases of sexual assault in the military? Maybe because most military rape cases to date do not see the light of a courtroom. Instead they are treated as an administrative matter, if reported at all. These cases should be treated as a criminal matter, not an inconvenient process of paperwork.
Only 29 percent of active-duty troops, veterans, and military families place faith in the Bush administration’s power to manage the veterans suitably. The government is making an attempt to treat those who seek medical help.
The United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) was founded in 1930 to coordinate the government’s dealings with veterans, who were predominately male. VA eventually became the organizing force behind various clinics and medical centers. In recent years, VA has slowly picked up the slack and has taken on the thousands of emerging sexual harassment cases brought forth by female and male veterans.
Women, banned from ground jobs in infantry, armor and artillery squads, are given technical, yet important roles within the military system. Men are generally given jobs in infantry and artillery units.
Last year, the VA treated more than 255,000 female veterans for conditions concerning sexual harassment; this number is expected to double by 2013 despite community counseling groups and attempts to combat the threat of sexual misconduct within the military. More than one in five female veterans have sought treatment for military sexual trauma (MTS). MTS is brought on by any unwanted sexual encounter and is surfacing more within the female veteran community each year.
Over 190,000 women have served in the Middle East since the onset of the Iraq war in 2001. As more women speak out against misconduct, the VA is creating systems of action through which to handle the complaints. Women and men who have experienced MST are at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Roughly 300,000 service members active in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD or major depression, and the numbers are on the rise. Fewer than 50 percent of soldiers receive adequate care for treatment.
VA has held co-ed group therapy sessions to discuss sexual assault and harassment within the military; in most cases, men outnumber women. Now there are female-only therapy sessions, and female counselors in clinics to help accommodate the needs of all veterans.
In 2006, the United Female Veterans of America (UFVA) was created to bring female veterans together on a common strain. Today, UFVA seeks to extend care to women returning from war who may or may not have experienced sexual trauma. However, we hardly hear of UFVA on the nightly news.
For decades we have been fighting the mentality that women do not belong in the military and somehow, they still do not have a place. These women are our mothers and sisters, they are our teachers – effective legislative measures for military assailants must be enacted in order to protect them.