Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military

We talked to a whole bunch of former and current military servicewomen about this subject. Somehow, what they had to tell us was even worse than we expected.
Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military

Whenever there's a war, you always picture families back home worried sick about the kid they sent off to fight, imagining all of the terrible things that can happen to them at the hands of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. You don't think of them fretting over said kid getting sexually assaulted in the barracks by their own comrades ... even though that is far, far more common.

It's hard to nail down the numbers because it's estimated that 70 percent of the victims never report it, but the Pentagon estimates that one in three servicewomen are sexually assaulted -- twice the civilian rate. You may have heard how a bill to change how cases are handled has been the subject of bitter debate in the Senate, or how less than a year ago the Pentagon put new policies in place. But to say there's still a long way to go would be a grotesque understatement. (Fun fact: In 2014, the Army's top sex crimes prosecutor was charged with groping a female lawyer.)

We talked to a whole bunch of former and current military servicewomen about this subject. Somehow, what they had to tell us was even worse than we expected ...

Rapists Know Exactly How To Keep Victims Silent

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
US Army

"I was approached by a Drill Sergeant," says a woman we're calling Jane, "on a night when I was standing duty. Just had to stand in the hallway and be awake while everyone else was asleep. He told me I had a phone call at 2 a.m. I figured if someone's calling me here, it's an emergency. He began to accost me, telling me how it would be a shame if I was to lose rank while in basic training. I asked him what he was talking about, and he told me, 'You're going to have sex with me. If you don't, I'll make sure you're going to lose rank ... we'll get you NJP'd.'"

An NJP is "non-judicial punishment," which is how the military deals with crime and infractions without involving the cops. Jane was well-versed enough in military law and basic common sense to know that threat was bullshit. So Sergeant Douchecopter tried a different tact: He made it clear that if she resisted, she wouldn't make it back home alive. See, at that point, her training unit was doing training exercises in "orienteering," aka "hiking through the mountains without getting lost." His threat was to simply make sure she did. "Before every orienteering course they put us through, they'd say 'Don't get lost, privates die out here.' So he threatened that the next time we went out ... I'd get 'lost.' And I'd die of dehydration or starvation before anyone could find me."

US Army

In theory, that's up to 10 years in prison. You can probably guess what it was in reality.

She viewed that as a "credible threat," in her words. Non-consensual sex ensued. Again and again. "It happened regularly for the next six weeks. About halfway through boot camp, they gave us a class on sexual assault. They're talking about what you do to report. So I decide 'This is what I need to do.' But if I were to report him, I'd be stuck for a long time without finishing training. They'd have taken me out of training and put me in a holding platoon -- for people who can't continue training for legal or medical reasons. After the court martial, I'd then continue to wait until there was a platoon I could rejoin to finish training."

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
US Army

But what's the worst that six months to fucking 16 months of inactivity could to do to your career, anyway?

In other words, even if everything went perfectly (and remember, it would be her word against his), the process would still derail her career. Another of our sources, Hillary, came to the same conclusion when, while stationed in a war zone, she had to fight off a drunken male comrade who tried to wrestle her into his bed. "... it would have made my life harder in a place where my life was difficult enough. I was the only female in my platoon. I had been attached to an artillery battery (at the time an all-male occupation), so the people I was around were leery enough of my presence already. I never told anyone."

So if you haven't guessed already ...

There's A Huge Stigma Against Reporting Rape

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
US Army

Here is where we're going to get into the first absolutely shitastic Catch-22 every rape victim finds themselves in. Every system of justice allows the accused to face their accuser. It simply makes sense; you can't defend yourself against an accusation if you don't know what you're being accused of. So on the victim's end, staying silent opens yourself to getting assaulted again (or to someone else getting assaulted), but speaking out opens yourself up to retribution. One study by Human Rights Watch found that military victims of sexual assault are 12 times more likely to be retaliated against if they report the crime than the perpetrator is to see justice.

