Female soldiers face sexual terror on the job

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WANTED: Women warriors to fight questionable wars in lawless foreign lands. Pay: bad. Conditions: worse. Risk of injury or fatality: high. Probability of sexual assault, possibly by fellow service member: one in three.

In an honest world, that’s how military recruitment ads might run of late. Here’s what I read buried in Bob Herbert’s column yesterday in The New York Times:

The sexual mistreatment of women in the military is widespread. The Defense Department financed a study in 2003 of female veterans seeking health assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they had been the victim of a rape or attempted rape during their service.

A third! There’s more:

The Associated Press reported in 2006 that more than 80 military recruiters had been disciplined over the course of a year because of sexual misconduct with young women and girls who had considered joining the military.

There continue to be widespread complaints from women about rape and other forms of sexual attacks in the military, and about a culture that tends to protect the attackers.

I thought about all this as I watched American Gladiators the other night. There’s something so enjoyable about watching muscular women swat each other with clubs. The only thing better is to watch them fall off high pedestals and into a pool of water. And hey, the men do it too, so it’s not sexist. It’s equal-opportunity pummeling.

Herbert’s point was that as a culture we’re so used to denigrating women and then ignoring their plight. So maybe the fuss over gender politics and Hillary (lately overtaken by the fuss over racial politics and Hillary) isn’t such a bad thing.

But back to the soldiers. As American Gladiators shows, we as a culture are getting used to the whole notion of women warriors (although I still can’t believe Hellga isn’t a man). We apply gender-neutral pronouns when referring to members of the military now. We’ve lost many a woman soldier in Iraq.

So how is it that we’re tolerating and even ignoring reports of the sexual terror many face? Can you imagine reading that job description above and still applying? Then, gods forfend, if you become the one out of three who’s assaulted, having to fight the system to even get your case investigated?

And they wonder why the military is struggling to recruit. A woman becomes a warrior for many reasons, and doing so she knowingly puts her life on the line. But on top of the dust and the separation from their children and the mortal threat, they shouldn’t have to go to work with the fear of rape.

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