Tag Archives: US military

And the Army Fails Another Victim of Sexual Violence

20 Mar

Seriously you guys, when are we going to get this right?  When are we going to figure out how to deal with sexual violence within the justice system, the military, colleges, our society?  Just now I was sitting at the computer, catching up on training videos for the upcoming Jesolo gymnastics meet when my phone made a little chirping noise.  I got all excited, thinking it was a text message or someone emailing me to offer me The Most Awesome Job Ever on the Face of the Planet but no.  It was neither of those things.  What it was was the following headline from The New York Times:

General Accused of Sexual Assault Receives Minor Punishment, No Jail.”

So here’s the deal.  Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair “pleaded guilty to charges that included mistreating his mistress, adultery and requesting explicit photographs from female Army officers” and instead of any sort of punishment he was ordered to pay $5,000 of his salary for the next four months.  That’s it.  He keeps his pension.  No jail time.  Just a measly $20,000.  What a bargain for assaulting someone.  Here is the meat of the article:

“The sentencing ends a two-year prosecution that highlighted sexual misconduct at even senior ranks of the military at a time when Congress was demanding that the Army crack down on the problem, but which came apart after military lawyers concluded that their chief witness may have lied at a hearing and the judge ruled that political considerations may have improperly influenced the case.”

In the words of my good friend Carrie: MUTHER FUCKING FUCK OF A FUCKING FUCK

So maybe some of you readers don’t think this is as big a deal as Carrie and I do.  Let’s just take a moment to learn a little bit more about this case, shall we?

According to a Los Angeles Times article published yesterday, General Sinclair “pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating the captain. He also pleaded guilty to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory comments about other female officers.

“A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman; possessing pornography in a war zone; conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.”

I like how the article sort of glosses over the situation with the army captain as simple “mistreatment” but we will talk about what that word means in a minute.  What is interesting to me here is that you have this guy, a general, a man of power, who uses this power to ask women out on dates.  That is bad enough in and of itself.  The real problem arises when you realize that he is operating within a system that not only has a very well-defined power structure, but also has a very clear and documented history of not taking cases of sexual misconduct and instances of sexual violence seriously in the least bit.  He asked women out on a date within an environment in which they understandably could have felt that turning the general down could result in unfavorable treatment and that if such a thing occurred, they would have absolutely no recourse because the army does not give a shit about sexual misconduct and intimidation and violence within its ranks.  It is institutionalized.  Given this reality, and the fact that the military is claiming to make moves towards addressing its embarrassing record on punishing actions of sexual misconduct, the fact that his asking women out is not seen as hugely problematic and possibly symptomatic of a larger issue is insane to me.

The original charges, the “mistreatment,” were actually charges of sexual assault and making death threats against a woman with whom he had a three year affair as well as her family.  Sexual assault. Death threats.  All dropped.  And this guy has the nerve to break down in tears in front of a judge, talking about how his family shouldn’t be denied his military benefits because of his adulterous affair.  What about her family and what they endured?  Okay, if that were actually the case I would feel for his family. An entire family shouldn’t be punished because this dude can’t seem to keep it in his pants.  But in the same tearful outburst, he also apologized to his accuser and to the two officer’s whom he pressured to send nude photos of themselves.  Again, a man in power within the context of the US military abuses an army captain and also uses his power to pressure his subordinates into sending him nude photographs of themselves and all he gets is a $20,000 fine?! Give me a fucking break.  I mean, I know that’s some money.  I wouldn’t mind having an extra twenty grand lying around right about now.  But what kind of a deterrent is that?  He is one of a very small number of generals to be court marshaled and, given the information we have about the depth of sexual misconduct within the armed forces, it seems unlikely that that small number accurately reflects the real number of generals who have misused their power to coerce subordinates to perform sexual acts.  It seems like the risk of getting caught are simply not high enough to stop anyone from misusing power for sexual gain if that is what they’re into.

