A military outpost towered over a small Afghanistan town. The only sound heard was a single cell phone ringing. Rebekah Havrilla and her team leader stood in the face of death: The phone was a detonation device, capable of blowing up not just those two individuals but also a hill packed full of land mines. Luckily, that device was not properly wired, but this incident still exemplifies the perils of the job.
Our military personnel have to face dangers similar to that every day, non-stop. During their combat tours, they have no rest, no breaks. Their workload doesn’t begin at 9am and it definitely does not end at 5pm. Soldiers from our own backyard, in Hawaii and Alaska, to Afghanistan and Iraq are at constant threats from terrorist bombings, ambushes and threats from groups such as ISIS and FARC. Yet the biggest threat to our military personnel such as Rebekah isn’t a foreign group–it’s their own colleagues, teammates, and comrades, our own military.
Sexual assault in the military has become much too commonplace, to the point where people have started deeming these events ordinary and sadly, have grown accustomed to it, not even batting an eye whenever it occurs. In December of 2011, Judge O’Grady dismissed a lawsuit filed against Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates by 28 military personnel accusing them of sexual assault and stating that sexual assault is an occupational hazard. His reasoning was that sexual assault in the military is simply “incident to service.” Additionally, in 2012, Liz Trotta of Fox News stated that women should “expect” to be raped in the military due to “close contact.” Trotta explains that “the mission of the Army, and the Navy, and four services was to defend and protect us, not the people who were fighting the war.” Both of these statements emphasize one common yet disgusting belief: that rape is justified and the best thing to do is to just look the other way.
This way of thinking has created war zones right in our own home. Today, our soldiers such as Rebekah aren’t just in a war with an external enemy; they are being threatened by a much worse enemy, people they thought were their friends, people that they were supposed to fight beside with on the battlefield: Rebekah Havrilla was attacked by her team leader, a Sergeant 1st Class who was on the hilltop with her, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. She was later raped, by another colleague.
Her story is all but unique: Today, one in three women veterans admit to being raped while serving. A Pentagon survey showed that just in 2012, 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted in the military. The true danger is emphasized when we see that women in the military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire: According to The Huffington Post, a servicewoman was nearly 180 times more likely to have become a victim of sexual assault in 2012 than to have died while deployed during the last 11 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, the true enemy isn’t out there in Iraq or Afghanistan or North Korea. It’s right here at home.
In 2012, even though about 26,000 military personnel were sexually assaulted, only 3,374 cases were reported. That’s an atrociously low rate. It didn’t get better in 2013: A report from the Pentagon showed that 5,061 troops reported cases of assault, and out of those, a mere 484 cases went to trial and only 376 victims truly got closure. Less than 10% of the reported cases actually led to a conviction. Yet 90% of the assault victims were involuntarily discharged.
If so many people get assaulted, why does no one care? Why doesn’t anyone report it and why in the world does the traitor not pay for what they did? The reasons are understood by looking at just two cases. Kate Weber was raped one week into her deployment in Germany. She was 18. Unlike thousands of others, she actually reported the case. And after she reported the attack, she was stalked and harassed. Weber stated that she “just lost everything” and “he [the assailant] was able to get away with it because the chain of command allowed it.” Another Air Force member Jessica Hinves was raped by a member of her squadron at Nellis Air Force Base. Her case was thrown out the day before the trial was set to actually take place.
The fact is, the system in place simply does not work. Attacks that are reported are simply hidden and forgotten about. The cases are never tried. Instead, the victim is shamed and the one that is ultimately punished. This has caused the majority of rape victims to not step up. It’s so bad that instead of looking for justice, they find it easier to stay in the shadows and let the assault slowly eat away at them.
The effects these attacks have on the victim and their families are indescribable. Sexual assault gets to the person; it causes enormous stress and leads to PTSD, which truly ruins lives. Carri Goodwin was sent home with a bad conduct discharge. She faced severe retaliation after reporting her rape to her Marine superiors. Five days after going home, she died from drinking to excess. Her father, Gary Noling, stated that “It destroyed my family.” Thus, instead of concentrating on the enemy, military personnel like Rebekah, Kate and Jessica along with and thousands of soldiers have to endure unimaginable things. Every night, they have to sleep in fear of what their comrades might do.
Military soldiers have enough to enough to worry about while on the battlefield. Their comrades and fellow patriots shouldn’t be reason for concern. They should look to their colleagues for support not look at them in fear. Without an effective way to combat the situation, the prevalence of sexual assault in the military is only increasing. Not dealing with the situation would be a national disgrace.
(Title image via).