To address this, the military has come up with a middle ground, in which victims can report an assault and get help without going public or accusing the rapist directly. They're able to choose whether to file a "restricted" or "unrestricted" report of their assault. If you file "unrestricted," the assault is prosecuted through the normal justice system: You get a rape kit, the police get involved ... and everyone knows exactly what happened to you. But if you file "restricted," because you don't want everyone in the world to know you were raped, well ... here's how the military describes the "limitations" of filing a restricted report:

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military

Holy shit, why is there even an option in which a rapist isn't held accountable? By the way, that whole "may be capable" of assaulting more victims thing is a bit of an understatement. We know that, statistically, most undetected rapists are repeat offenders. And most repeat rapists will rape between five and six people. To be clear, the vast majority of men and women in the military are perfectly decent human beings who would never rape a fly. The epidemic of military rape is being committed by a small minority of extremely prolific predators. But only one in 20 sexual assaults reported to military authorities lead to jail time for the perpetrator.

So for those keeping score at home, that's over 60 percent of victims receiving additional
harassment vs. five percent of accused rapists who go to prison. Yay, justice.

So what does happen if you file "restricted"? Well, instead of dealing with the police, you deal with CID -- military investigators. You don't get a rape kit examination from a doctor (because a doctor would be required by law to report it to police). The victims are set up with "Uniformed Victim Advocates" -- basically other soldiers who've had a training class on dealing with assault victims. At that point, everyone finds out about your case anyway, rendering the whole thing pointless.

"Everyone knows who the UVAs are," says Jane. "And the military is like high school when it comes to rumors. It can destroy a case. In the Marine Corps there's something called the lance corporal underground -- all the young marines who are out there gossiping. In a male-dominated area, it turns into, 'Well she must have slept with him and regretted it.'"

In other words ...

Good Luck Convincing People It Happened

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Office of Military Commissions

"When I was in Kuwait in April 2003," says another source, "Susan," "I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was in the MP's (military police). He told me that there had been some assaults late at night in the shower trailers, and told me to pass it on to the other women in the unit. As I was doing so, I was pulled aside by a male superior and told (direct quote here), 'Stop telling lies. Soldiers don't do shit like that.'"

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

That's reassuring! Guess we can call off all those congressional hearings.

That brings us back to Jane, whom you hopefully remember from a few minutes ago, who was raped by her drill instructor and was too scared to report it immediately. Eventually, though, she graduated boot camp and attempted to report what had happened to her to a superior:

"That's when I started getting disillusioned. I sat down with him in his office, I told him my story, and he scoffed. 'What's wrong? Why would a Drill Sergeant risk his career to fuck a private?' That was the end of it. He refused to push my case forward ... and at that point, I didn't have any proof. Add to that I'm a 17-year-old private, and he's a Staff Sergeant and a combat veteran."

She's not the only rape victim who's had trouble convincing the authorities to believe her. In 1998, six women came forward to accuse Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKinney of sexual misconduct. SMA McKinney's lawyers alleged the women were all "out for revenge," and in a Cosby-like turn of bullshit, the jury decided that all six women must have been lying just 'cause.

US Army

Still, there was a happy ending ... for him. Full pension benefits when he retired.

Part of this is because ...

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military

There's A Shitty Attitude Toward Women In General

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The moment we talk about women getting sexually harassed in the military, a whole bunch of people roll their eyes and say, "Well duh, what did they expect? They're soldiers." That's not a fictional straw man opinion; "What did they expect" are the exact words used by a Fox News pundit:

If her words just sound like a loud, angry grinding, that's probably your teeth. Fooled us the first time, too.

It's a belief that's both fairly widespread and shockingly weird. After all, if the premise is that men simply can't be in close proximity to women without spasming into a rape frenzy, then why do we let girls and boys go to the same schools? Or live in the same apartment buildings? Or stay in the same hospitals? In every other area of life, we expect men to keep their shit together, even if they're mere inches away from a female. Why would the military be different? Hell, with all the tight discipline and oversight, why wouldn't it be better? Is it because being a soldier is traditionally a masculine pursuit, and where you have masculinity, you have to accept some rape along with it? Is that what we're saying?

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Cliff/Wiki Commons

We disgrace our heroes by permitting villains.

