Opinion: Sexual assault in the military should not be tolerated
Special to the Tribune
Every year, an estimated 19,000 men and women in the United States military are forced to endure more than the bombs and gunfire we already ask them to face on our behalf. For these soldiers, the wounds of war include being sexually assaulted by the very people they are supposed to rely on for protection and comradeship in battle. In a foreign land, halfway around the world from their other support systems, these survivors of rape are asked to ignore their personal safety in unimaginable ways. And the continued disregard the military leadership gives such cases only serves to support the accused while further traumatizing the victim.
It is a horrible blight on our country’s character that of those 19,000 cases, only 8 percent are typically tried in military court and the rest are referred to the rapist’s direct commander for disciplinary action or dismissed all together. And despite all promises to the contrary, sexual assault in the military is on the rise with no greater consequences or ending in sight. Obeying what is truly the “don’t ask don’t tell” rule, most commanding officers give little more than a slap on the wrist to the rapist, while the rape survivor is often treated as an outcast for reporting the assault. In fact, many victims are forced to stay in the same military units as their attacker, resulting in further trauma and repeated attacks. All of which brings me to the conclusion that the military can no longer be trusted to police itself in this matter and that the federal judicial system is the only recourse these victims have. Why should a rapist who is a soldier be treated any differently than a rapist who is a civilian?
While we may be making some strides in the areas of artificial limbs and traumatic brain injuries, the attitude of the United States military regarding sexual assault is woefully behind the attitudes of the country it protects. The posters and trite sayings papering the walls and offices of each military branch are simply not enough to guarantee that rape victims will be sheltered and rapists held accountable. I am certain that during the first day of boot camp no one tells these selfless, hopeful Americans that sacrificing their lives for their country won’t be the only sacrifice they might be asked to make. And I am positive that military recruiters never tell their new recruits that friendly fire may be the worst kind of PTSD bullet they ever take. In many instances, our newly returning veterans are plagued by greater emotional injuries, such as those from sexual assault, than the military or our country was prepared for.
Every few years Congress erupts into fits of disgust and publicly chastises the chiefs of staff for their apparent lack of oversight and justice in the matter, but in typical Washington form, nobody in Congress or the White House actually seems to be willing to put their careers on the line and stop this madness. Meanwhile, nobody in military leadership seems to want anything more than a football stadium-size rug to sweep the mess under. The chiefs continue to hide behind military law as a way to protect the dirty secrets they don’t want the rest of the country to know.
They forget that disregarding a victim’s pain only makes them feel violated once again. They forget how differently they might react if it was their daughter, brother, sister, or spouse instead of a statistic on a report. They forget that forgetting is a luxury that a rape survivor doesn’t have.
Instead of forgetting, I am asking every American to remember. Remember that, without our soldiers, the Declaration of Independence would be a document a few idealistic men once wrote. Remember that without our soldiers, this country would still be divided into slave and free states. Remember that, without our soldiers, Hitler’s nightmare would be the world’s reality and 9/11 would be only one of a thousand days that the terrorists won.
If all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, then right now evil is winning this particular war. Each of us may only have one vote to cast and one voice to shout with, but together our votes and voices cannot be silenced. The men and women of our military have always protected us, now it is time for us to protect them.
For a listing of your U.S. senators and representatives, visit http://www.usa.gov/contact/elected
Tiffany Miller is a Tahoe resident and mother. Visit her website at http://mycrayonbox.org.
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