Women in the Military

“A 2003 report financed by the Department of Defense revealed that one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped. Perhaps even more tellingly, a small study financed by the V.A. following the gulf war suggests that rates of both sexual harassment and assault rise during wartime. The researchers who carried out this study also looked at the prevalence of PTSD symptoms—including flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing and round-the-clock anxiety—and found that women who endured sexual assault were more likely to develop PTSD than those who were exposed to combat”

I have read this report and it IS disturbing, particularly when the data consisted of women veterans from ALL BRANCHES and the figures were the same, with 1/3 having experienced consistent sexual harassment or rape. The following report in “Women’s War” was also disturbing, in that Suzanne Swift went AWOL to avoid being sent back to Iraq to work under the same sergeants that she claimed had subjected her to sexual abuse.

Below are excerpts from three important articles on this topic. Please follow the links and read the full articles. We will add reposts of new articles to this category as they become available. ~ Don Chapin

The Women’s War

by SARA CORBETT, NYT, March 18, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/magazine/18cover.html?pagewanted=all

A particular, but not unusual case involved Suzanne Swift of Eugene, Ore., who refused to re-deploy to Iraq when she found she would be serving under the same sergeants whom she had previously suffered sexual harassment.

“Despite the fact that military procedure for dealing with AWOL soldiers is well established – most are promptly court-martialed and, if convicted, reduced in rank and jailed in a military prison – Suzanne Swift’s situation raised a seemingly unusual set of issues. She told Army investigators that the reason she did not report for deployment was that she had been sexually harassed repeatedly by three of her supervisors throughout her military service: beginning in Kuwait; through much of her time in Iraq; and following her return to Fort Lewis.”

“(Suzanne ) Swift made it clear that since enlisting in the Army when she was 19, she’d grown accustomed to hearing sexually loaded remarks from fellow enlisted soldiers. It happened ”all the time,” she said. But coming from her superiors, especially far away from the support systems of home and against a backdrop of mortar attacks and the general uncertainties of war, the overtones felt more threatening. ”You can tell another E-4 to go to hell,” she said, referring to the rank of specialist. ”But you can’t say that to an E-5,” she said, referring to a sergeant. ”If your sergeant tells you to walk over a minefield, you’re supposed to do it.”

“I went to see Swift last July as I was immersed in a series of interviews with women who’d gone to Iraq and come home with PTSD. I was trying to understand how being a woman fit into both the war and the psychological consequences of war. The story I heard over and over, the dominant narrative really, followed similar lines to Swift’s: allegations of sexual trauma, often denied or dismissed by superiors; ensuing demotions or court-martials; and lingering questions about what actually occurred.”

Women Vets: A Battle All Their Own

By Barry Yeoman, November 9, 2013, http://www.parade.com/225844/barryyeoman/women-vets-a-battle-all-their-own/

“Female troops face the same problems as their male counterparts, including traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But they also deal with problems unique to their sex. According to the VA, between October 2011 and September 2012, more than 20 percent of its female patients who’d served during Iraq or Afghanistan operations reported having experienced military sexual trauma—defined as sexual assault or repeated threatening sexual harassment. Women are also more likely to be single parents, the Institute of Medicine found, making it harder to juggle their military and family obligations. And their marriages are more than twice as likely as men’s to end in divorce. Yet women often feel pressure to bear those stresses without complaint. ‘You don’t want to be the girl in the army that looks weak,’ says Mata, ‘because they already think that you’re weak.’”

While at War, Female Soldiers Fight to Belong

by Benedict Carey, May 24, 2015  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/25/health/while-at-war-female-soldiers-fight-to-belong.html?emc=edit_th_20150525&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=65263693&_r=0

“One of the biggest adjustments the United States military attempted during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was cultural: the integration of women into an intensely male world. Women made up about 15 percent of the force during these two wars, compared with 7 percent in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and they saw more combat in greater numbers than ever before.

Yet even though women distinguished themselves as leaders and enlisted soldiers, many of them describe struggling with feeling they do not quite belong. For men, the bonds of unconditional love among fellow combatants — that lifeblood of male military culture — are sustaining. But in dozens of interviews with women who served, they often said such deep emotional sustenance eluded them.”

“The psychic distress is measurable. More than 38 percent of women report depressive symptoms after deployment, compared with about 32 percent of men, according to a study published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Women are 10 times more likely than men to have reported serious sexual harassment. Suicide has been an enormous issue across the military, particularly for white men. But Army data show that the suicide rate for female soldiers tripled during deployment, to 14 per 100,000 from 4 per 100,000 back home — unlike the rate for men, which rose more modestly.”

“As social scientists have sought to understand the increased rates of depression and suicide among enlisted women, they have looked at research on other groups at the margins of a culture, whether blacks in the Ivy League, whites attending a nonwhite high school — or women in male professions. And they have found that the mental costs borne by those in the minority are similar.
Members of such groups tend to report as many insults and bad days as members of the dominant culture. But compared with the majority, they feel far less secure.“

“Mixed into this odd displacement were ever-present sexual undercurrents. Many women said that at night, on base, they would not go to the bathroom without an escort. Lieutenant Wilson said a noncommissioned officer in her unit continually made sexual jokes that made her so anxious she thought about reporting him. She decided against it, but the threat lingered.

In fact, almost any consorting with a male soldier was enough to feed an appetite for gossip that rivaled high school, veterans said. “What made it unbearable were the moments you felt you couldn’t socialize or bond with the men after a hard day — they were mostly hard days — because of the rumors that would fly,” said Susanne Rossignol, who served in Baiji, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005.”

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