Rape in the Ranks
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: In the last year, some 67,000 service women were deployed in the Iraq war, often coming under assault from the enemy. But now that the female war veterans are coming home, more than 100 of them have come forward to talk about another kind of attack: Sexual assault from within their own ranks. After the Denver Post published a series of stories about the assaults, the Pentagon launched a major investigation and Congress has held hearings.
Capt. Jennifer Machmer recently told the Congressional Women’s Caucus that twice she was sexually assaulted — once by a military chaplain in Germany, and then by a noncommissioned officer in Kuwait. After the assaults, she said developed post-traumatic stress disorder for which she is now being treated.
CAPT. JENNIFER MACHMER, U.S. Army: The aftermath of reporting it has been terrifying. I am being medically boarded out of the military. I have been offered 30 percent temporary retirement.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Meanwhile she says the man who assaulted her in Kuwait is still in the Army.
CAPT. JENNIFER MACHMER: He never received punishment. He is now serving at Fort Knox, Kentucky, finishing out his career, while I’m here being raped of my career.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At an earlier Armed Services Committee hearing, the top brass from all four branches of the military assured senators that their position on rape of women in the military is unequivocal.
ADM. MICHAEL MUELLEN, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy: Let me state up front, sexual assault of any kind is intolerable and corrosive to the good order and discipline of our Navy. I want to be clear on this topic. This is not in my Navy. It is a crime, and it is unacceptable.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But retired Army Brig. Gen. Pat Foote, who in the 1980s became the first woman to command a military brigade in Europe, says at the lower ranks, sexual assault often is accepted.
BRIG. GEN. PAT FOOTE: People say things at the top that sound good. It does not emanate down through the ranks to the squad leader as being the gospel according to the four stars. And if you don’t do it the right way, we’re going to get rid of you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: General Foote was co-chairman of the investigation into sexual assault at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds nine years ago. She says too many military men still do not think of women as equals.
BRIG. GEN. PAT FOOTE: Women have always and continue to be in the main, looked at by the men of the military as less capable than they, not as strong. As long as we have a military culture that does not imbed in its fabric respect and dignity for every man and woman who wears the uniform on an equal basis, we’re going to come back to these scenarios time and time again.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Women now make up 15 percent of the armed forces, and many Pentagon officials believe the military has made great strides in treating women with more respect and equality. Last month, the Pentagon released a survey it says showed overall reports of sexual harassment and sexual assaults have declined in recent years, from 6 percent down to 3 percent.
SPOKESWOMAN: What do you think the odds are that the victim knew the assailant? That they were acquaintances of some sort? Greater or less than 50 percent of the time?
SPOKESWOMAN: Greater or less than 70 percent?
SPOKESWOMAN: Okay. About 74 percent of the time.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: New classes, like this one held recently at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., are now mandatory for new Marine officers.
SPOKESWOMAN: Know how to handle the situation. Be sensitive to the victim at all times.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They’re designed to teach officers how to prevent sexual assault, and also what to do if it occurs. David Chu is the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He says when there is inappropriate behavior, action will be taken.
DAVID CHU: In all cases where wrongdoing is involved, even if there isn’t a formal court martial, we will deal with the miscreant in one way or another. We have broad powers to do so and we will act.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Nevertheless, Chu does think the military could probably do a better job providing services for victims of sexual assault.
DAVID CHU: Do we provide sufficient counseling? Do we provide sufficient support? Do we see this — this I think is the ultimate point here — do we see this as an objective in its own right? In other words quite apart from any judicial proceeding, which is a parallel but separate track, have we cared for the person who’s been injured well enough? And that I think is the near to intermediate term problem.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Captain Machmer says the lack of available services is appalling.
CAPT. JENNIFER MACHMER: You have to reach out for your own counseling, your own help. I should have received a lot more support, especially from my immediate chain of command. None of my chain of command ever contacted me in the hospital.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Christine Hansen, a victim’s advocate who testified with Machmer, agrees.
CHRISTINE HANSEN: Your ability to access care and services in a timely manner and appropriate care and services is very, very limited.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That charge is not new. For years women who have been raped in the military have complained they didn’t get adequate medical care immediately after their sexual assault, care that might have prevented more long-term psychological problems. Now here at the VA Medical Center in Denver, women with those kinds of long-term problems are getting help. Debora Johnson said she was gang-raped 35 years ago when she was a member of the Women’s Army Corps.
DEBORA JOHNSON: Nobody believed I was raped. I was pretty much told I was a liar and that I was a slut and a whore. I was told that to my face.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The women all suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which they say is the result of not receiving proper mental health treatment after they were attacked. Johnson has a service dog at her side at all times to help with her panic attacks. Valine Demos was serving in the Women’s Army Corps when she was held at gunpoint for eight hours and raped on base in San Antonio, Texas. She says 30 years later, she still relives that trauma.
VALINE DEMOS: You go along in life and you get your degrees and you think everything is fine. And then you get a period of time where you have time to think, and the trauma comes back as if it’s happening today. You have flashbacks, and it’s like reliving, physically as well, emotionally. Your whole body feels like you’re being raped again. And you have the symptoms, physical symptoms appear, and it starts destroying your life.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Only one of the women is currently holding down a job; they all have had problems with relationships. Last year, the VA released a survey that showed one-third of all female veterans who sought treatment report they had been raped during their military career. Fourteen percent said they were gang-raped, and a majority said they waited years before seeking help. Fran Hudson, an officer in the Women’s Army Corps, waited 25 years.
FRAN HUDSON: It wasn’t something you talked about, and you sure didn’t tell. And a lot of our training that we got was pretty clear. I was an officer, and in officer training we were pretty much told that “you got yourself into it, you get yourself out.”
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Orlinda Marquez was an officer in the army in the late 1980s.
ORLINDA MARQUEZ: Your peers begin to turn against you. Your command turns its back on you. This business that “we take care of their own,” once you’re the victim, you’re no longer “their own” that they take care of. They prosecute the victim while they protect the offender.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Pentagon’s official review of the current wartime assaults in Iraq and Kuwait is due at the end of the month.