Or is it that old thing we see again and again, where what has traditionally been a male institution is suddenly "invaded" by women, and a whole bunch of shitty attitudes come out of the woodwork? Across the military, roughly a third of women experience some gender-based discrimination or harassment. As one source, Bethany, told us, "All of the females were either 'sluts' or 'lesbians.' We each had dozens of rumors created about us. We were denied opportunities to go out on the more dangerous patrols (or even routine patrols in Iraq) despite command policies that we were to be treated as equals. I've had everyone from the lowest private to company commanders make inappropriate comments to me and essentially imply that females in the military, or in general, were only useful for sex. My section sergeant (first-line supervisor) began a rumor that I had made sexual advances toward him. In reality, I couldn't stand the man."

But here's another Catch-22: Some of you reading that already have tagged Bethany as a whiner, proof that women are too fragile to hang with the dudes. But if she doesn't complain, the reaction is "See? Women like it when you do that shit!" If you're starting from the position that boys will be boys and it's the women's job to adjust, it's a no-win for them.

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Apparently, volunteering to spend years in life-threatening danger wasn't enough adjustment by itself.

Meanwhile, the guys who don't want to cause problems go too far in the opposite direction:

"On both deployments, I was ostracized at first because the males, most of whom had never worked with females in the military before, assumed that they couldn't so much as cuss or any female would make an EO complaint. I'm the last person in the world to have a stick up their ass; I'll curse and crack jokes with the best of them. So it took a few months for my fellow soldiers to become comfortable around me, and some never did. I can't tell you how many times I walked over to the place where everyone was hanging out only for everyone to suddenly get quiet.

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Did we mention that some aspects of military life are exactly like high school with tanks?

"After a while, a good number of them trusted me and considered me one of the guys. However, this meant that when a line did get crossed (a higher ranking NCO showed up at my door in the middle of the night claiming I owed him sex because he had given me a half bottle of vodka the night before -- to his credit, he did leave when I told him to and apologized the next day), I couldn't say anything about it, or all that trust I had built up would be gone, and I'd be the girl who makes EO complaints and nothing more."

And if you're like the Fox News contributor up there saying, "But none of this would have happened if those damned feminists hadn't insisted on cramming women into the platoon!" then there's something you should know ...

Male Rape Is A Major Problem, And Completely Ignored

Most Victims Are Men: 5 Realities Of Rape In The Military
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Even if you've been following this issue in the news, we bet you've never heard this stat before: Most victims of sexual assault in the U.S. military are men. That's right -- at least 14,000 male soldiers are raped every year. Now, the average male is still at far less risk of assault -- there are more total victims because there are way more men in general. But we're going to guess that's about 14,000 more male rapes per year than you'd have previously assumed.

Our source Ashley was a nurse in Camp Bucca, Iraq, and she saw the gut-wrenching consequences of this. "I think one month we had six males come out with traumatic injuries because of sexual assault." Male soldiers are primarily assaulted by other men, and the assaults they face tend to be more violent. "I feel like with the male assaults, there was a lot more anger ... there'd been instances in the past where somebody'd been hit in the back of the head by a sandbag and then raped. The males with sexual trauma had more aggressive-type injuries. I feel like a lot of the male rapes, from other male soldiers, were motivated by anger -- and maybe like a dominance factor."

And holy shit, you think it's hard for a woman to come forward? At least society recognizes that female rape victims exist. You've probably noticed that none of our sources for this article were men. That's not by design. We tried to find male victims who'd talk to us, but couldn't. So let us try again: If you are a man who was sexually assaulted during your time in the military, then please reach out to us. Our culture's truly shitty attitudes toward sex have made rape one of the only crimes that make a victim feel the shame that should be felt by a perpetrator. But you're not weak, you weren't asking for it, and letting others know they're not alone can only help.

And let's be frank here: If ISIS released a video depicting themselves sexually assaulting a captured American soldier, the nation would demand their entire hemisphere get nuked. So when the same thing happens at the hands of a fellow American soldier, the victims deserve better than "What did they expect?"

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Being aware of the issue is the only way we start to do something about it. That's why we urge you to check out 8 Ways The Legal System Screws Rape Victims (Like Me) and 5 Things I Learned As A Sex Slave In Modern America.

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