Capt. Nichola Goddard, who in 2006 became the first female Canadian combat death, wrote to her husband that women working at bases in Afghanistan were often victims of sexual harassment or assault, and that in one week there had been six rapes at her camp.
“OK. Now for all the stuff I can’t say over the phone,” she wrote in a personal letter to her husband of three years, Jason Beam, on Feb. 3, 2006, a little more than three months before she was killed in a firefight with the Taliban, west of Kandahar.
“There were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night.”
Goddard, who had arrived in Afghanistan one month prior, said in that letter she was “pissed” because all the troops had been told about the rapes, yet because one of her peers forgot to tell her, she walked the 300 metres to and from the showers unaccompanied on her first night at camp.
“You know how freaked out I get about that kind of stuff,” Goddard wrote. “At least I had my pistol.”
Goddard’s letters are the basis of Calgary Herald columnist Valerie Fortney’s new book, Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard.
“Her husband was the only person she wrote about that to,” Fortney said in an interview with Postmedia News. “There’s so much secrecy. I wanted to go farther into that, but I came upon brick walls every time I asked other soldiers and officers about assault or harassment.
“It’s a big no-go zone. No one would even talk off the record about it.”
The letters don’t indicate who was sexually assaulted, if anyone, or who the perpetrators were, Fortney said. “But she does refer quite a bit in the letters about Afghan soldiers and civilians on the base who leered at her constantly.”
And while Goddard’s words don’t indicate that she ever felt physically threatened by her fellow soldiers, she did tell her husband that she suffered sexual harassment in the form of constant rumours that she was sleeping with men on the base.
The author said she was astounded when she read Goddard’s accounts. “To read this in her letters, from this woman who was stronger than most people I’ve ever come across in my life, to see her get really freaked out and intimidated by all the male attention, was shocking.”
The Canadian military police declined to comment on the situations Goddard described in the letters her husband.
“I didn’t read the letters, so I don’t know what she’s referring to exactly,” said Maj. Paule Poulin, spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the investigative arms of the military police. It files annual reports with statistics on sexual assaults across the military, but not specifically by location.
“But any time allegations are brought up to the military police, they are investigated to the full extent,” Poulin said.
Karen Davis, a retired lieutenant-commander and current defence scientist at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, conducted in-depth research in the late 1990s, looking at why certain women who served in the combat arms chose to leave.
“Their experiences were pretty horrendous, similar in terms of what (Goddard) made reference to — being ogled, and comments implying that sooner or later they’d have to provide sex to their peers,” Davis said.
“They described a highly sexualized environment and, in some cases, assault or rape.”