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What is this “protection” of which you speak?

“Sexual assaults are frequent, and frequently ignored, in the armed services.” I have this insane urge to email Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA)and say “Duh!” This is old old news, but every few years someone rediscovers the reality that rapists join the military and we get a bunch of op-eds and exhortations for the military to do more to protect women. The military isn’t all that interested in taking care of male soldiers (see Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome and those LSD experiments on unwitting soldiers) since we’re really just here to protect everyone else. I’m a disabled vet that has spent years going back and forth with VA over my leg injuries despite it being documented by a stack of tests from military doctors that gave me a medical discharge because “the damage is too extensive and it will just get worse as you get older” and that was at 19. I’m 31 now. I’ll let you guess how my leg feels now.

Want to hear something shocking? Putting on that uniform does not automatically make the person in it a decent human being. Much like active pedophiles seek out positions that give them access to children? Rapists, abusers, and your run of the mill misogynistic assholes seeks out the military because it’s a place where being hypermasculine is rewarded. And as long as you’re not too careless you can get away with hurting women every day without fear of repercussions. The Army cracks down harder on drug smuggling than it does on rape and spousal abuse. I was a soldier. I married a soldier. As some of you know he hit me the first time for the crime of being pregnant and not wanting to deliver my child alone in Germany while he was slated to be deployed. I told him that I wanted to come back to the States in my last trimester and all Hell broke loose. A neighbor called the MP’s when she heard him kicking down a door to get at me. His command gave him less than a slap on the wrist (I don’t think he even got extra duty) and I was admonished to be more understanding of his stress levels and encouraged not to do anything hasty like leave him. We were sent to counseling (Did you know on every base there’s a group for batterers and their spouses?) and he made all the standard moves (complete with flowery promises never to do it again) and that was the end of that as far as command was concerned.

A friend of mine was attacked by a guy she liked hanging out with while I was stationed at a base in Texas. Despite the fact that she was covered in mud and bruises, our command initially acted like she’d somehow provoked the attack (while wearing that oh so sexy set of BDU’s) and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to let this slide (So as to not ruin his career. After all since they’d been friends before the incident didn’t she care about his future?) they made a desultory show of an investigation and he wound up on extra duty and losing a few weeks pay. Mind you, she didn’t shower, he’d torn her uniform and she’d put up one hell of a fight judging from the bruises I saw and the blood all over her fingernails. But, somehow there wasn’t enough evidence to merit pursuing a criminal case. Meanwhile the guy that drove down to Mexico and got caught crossing the border with a kilo of coke? They threw the book at him. AFAIK he’s still in Leavenworth and won’t be going anywhere in the next 5-10 years.

The only time I saw any real justice meted out for a guy assaulting a fellow soldier it was done by another guy that was friends with the woman that had been attacked. Of course he just beat the shit out of the would be rapist and dared him to report it to Top. It wasn’t (obviously) the best response, but we all knew that it was the only way anything substantive would happen to him. Note, I am not saying that every male in the service is a rapist or that every woman is going to be victimized. Your MOS will make a huge difference (my 1st MOS was the equivalent of being a stevedore so I was with a lot of males and very few females) as will your appearance and your willingness to drink. Those of you that know me in meat space are well aware that you’ve never seen me drunk in public. That was a habit I picked up as a petite woman in a male dominated social environment. Mind you, I can drink more than the average woman my size (courtesy of a flirtation with a drinking problem in high school and hanging out with women that drink whiskey), but unless I’m in a situation that’s completely safe (like my house) I’m not getting sloshed.

Women that look feminine (think nice clothes, makeup, doing your hair, smelling good and all the other frilly things that you can start to miss after three weeks of running around in the mud and muck) and fall into specific gender roles (what better way to feel feminine than to flirt a lot and play wife to the guy of the moment?) in their off time get a lot of attention in the military. Some of it is good. A lot of it is not. Women who serve become aware very quickly of all the ways that shit can go wrong. If you happen to be exceptionally lucky at your first duty station someone may well run down the facts of life for you. What are they? You need to avoid getting drunk, avoid drinking anything you did not pour for yourself, and avoid being alone in a room with a bunch of guys no matter how well you think you know them because that is always a bad idea. You may get warned about which members of command to avoid at all costs and what guys have already engaged in some ugly behavior. Is it fair that the onus is on the women to protect themselves? No. But this idea that the military will actually protect them is so ludicrous all I can do is laugh like a hyena at the thought. Unless we’re planning to overhaul our entire society, women that sign up need to be aware that the predator concentration is much higher in the closed environment of the U.S. military. It sucks and I’d love to buy into the delusion that military = hero, but I knew too many assholes in uniform to lie to myself that way.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

15 thoughts on “What is this “protection” of which you speak?”

