Women who serve the military deserve thanks

A female US Army (USA) Recruit (Soldier-in-training) negotiates the Confidence Course during the White Phase (weeks three, four, and five of nine) of Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina (SC). Many new recruits enter the military to serve their country, but are they prepared for the sexual issues they may face?

     In April alone, Georgia had two veterans die from suicide while visiting a veteran affairs hospital facility. As the epidemic continues, it’s important to understand the different types of psychological turmoil service members can experience outside of combat and warzones.

     Military recruits have one thing in common when they get to boot camp, everyone there wants to serve their country. For the most part, it’s hard to find a person who has signed up for a branch of service who isn’t eager to put on a uniform and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

     Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become mainstream when discussing veteran topics, however, that typically only applies to combat-related PTSD. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing giving veterans PTSD after serving their country. For years the military successfully covered up the overwhelming amounts of sexual assault and rape that takes place for service members.

     In 2010, 3,158 sexual crimes were reported to the U.S. Military, and out of those cases, only 529 reached a courtroom. How many sex crime cases went unreported in the military? Women are disproportionately more impacted by this than men.

     Every veteran deserves a thank you, but I think it’s more important for our nation to show our appreciation to the women who risk their lives by volunteering to serve our country. In 2011, women were reported experiencing sexual assault or rape more often than combat while serving. Women face a bigger risk than men from serving in the military because sexual assault can happen not only overseas but also stateside.

     To be clear, no veteran’s service is more honorable than the rest. However, I think the sacrifice is greater for women when they sign up to serve. The armed forces have more men than women by huge numbers, but the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reports that most sexual assault/rape cases they review are from female victims.

     The Air Force has the most women, and the Marine Corps has the fewest according to the Council on Foreign Relations; 21 percent of officers in the Air Force are women and 19 percent of their enlisted troops are women. Only 7.5 percent of the Marine Corps’ officers are women, with 8 percent of their enlisted troops being women.

     In the military, 30 percent of women claim to have experienced sexual crimes, however, only 8 percent of those go to court. The U.S. Military has its own court system, but often victims of sexual crime are charged with: adultery, conduct unbecoming of an officer, public intoxication and other crimes.

     These charges are used as scare tactics to discourage victims from reporting sexual crimes. The commander in the unit has all the power when a servicemember is court-martialed. The commander has the power to appoint the prosecutor, the defense, the investigator and the commander is over the police and the community on post. If the accused refuses to speak, the commanders usually turn the case on the victim.

     The military views rape and sexual assault as a hazard to serving the country. Each branch claims to take this matter seriously, however, we continue to see leadership within the military going after victims with criminal charges.

     Men experience sexual assault and rape in the military; however, it happens significantly less than it does for women. I think the number of male sexual assault victims could be higher, but men are less likely to report the crime. Both women and men suffer embarrassment and shame from reporting these crimes, but I think it’s safe to say women are more likely to tell somebody if they’ve been raped.

     As a veteran, I served in an all-male unit because, at the time, women were barred from serving in combat units such as artillery, infantry, combat engineering, armor, forward observing and other military occupational specialties (MOS).  The idea that sexual assault and rape only happens in mixed-gender platoons is total nonsense.

     When men are the only gender present, the alpha-males begin preying on the beta-males of the unit. Even before President Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” men were taking advantage of other men through disgusting methods.

     The U.S. military has a disturbing history of covering these crimes up. It went relatively unnoticed for centuries while this has likely been a problem from the beginning. By covering these crimes up, it forced women to discover an invisible war against them on their own. I find it ironic the military teaches you to always have battle buddies when you’re in a warzone, but historically expects women (sometimes men) to deal with this battle by themselves.

     Suicide is rampant in the veteran community, but the veterans that become victims of sexual crimes in the military are at higher risks of killing themselves. The best soldiers go absent without leave (AWOL) from surviving sexual assault. The military loses a huge amount of talent every year because they allow service members to rape other service members. If we can’t stop sexual crimes in the military, there is no hope of ending the national average of 22 veterans taking their lives each day.

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