To readers of this blog, the fact that rape of women in the U.S. military is rampant should not be news. But just in case you needed more evidence, HuffPo has information on new figures that have just been released.
The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That’s about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.
Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged.
The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported _ a figure similar to estimates of reported cases in the civilian sphere.’
[. . .]
That increase includes a jump in cases from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to 165 from 131 the year before.
Congresswoman Jane Harman, a congressional critic of the military’s handling of sexual violence, said the statistics show the problem is still rampant.
“While the report shows modest improvement, we’re far from Mission Accomplished,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”
And sadly, that last point is one that has been true for some time.
The Pentagon claims that the increase in numbers is due to an increase in reporting rates, not an increase in rapes. I sure as hell hope that they’re right, but I’m skeptical, especially since I couldn’t find any news sources reporting what exactly the Pentagon has done to encourage more victims to report.
What I found instead is Pentagon officials saying that the big problem with rape in the military isn’t the fact that rapists are serving in our armed forces and that women are being raped and personally (physically and emotionally) injured, but rather that rape victims’ personal injuries mean compromised military effectivness:
Couric asked Michael Dominguez, principal under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, how big a problem sexual assault is in the military.
“Sexual assault injures troops,” he said. “Injures readiness. So regardless of the numbers we have, it is by definition too much.
While I have no doubt whatsoever that rape does indeed compromise military effectiveness, I am also highly unimpressed, not to mention lacking real hope for change, when that’s what it takes for anyone in a position of power to sit up and take notice. And when it’s the first thing to pop out of an official’s mouth when asked about it, rather than the far more appropriate answer: “Rape is a horrific crime and the U.S. military should not ever tolerate having rapists in its ranks. So regardless of the numbers we have, one rapist is by definition too much.”
Also reported is the ugly truth that of 2,280 cases where victims provided full accounts and evidence, only 317 cases were referred for courts-martial and 247 were referred for nonjudicial punishment. Which doesn’t sound a whole lot like “please, if you are raped, report it, and we swear we’ll take you seriously!” to me. Actions speak louder than words. It’s a cliche for a reason.
So while I’m open to being proven wrong — indeed, I would absolutely love, love, love to be proven wrong in this instance — I’m still rather convinced that the military is not doing nearly enough to stop rapes being committed by soldiers. And I am therefore also rather skeptical that the increased reporting is good news about victims being more willing to come forward, rather than bad news about how there are more victims period.