What this is is another example of how we simply do not take sexual violence seriously in this country.  This man is a predator.  Easy as that.  And why shouldn’t he be one?  I mean, take the morals and the ethics out of the equation here.  The existence of a legal framework to try and punish those who commit crimes of a sexual nature against others would be a deterrent if that system actually fucking existed.  And I am not even talking about within the context of the army here.  I am talking about in the wider context of everything.  We simply do not think of sexual violence as being a scourge on our society.  We do not see sexual violence for what it is.  We blame those who are the victims and we, as a society, put up every single possible road block in order to keep people from getting justice for their abuse.  You need look no further than the thousands upon thousands of untested rape kits sitting in storage units across the country.  There is evidence of serial rapists who have gone unpunished because the kits containing evidence of their crime sit in storage units gathering dust.  To think that women and men who are raped and then go to the police to then have an invasive evidence-gathering procedure conducted in hopes that their assailant will be caught and they will have some justice went through all of that for nothing is absolutely sickening.  Thousands of victims.  Thousands of assailants who are told that their crime is not actually a crime, who are essentially, through state inaction, given permission to attack again.  Oh yea, and then there’s the statute of limitations which is up on so many of these kits.  Victims who have to live with their attack for the rest of their lives with no hope of any sort of punishment for their attackers.  What the fuck is that.

And then there are the college campuses.  Read the story of Sasha Menu Courey.  Time and time again we hear about colleges trying to handle sexual assault cases themselves, resulting in the revictimization of the victim and a slap on the wrist for the attacker, if that.  That is if we read about these cases at all.  Most of the time when we hear anything about them it is because the victim comes forward to try and hold their university accountable for improper handling of cases, inaction, or the fostering of an environment that does not address the issue of rape culture.  It is everywhere.

It is everywhere and I think it starts in casual conversation.  This shit is so ingrained in our culture it is amazing.  The number of times I have tried to stand up for myself in public or at my work when someone has made an inappropriate comment to me and I have been told to “relax” is unreal.  I should not have to ignore poor behavior because me calling someone out might hurt their feelings.  You know what?  You calling me baby, telling me to smile, and whispering “God bless you” in my ear as you walk by didn’t exactly make me feel good.  We should be able to stand up for ourselves.  We should not be made to feel as though we are overreacting.  We should not have to justify our anger and hurt and fear.  This case with the general is so upsetting because it is simply another example of people not being held accountable for sexual misconduct.  It is another example of women being second guessed and doubted and told that their bodies are not protected.  Not on the streets, not in college and not in the armed forces.  It is fucked up and it simply has to stop.  When are we going to treat sexual violence, threats, assault, misconduct with the seriousness that it deserves?

The Invisible War: it’s so much scarier than you think

24 Jan

*This post has been edited to reflect some very useful feedback.

Just as a warning:  I don’t know too much about military parlance so if I called something by the wrong name, I apologize, this sort of thing is slightly outside my area of expertise.  Also, I am not speaking critically about those who choose a career in the military or those who serve for a shorter period of time.  I am simply criticizing the lack of accountability within the military structure when it comes to issues of rape and sexual assault.  I thought women had it bad in this respect in the civilian world but man oh man was I wrong.  Read on if you feel so inclined.

I can think of at least a dozen times over the past few years when I’ve said, in conversation with someone about equal treatment for women, that if there is a draft women should be drafted along side men.  Would I want to be drafted?  Hell no.  Violence scares me.  Guns scare me.  Basic training scares me.  The way I know I would react to authorities yelling at me scares me.  All of that aside I always thought, honestly believed, that women fought for a really long time (in fact, we are still fighting) for equal treatment and that means we have to take the good with the bad.  Along with a desire for equal pay for equal work, we should be required to defend our country if need be.  We should be drafted.  So you would think that when I got a New York Times alert on my phone this afternoon that said “Pentagon Lifts Ban on Women Serving in Combat Roles” I would be happy.  Well, not happy, but relieved.  Well…placated.  Yea, I think placated.  But I wasn’t.  I was angry.

