Nowadays women are becoming more and more powerful in different aspects of life and there is no reason for a woman to be turned away from the military as well. Hundreds and thousands of women are putting their lives on the line fighting for the freedom and security of their countries and it is now clear that women should have an equal chance to compete for any position in the armed forces. Women deserve to be able to serve their country, just as much as men are. They are capable of the type of split-second decisions that military jobs can require and are just as able to perform physically as men can.
But what does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted - for having gone out without her weapon? Or that, as Representative Jane Harman puts it, "a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire."
The Pentagon's figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving - twice the rate in the civilian population. The problem is even worse than that. The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, and it's no wonder. Anonymity is all but impossible; a Government Accountability Office report concluded that most victims stay silent because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip."
But what happens when these women do report the sexual abuse?
„As a child I'd always wanted to serve my country, so joining the U.S. Coast Guard was a dream come true, I loved the discipline, the camaraderie and helping others.”, - says Kori Cioca. „There was just one problem - my supervisor. From the moment I came under his charge, he singled me out for abuse and harassment. My appeals to his superiors fell on deaf ears, and one night he entered my room, hit me so hard he dislocated my jaw, and then raped me. When I stumbled out from my bunkroom to report the incident, I was told by my commander (a close friend of my assailant) that I was a liar and a "disrespectful non-rate." Five years since the incident, I am no longer in the coast guard and my jaw still has not received surgery, while my assailant continues to enjoy a successful military career”.
The real horror though is that this woman’s story is not unique. She is one of hundreds of thousands of women who've been raped by fellow soldiers while serving their country and then disbelieved and exiled. All too often, they are punished for reporting, and eventually, despite laudable careers, discharged.
Stephanie Schroeder joined the U.S. Marine Corps not long after 9/11. She was a 21-year-old with an associate's degree when she reported for boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
"I felt like it was the right thing to do," Schroeder recalls. A year and a half later, the Marines diagnosed her with a personality disorder and deemed her psychologically unfit for the Corps.
Anna Moore enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and planned to make a career of it. Moore was a Patriot missile battery operator in Germany when she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and dismissed.
Jenny McClendon was serving as a sonar operator on a Navy destroyer when she received her personality disorder diagnosis.
These women joined different branches of the military but they share a common experience:
each received the psychiatric diagnosis and military discharge after reporting a sexual assault.
CNN has interviewed women in all branches of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard, who tell stories that follow a similar pattern - a sexual assault, a command dismissive of the allegations and a psychiatric discharge.
The edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM-IV, defines a personality disorder as a long-standing, inflexible pattern of maladaptive behavior and coping, beginning in adolescence or early adulthood. That would mean women like Schroeder, Moore and McClendon had a pre-existing personality disorder when they joined the military. Someone with personality disorder tends to get fired from jobs, get in trouble with the law or at school or is unable to maintain relationships. These women have clearly been able to function. They've made it through basic training. They've made it through all the follow-on training. Many of them are deployed overseas in war, and they've done fine there. But, when they're sexually assaulted, and then report it, it seems very suspicious that the military would suddenly stamp them with a pre-existing condition that bars them from serving anymore.
Unlike the civilian world where rape victims can turn to an impartial police force and justice system for help, in the military, rape victims can only appeal to their command - a move that is all too often met with foot-dragging at best, and harsh reprisals at worse. As a result, only eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted, and far less result in significant prison time. The governments mustn’t ignore these cases, as the number of sexual assaults in the military is unacceptable. The women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to keep their countries safe. We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor. All the possible actions should be taken to protect the women’s rights in the military – one of the places, where these rights are most likely to be violated.
Sources: CNN, Times Magazine US, change.org
By Natalia Alekseyeva