  1. Ico says:

    “This is old old news, but every few years someone rediscovers the reality that rapists join the military ”

    Unfortunately I don’t think it’s old news to a lot of people. I think a lot of the flag-waving patriots who repeat the “support our troops” slogan, who view everyone in uniform as a hero, and who were shocked at Walter Reed and Abu Ghraib really don’t realize (or WANT to realize) how women in the military are treated.

    The echo-chamber of thought around American troops is just, “Support our troops. Support our heroic troops.” No one wants to criticize our boys. It’s just not patriotic. So I think there’s still a huge contingent of people out there who don’t, won’t, can’t accept that American soldiers Do Bad Things. Lots of bad things. Including raping their female compatriots.

    It’s infuriating and disgusting… I hate the hypocrisy, how on the one hand we have endless parroting of “support our troops,” on the other we have a general silence around the treatment of women because “protecting” the troops means shielding the boys from scrutiny.

    Thanks for this post. Every time I read about this sort of thing it makes me glad because I hope it bursts somebody’s bubble. It needs to be repeated and repeated until people stop ignoring and excusing it. The soldiers who commit these crimes are not heroes. They are animals. And they deserve to have the shit kicked out of them (in both the legal and the literal sense)

  2. Phelps says:

    It’s not old news to me. The old news to me is when my grandfather was an NCO in the Air Force in the 60s and 70s, when putting your hands on your wife or girlfriend at the least got you pulled onto the deep shag (with some extrajudicial corporeal punishment dealt out someplace private afterwards), and usually court marshaled.

    This is a serious failure in leadership, from the NCOs all the way to the CinC.

  3. Deborah says:

    I have to second the people who have been saying that this is not as “Duh!” as it should be. The amount of denial that we’re in about the military is just…well, it’s pretty ludicrous, and it even comes out with people who should really know fucking better. I was raised in Jacksonville (the one in NC where the Marine was murdered and buried in her rapist’s backyard, NOT the one in Florida), and I remember the fury, the absolute FURY back in 2002 or 2003 when Time Magazine published a not-so-flattering article about our town. Everyone was so unholy pissed because the reporter had interviewed like, a hooker, a tattoo artist, and a bartender–some collection of “undesirables,” anyway. “How dare they misrepresent our town this way!” everyone cried, and I just remember being so…*amused* at how hypocritical and willfully blind they were being to the reality of our community. Because the truth is, Jacksonville’s layout goes something like this: tittybar, pawnshop, church, tattoo parlor, tittybar…you get the point. But everyone wanted to believe that Jacksonville was a place full of good, clean fun, and good, clean Marines, even when the evidence against that idea was built into every neighborhood in town. If the same people who bitch constantly about all the problems Marines bring to the town can turn around say “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Sex trade, body art, alcoholism, *here*?”, then I can’t say I blame other people for believing that soldiers are inviolate heroes when really, they’re more typically just very brave teenage boys.

  4. stankerbell says:

    This post brought back a lot of memories for me….

    I served in the Army for 4 years and when I was assigned to my first duty station, I thought it was odd that I was never allowed to be left alone. It wasn’t something that was ever talked about and at first I attributed it to a lack of trust on their part. That if I was left alone, I would slack off and goof around. It wasn’t until later, during those few moments I was left alone that I realized why, because certain members in the unit would prey on the younger women. And there’s no other word for it. I felt stalked. They ALWAYS knew when I was alone. Eventually, they just set-up my work area in a very common area but it always confused me that they knew these men were a problem but didn’t do anything about it and I can only imagine that it’s gotten worse.

  5. nojojojo says:

    I had the same experience when I tried to help a friend who was married to a seargeant (sp?) in the military. He beat her — punched her in the abdomen when she was 7 months pregnant. It probably wasn’t the first time, though she never told me about the rest. I went with her to the hospital, and listened to the nurse trying to dissuade her from filing charges against him. I was furious with the nurse, and said so — and was threatened with being thrown off the base if I continued to “interfere” with my friend’s “treatment”.

