Friday, March 21, 2008

Sexual Harassment Grievances During War: Military Bases, Rural Places, and Silent Spaces

There have been a number of well-known incidents of women in the military reporting sexual harassment, assault, or rape by superior officers and officers of the same rank in the Military. The most notable of which is the Tailhook convention where 26 women were assaulted by naval officers. This incident represented yet another cover-up, possibly because most organizations do not want these incidents brought to light, but also possibly because of the need to keep morale up for whatever war is currently happening.

Unfortunately, in times of war, the call to war and the efforts needed to promote and support military personnel tend to silence these types of incidents. Because upper level officials tend to “silence” these grievances, it is worth examining the grievance procedure and where there is room for administration “muck up,” or where it is fairly easy to “look the other way.”

In 2007, a survey conducted by the “Veterans Association reported that 30 percent of female veterans had been victims of sexual assault, and 14 percent of those had been gang raped and another 20 percent raped more than once. Sexual assault remains under reported in the military, but estimates based on surveys like this place the rate at anywhere from three to 10 times that for female civilians.” Susan Douglas writes that “various reports indicate that women in the military today continue to endure widespread harassment and even sexual assault; it just happens in tents and outposts instead of the Las Vegas Hilton.” See Douglas article. So why are women vulnerable to these attacks and what is the grievance procedure in general and what are the accommodations for those in remote, rural locations?

Some studies have suggested that the legal restrictions of preventing women from certain “combat” positions contributes to an atmosphere that views women as inferior. Other factors such as attitudes towards gays and lesbians contribute to women’s inferior status. Women who turn down sexual propositions are often accused of being lesbians and sometimes ensuing investigations result, most likely as retribution for the rejection. See Military Issue paper. Since the Iraq war, 37 women returning have sought sexual assault counseling. See Amnesty.

The first problem with the grievance procedure is the chain of command preference for grievances. Generally members who have been harassed have 2 days to file. She can place an informal complaint with a superior officer (who might have been the actor), or medical officer, or chaplain. “If a military member thinks the resolution of her sexual harassment complaint is unjust, a “complaint of wrong” can be filed under Article 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The “complaint of wrong” may be prepared with legal assistance, and is forwarded through the chain of command to the person exercising general court martial authority over the commanding officer. The officer exercising jurisdiction conducts an inquiry, takes “proper measures for redressing the wrong,” and forwards a report of the complaint and proceedings to the Secretary of the service department for review and final action.” See Military Issue paper.

A second problem with the grievance procedure is that in rural or combat areas, there might be fewer people to voice a formal or informal complaint to. In the event of “command rape,” the only superior officer to report to might be the perpetrator. In rural areas, there might not be a chaplain or medical professional to file a complaint with. In an Amnesty report, entitled "Camouflaging Criminals," At Camp Udairi, a rural training facility in Kuwait, close to the Iraqi border a soldier related her story with reporting her rape. "A rape examination was performed, but she received no treatment for the injuries to her head, back and knees, she said. After the exam, a commander drove her to another camp, where she was allowed to stay. She was interviewed for about three hours, she said. For the first few days, she said, a fellow woman soldier from her old camp remained with her. Then the woman had to leave to resume training, and Danielle was left alone. Her supervisors denied her requests to see the chaplain, and she was not given counseling for sexual trauma, she said." She was eventually granted leave and put in for medical discharge, after help from a civilian advocate.

However, for those whose grievances were not addressed, those returning for 2nd tours might experience PTSD resulting from not only those experiences of war, but also from rape or sexual harassment. For some, the only option is refusal leave facing court martial. See. Suzanne Swift.

These cases tend to favor the idea that in rural areas, responsible officers will look the other way from sexual harassment grievances. Unfortunately, the message to women soldiers in combat and rural areas is: isolated areas and combat zones will only make the grievance process more difficult, the military is less likely to follow administrative justice procedures in isolated areas.

Many keep quite until after they leave the military.

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