Sir, permission to report a rape, sir

I saw The Invisible War on Independent Lens last night, and was duly and thoroughly horrified.

It’s about sexual assault in the US military. There’s a lot of it, and it goes almost completely unpunished. 20% of women are raped during their service, and 1% of men are. Because there are a lot more men than women in the military, the 1% is a big absolute number.

The military is exactly like the Catholic church in this respect – sexual abuse including rape is dealt with in house – with the major difference that in the case of the military that’s legal.

But guess fucking what – that doesn’t work. It’s in house, so the people who should be policing are instead protecting. Rape victims have to go to their superiors to report a rape, and their superiors don’t want to do anything about it.

There was a lawsuit about this…and the court ruled against the victims. Rape is an occupational hazard in the military, the court ruled.

There were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012, which is a 35% increase over 2011.

In units where sexual harassment is tolerated, the incidence of rape triples.

Let me repeat that.

In units where sexual harassment is tolerated, the incidence of rape triples.

One woman was called a whore and a slut and a walking mattress after she was raped. She was told she should deal with it like a marine officer: ignore it and move on.

Rape is obsessive. People who do it once do it over and over. It’s not about ordinary soldiers run wild, it’s about sexual predators who go into the military.

(That last item seems inconsistent with things like Tailhook.)

One more obstacle – soldiers can’t sue.

Add the Feres doctrine to the list of hurdles. In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court passed the doctrine in response to three cases of military members injured from causes unrelated to the battlefield — one man in a building fire from a malfunctioning heater, and two from botched surgeries. As such, they weren’t liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which at that time prevented individuals from suing the military for injuries on the battlefield. The military didn’t want to worry about getting sued for the very thing servicemembers had signed up for.

But with Feres, the court expanded the Tort Claims Act to ban servicemembers for suing based on any injuries that “arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service.” The Feres doctrine’s domain has stretched to prevent just about anyone from suing the military, including victims of rape. Servicemembers have been effectively blocked from civil courts, according to The Baltimore Sun.

“As strained and improbable as this analysis may be, its true danger has rested less in its immediate application to tort cases than in the foundation it has laid for a widely-metastasizing theory of intra-military immunity from any civil claim at all,” writes Rachel Natelson, Legal Director at Service Women’s Action Network, in Time magazine. “Over half a century later, Feres is not only a judicial invention, but, more alarmingly, the seed of an ever-increasing body of flawed doctrinal offspring.”

Judges have cited Feres to block the use of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from sexual harassment and assault.

Even the Catholic church doesn’t have that on its side.


  1. says

    In units where sexual harassment is tolerated, the incidence of rape triples.

    That’s worth repeating.

    The military is a very top-down organization. It’s not hard to change it, really – you just grab the top of the pyramid and push, down, hard. That means making correct behavior and awareness an item on fitness reports – make it clear that tolerating sexual harrassment is a career-killer and make the responsibility go up and down the chain of command. Of course, the US military just got a lesson in how the chain of command is irrelevant (regarding torture in Iraq, and many “friendly fire” incidents in Afghanistan) that amounts to “incompetence is tolerated.” That’s a bad message. But, holy shit, what about “take care of your team-mate” does not apply here?

  2. smrnda says

    I saw that film about a year ago and it was just horrible, even worse that people pretend that insiders can provide objectivity in case like this just because *they’re supposed to.* No, that never works, which is why outsider investigators are needed in any organization.

    All said, if rape is declared an occupational hazard in the military, that sets a disgustingly low standard for the behavior of service personnel. It’s certainly a phrase that nobody should be stating without feeling immense shame that such a low standard can be accepted.

  3. says

    She was told she should deal with it like a marine officer: ignore it and move on.

    Kind of makes you want to punch whoever said that in the mouth, really hard. So they could ignore it and move on.

  4. says

    All said, if rape is declared an occupational hazard in the military

    There was some nattering on NPR about the report and (I think it was Seigel) the NPR interviewer said something absurd, namely (paraphrasing) “We hold the members of the armed forces to a very high standard…” which made me want to scream. NO, THEY DON’T. That’s the problem. They SHOULD be held to a very high standard, but the only way to get people to meet a high standard is to HOLD THEM TO IT not just sit there hoping for the best and wringing your hands.

