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Military Culture Punishes Rape Victims instead of Rapists

by Brandann Hill-Mann

Feminists are keenly aware that we live in a society that promotes a rape culture. I can think of few places that is this more obvious than in the rank and file of today’s military. Women in uniform are finding themselves, too many times, victims of sexual assault and rape — only to be re-victimized by the process of trying to get help and see justice served.

According to this BBC article, which I had a hard time reading without wanting to yell and cry in alternating bouts, a 2003 survey conducted by the University of Iowa found that a whopping 30% of 500 interviewed woman veterans said they’d been victim to an attempted or completed rape. The DoD estimates that in 2009 about 90 percent of sexual assaults and rapes went unreported, admittedly in part due to an restricted reporting option.

What else are we to expect, when we read stories like that of Marti Ribeiro, who felt she had to choose between reporting her rape and being punished herself? Hers is not a unique story, because it is all too common that a woman has to choose between being ostracized by her unit or command in seeking justice, or being herself punished for a minor offense, such as laying down her weapon, while her rapist goes free or is transferred. These stories fill my inbox, and if Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is telling the truth, I am not the only one receiving these messages.

These rapes and assaults are committed by men in uniform, yet it is the women in uniform who are punished, either by non-judicial punishments for minor things that should not prevent a courts martial for rape going forward, or by being forced out of their careers. The culture of masculinity within the military is a breeding ground for a rape culture that is running rampant in the ranks and sometimes is giving credence to those who would have us believe that women don’t belong in uniform to begin with.

But I know that being a woman in uniform or carrying your weapon or not doesn’t change the existing factor that contributed to rape. That weapon serves only as a catch-22 and the uniform might as well have been any outfit that is used to shame a rape survivor. The difference between a woman who is raped and one who isn’t is the presence of a rapist. As long as we allow rapists to remain in the ranks without punishment, non-judicial or otherwise, this is going to continue.

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