    ::sigh:: Unfortunately, she stayed with him, and even went off to Okinawa with him. I haven’t heard from her in years. Hope she and her kids are OK.

    Anyway, this very much shaped my perception of the military and its treatment of women. I work in a college/university setting, and I have to bite my tongue whenever I hear students — especially the women — talking about joining the military. I want them to make their own choices, but it’s so hard not to grab them and say “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?!”

  6. Bq says:

    Yeah, I’m always taken aback at how naive people are about the link between militarism and rape. They seem to think that American soldiers somehow are the exception to this dynamic. Or they don’t understand this dynamic at all because they’re completely clueless about the history of warfare and the phrase “rape and pillage” doesn’t mean anything real to them.

    Nojojojo, would it be very impertinent or risky to be honest with your students if they’re having conversations on your class time?

  7. Adam says:


    First, thank you for your service to our country.

    Having worked in Domestic Violence and having a brother in the military, I have all sorts of conflicting emotions when I read articles like these. I also have a close friend who has been a chaplain in the Army for 20 years – he has told me everything ranging from the widespread substance abuse to the physical and sexual abuse.

    My friend is an example of the good people in military who are overrun by the problems of others while trying to foster an environment of sanity, compassion, and sober thinking. He is going to retire at 38.

    I must echo Ico’s words by saying that I, too, think this is not old news to many people.

    Thanks for bringing the spotlight on this issue. I have often said that we must embrace what is best about our (country, military, etc.) while at the same time be willing to honestly examine to the worst.


  8. Fat Louie says:

    This is a post that draws attention to a major, ongoing crisis in military culture which needs to be mentioned again and again.

    But this is how I read the last paragraph: “military rape happens primarily to stereotypically feminine women, who seek to draw the positive/negative attention of men by expressing their feminine gender roles, which include ‘flirting’ and playing wife.’ ”

    Before I comment I want to know if that was the expressed intention or not, because I don’t want to step on any toes.

  9. Fat Louie says:

    Pardon me, ‘express intention.’ English would help. Or even better, ‘I’m sure you have something in mind for that paragraph which is not what I read into it, please let me know what it was.’

    Thank you and peace.

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  12. karnythia says:

    @ Fat Louie

    My experience was that women who coded as butch were treated as one of the guys. That doesn’t mean they were immune to comments or some forms of harassment, but during my stint all of the women I knew that were attacked were relatively feminine in their appearance off-duty. This may have had much to do with the high number of misogynists I seemed to serve with (lots and lots of males in my MOS, very few women and many of these guys were people I really thought had no business outside of a jail cell) that felt that the women weren’t pulling their own weight when it came to our duties if they happened to look like they were female while they did it. This is not to say that these women were seeking to draw male attention by their dress or demeanor so much as they were trying to be themselves and be in the military at the same time. Did that make any sense? I’m answering while sleepy and I’m not sure I’m expressing myself clearly.

  13. Fat Louie says:

    Yes, indeed it did. I was sure there was some personal experience behind that particular formulation, so thanks for clearing that up. I was just concerned that the rape = power thing might be getting obscured behind the rape = sexual attraction thing. Because if you look at the numbers of sexual assaults in the military something has to be happening to the butch women too…. And of course trans men also get raped (although not in the military, where they are not allowed).

    Thank you for sharing your stories.

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  16. abw says:

    Karnythia, I understood what you meant from jump but I am glad you made it clear-even if you were tired. Fat Louie-I can see your point though since rape is often portrayed as being caused due to the appearance of the person raped.

  17. anonymousbw says:

    Deborah, coming from a small Southern town myself, I admit I get a little annoyed when someone from a metropolitan Northern area portrays a Southern town as especially backward as if Northern places are so above bigotry and hold a monopoly on Enlightenment when they don’t! Although some Southern small towns don’t help when they do stuff like this.But like you, I feel this incident well deserved the bad press it got. To be fair there are larger cities with problems of sex,gambling,etc much worse than this, but if the city is like you say-it was all there to see with the establishments. The older I get, I find people amusing ANYWAY that ALWAYS act like “unwholesome” don’t usually happen in their towns/neighborhoods/etc. Folks do stuff all the time-and you never know what folks do behind closed doors!

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