BLANK: A Hidden 'War on Women'
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2012 00:03
The last several weeks have seen the topics of human rights and women’s rights explode to the forefront of national discourse. Through clever marketing, the non-governmental organization Invisible Children was able to make the atrocities of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. Celebrities from Taylor Swift to Chris Brown lined up to voice their support for the publicity campaign and demand that Kony be brought to justice. And just two weeks ago, the nation was rocked with a debate over reproductive rights when a Georgetown student received a misogynistic verbal lashing from a right-wing talkshow host. Both of these causes are salient issues that require our attention. However, there comes a time when our society’s focus on hot-button social issues and popular human rights causes blinds us to darker realities within our own national borders.
Among Americans, it is fashionable to proclaim support for the troops and admiration for those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Yet when it comes to actually matching rhetoric with action, too often our society falls short in supporting those who fight for our country.
One example of this is the pervasive sexual violence currently going on within the ranks of the U.S. military. As egregious as the phenomenon itself is the scant media attention this issue receives and the blithe indifference of our society and the government toward the victims of sexual violence in the military. In our society, there is ample media attention given to the “war on women” with regard to matters of reproductive rights. However, there is hardly a mention of the same war waged within the ranks of the U.S. military. Within the general population, the rate of women sexually assaulted stands at 17 percent. However, a 2006 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that between 23 and 33 percent of women in the U.S. Armed Forces have been sexually assaulted.
And these are just the cases that have been reported. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently estimated that the number of sexual assaults within the U.S. military was close to 19,000 in the year 2011 alone. This on its own is a moral atrocity that should evoke shame in Americans. However, even worse is the cold shoulder victims of sexual assault receive from the military. In 2010, fewer than 21 percent of the cases of reported sexual violence even went to trial. Of that number, only about half of the cases resulted in convictions. That is only a tiny fraction of the reported cases. The military itself admits that the overall number of attacks is probably six times the reported number.
This means that many victims of sexual assault in our military are forced into silence through fear, intimidation or shame. This contributes to an overall climate of permissiveness for sexual violence, with deadly consequences.
Consider the case of Private LaVena Johnson. On July 19, 2005, Johnson was found dead in Iraq. She was one of the first women to die in the Iraq and Afghan Wars. She was just 19 years old.
Her body was covered with bruises, scratches and bite marks. She had a broken nose, shattered teeth and a black eye. Her hand had been doused with flammable liquid and burned, and acid had been poured on her genital area. The Army ruled her death a suicide and told her family that her injuries were self-inflicted. To this day, the Army refuses to investigate the case further. When we refuse to speak out about these crimes yet demand that the perpetrators be held accountable, we become complicit in their commission as silent enablers.
There is something wrong when Americans are more agitated about access to birth control and atrocities overseas than they are about the rape and murder of our own soldiers. The women who put on the uniform and fight are braver and have done more to serve this country than most in our society. The least we could do is protect them from abuse at the hands of the military itself and demand justice on their behalf.
We — as a society — owe them nothing less.
Sam Blank is a senior in the College. IMPERFECT UNION appears every other Friday.