This past Tuesday my friend Dee and I went to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see “The Invisible War.”  The film was temporarily re-released in anticipation of the Oscars for which “The Invisible War” was nominated in the documentary category.  I had been really interested to see it which makes sense since, I recently discovered, I pretty much only read about sexual assault and urban farming. (Only a slight exaggeration.  I also read whatever happens to be in the New Yorker.)  Anyway, “The Invisible War” is an investigative documentary about the instances, and handling (or lack thereof), of rape and sexual assault in the US military.  Now I knew going into it that it wasn’t handled well (when is it, for crying out loud) but I was not prepared for what I saw.  Not even close.  Just to give you an idea, the movie was 1 hour and 37 minutes long and I probably cried for about 1 hour and 27 minutes of that.  It was, to put it lightly, horrifying.  Honestly, the movie was incredibly done but I just could not wait for it to be over.  I just sat there and watched the women and men they interviewed go back over the most painful experiences of their lives and I can tell you that watching them speak, I realized that I don’t think I actually know what pain is.  What injustice is.  I have never experienced pain or injustice even close to what the victims in this film did and do every day.  How they get out of bed in the morning after what they went through, after what they continue to go through, is an incredible feat.  And the thing is, that the fight they are fighting seems almost hopeless.

According to “The Invisible War,” since women were allowed to serve in the military, there have been at least 500,000 rapes and sexual assaults.  500,000.  And in the overwhelming majority of those cases, there has been no significant investigation, no conviction.  These men, these monsters, continue to serve in the military and in at least one case, receive an honor for service while their rape charge was being argued within the military justice system.  How?  How is that possible?  How is it possible that an act so vile is just ignored over and over again?  That the victim is dishonorably discharged, or discharged for medical reasons stemming from her attack, and the predator is allowed to continue to serve, continue to prey.  And then that predator is released into the civilian population and you’d better believe he continues to prey there.  These are the people that are supposed to protect.  How can we send them into other countries to fight, to represent the United States, when they are drugging and raping their fellow soldiers, when they are hitting a fellow soldier so hard across the face that she has to stay on a soft diet for years, when they are calling a fellow soldier “the walking mattress” because of the amount of times she has been raped.  Who are we that we let this continue to happen within an organization that should make us proud? Whose members we trust to behave in a respectful, or at the very least humane, manner?

So when I read that article this afternoon, I didn’t feel as though another level of equality had been reached, I felt sickened and afraid.  All I could think about when I read that headline was that the more units women can serve in in this current military system, the more women will be raped, their lives destroyed.  Rape in the military, according to the military, is something that happens.  It is something that needs to be prevented by forcing women to have buddies when walking through their own barracks at night so they don’t get attacked.  It is prevention aimed at women.  It is the women’s responsibility to make sure they don’t put themselves in a dangerous situation.  It’s not about the men being told that rape is wrong.  What are women supposed to do when a man, their superior, breaks into their room and rapes them on their own bed?  When they are told that if they speak out they will be killed?  When rape is considered “an occupational hazard” of joining the armed forces?  It makes me sick.

So now I have to change my tune.  You know what?  I do still think that, ideally, women should be drafted alongside men if a draft is required.  I think women should be welcome in every single unit in the armed forces.  But a lot of things have to change before that.  Rape in the military needs to be taken seriously by the military, by the government, by the country.  Rape cases need to be tried outside of the military so there is accountability and transparency.  Rapists need to be held accountable for their actions because if they continue to get away with it, what reason do they have to ever stop?  And rape victims need to be treated as such, as victims.  Whether they be male or female, they need justice to be served.  They need proper medical, emotional and psychological support and treatment.  They need to know it was not their fault.  So until women are treated as equal…no, fuck that.  Until women are treated as human beings by the military as a whole, I am not in support of women in combat roles.  I am not in support of women in any role at all.  And that’s not because I think women are incapable, quite the opposite.  Women are incredibly capable of doing just about anything men can do.  It’s because I think that the patriarchal system within which our military sits quite nicely is not fit to offer women what they need:  protection and respect.  If we put our life on the line for this country, then the least you can do is promise us that we will not be raped by those with whom we serve.  Or, if not that because some evil seeps into every organization, at least promise us that if we are raped, justice will be done.  Promise us we will get the support and protection we deserve.  Until then, you don’t deserve our loyalty.  You don’t deserve our bodies on the front lines.  You don’t deserve women.

(You all should see “The Invisible War.”  Bring tissues.  And maybe a punching bag.)