    The US military goes through cycles of lameness and demoralization, and upsurges in professionalism and jingoistic blindness. I was in during the 80s – the “post Vietnam army” and it was awful. Morale and discipline compared poorly to levies. We had NCOs who repeatedly failed minimum physical fitness standards, officers who turned their weapons in having re-assembled them incorrectly (I worked in the weapon room and, seriously, I never knew you could even get the bolt into an M-16 backwards, until I saw the company commander do it) – I’m pretty sure that a company of boy scouts would have been able to take on the USArmy, head for head, and win. So there was the great re-orienting and clean-up of the army that took place in the late 80s and early 90s. They really did a pretty good job of weeding out the losers and then used Iraq as a punching bag to boost morale – which, unfortunately, resulted in a huge top-heavy organization of chairborne rangers that wanted to get a CIB kill tag to further their career and then a staff job at the pentagon… Now, it’s run by horrible careerists (read “The Operators” if you want an idea what it looks like from the inside; it’s disgusting) They’ve been rotating the good people in and out of Iraq and then Afghanistan so retention is already becoming a problem. PTSD and suicide, not to mention traumatic brain injuries – it’s heading back towards a vietnam-era army, again. When your mission is repugnant and pointless, you’re going to lose the good people and be left with the REMFs and the crazies who are there for the adrenaline rush. Add to that the brain-drain where the few good people are flipping into mercenary outfits, and we’re going to have a military that is falling apart at the seams.

    If the pentagon brass had a clue, they’d use this as an issue to do some house-cleaning and get the deadwood out (like they did in the late 80s) and try to re-establish some esprit de corps around the issue. But the pentagon brass have no vision, either. Those that did left in disgust at having to work under Rumsfeld, those that remained, remained in hope of being the next Rumsfeld. It’s amazing how assholes at the top create an environment where you get assholes all the way down.

  5. says

    Actually, a Marine officer, if following training, would shoot someone in the nut sack.

    Just sayin’; “Turn the other cheek” is no where described in the training for Marines.

    Ripping the throat of your enemy out with your bare hands — that’s in the training. Slitting someone’s throat — that’s in the training. Shooting someone in the head — that’s in the training.

    Can’t think of a single area where “do nothing when you’re assaulted” is in a Marine’s training.

  6. brianpansky says

    how far do these occupational hazards go? if rape is an “occupational hazard”, what about the retaliation for it?

  7. Susan says

    My friend Michael was the only male rape victim in the movie, and his wife Geri Lynn was one of the producers and interviewed many of the women. She is now working on a movie strictly about MST (Military Sexual Trauma) involving men. These men have been very courageous in coming out. I know how much both Geri Lynn and Michael have suffered because of his PTSD, which was in part triggered when Geri Lynn was counseling first responders in NY after 9/11.

    The movie Justice Denied (about the male victims) will be out this summer, but I don’t know when it’ll b available on Netflix, etc.

  8. Susan says

    Oh, and for those who think Michael should have fought back … he was knocked unconscious and held down by three men, and when he woke he was being raped. Anyone who thinks rape victims are at fault for not fighting back are …. I won’t say it, because there isn’t a word that describes the contempt I feel for that person.

  9. says

    Wow; good to meet you. God, no, I didn’t think that at all – he broke my heart. I just about lost it in the part where he told about finally telling his wife, having never told anyone, and being sure she would leave him.

  10. Susan says

    Sorry, Ophelia, I should have made myself clear. I was addressing one of the commenters who suggested no “marine” would let someone abuse him like that. Unless I misunderstood!

  11. Robert B. says

    In units where sexual harassment is tolerated, the incidence of rape triples.

    Wow, can I repeat that? That’s the best one-line argument against sexual harassment I’ve ever heard.

    Well, maybe the second-best, after “Women are human.”

  12. Jade says

    I joined the Air Force at age 17 in 1978. After the first time I was raped (just turned 18), I was told by that was the price of thinking I could be female and in the military – either shut up or get out. Never bothered to report anything after that.

  13. Jade says

    Darn – no edit. Meant to add that having us too discouraged to report was their goal.

  14. says

    What Susan said about male rape victims fighting back is very true indeed
    Had this been a non sexual assault then the question of defending one self
    would probably not be so prevalent // This is asked of women too so while
    it may be well meaning there is still an implicit overtone that asquiescience
    to a rape is in direct proportion to the level of resistance which is complete
    nonsense because it does not take into accout the fear factor // And also it
    is even worse for men to publicly admit to it because it is seen as being an
    admittance to not being a real man – whatever that is – and this is of course
    made worse by the fact that one has been raped in the first pl;ace which of
    course may make some question the sexual orientation of the man himself
    which may be well meaning too but ultimately irrelevant // So it is also quite
    sad that Michael thought his wife would leave him if he told her // For this is
    the woman who loves him // Coming out about being raped is so very brave
    even moreso if one is a man and even more too if one is in a typical macho
    profession and it does not get any more harder than that // Not saying that it
    is easy for anyone in a different position as it is not but even so // Very brave

  15. freemage says

    Susan: The comments about retaliation/fighting back were in response to the comments made in the movie about how one of the women who was raped should just ignore it and move on, “like a good Marine officer”. It’s not victim-blaming; it’s a reaction to the go-along-to-get-along philosophy being pushed by the brass.

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