THE BLOG

Why #passMJIA? 50 Facts About Sexual Assault in the US Military

11/15/2013 12:51 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Soraya Chemaly Feminist, writer, and satirist (not always in that order)

More than 70 members of the US Military encounter coerced and abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault or are raped every day. That's three every hour.

The National Defense Authorization Act will go to the Senate floor on Monday. As a result, sometime during the next week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's controversial Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), will be debated. MJIA has the support of 47 Senators and 38 bipartisan sponsors, but is still missing just 13 votes in order to pass without the risk of a filibuster. It's controversial because it proposes removing the prosecution of serious crimes in the armed forces (such as, but not limited to, sexual assault) from the chain of command.  Instead, cases will be handled by impartial military prosecutors, who would also be granted authority to decide which cases go to trial.

Senator Claire McCaskill has proposed an alternative approach to reforming that pre-trial process that would allow commanders to stay embedded, but deny them the right to overturn verdicts.  Both approaches embrace changes that would address common retaliation against survivors of assault who report crimes as well as requiring a dishonorable discharge for those convicted of sex crimes. 

The military justice system isn't working when it comes to sexual assault and rape.  It never has. If you understand the predatory nature of rape, the role that institutional tolerance plays in its perpetuation and the underlying misogyny of much of what is taken as healthy fraternity, to keep commanders in the process of adjudication.  

In the 22 years since the Tailhook scandal, where dozens of female service members were openly and publicly harassed and sexually attacked, we have seen the same problems over and over again. The 1996 Aberdeen scandal (in which female recruits were raped by their military superiors), 2003 Air Force Academy rape allegations and charges, and the 2012 Lackland investigations of multiple officers for the sexual assaults of more than 30 women recruits are only the visible periodic eruptions of a culture that exists day in and day out. We are only a few years past the end of "Don't Ask. Don't Tell," but still unable to publicly face the connections between homophobia, misogyny and widespread tolerance for this violence -- against both men and women -- within military ranks. 

50 Facts About Sexual Assault in the US Military

  1. In 2012, surveyed Active Duty Members of the military anonymously revealed 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact.  This included coerced and abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and rape -- all prohibited by military law.
  2. Women make up 15 percent of active-duty forces, but 47 percent of sexual assault victims.
  3. 13,900 of the victims were men.
  4. In one study, 37 percent of female veterans report being raped at least twice.
  5. Additionally, 14 percent of female veterans report experiences of gang rape.
  6. "Gee whiz, the level -- the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur." -  Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. on military sexual assaults at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting.
  7. About 75 percent of women who were assaulted did not report their attacks.
  8. 76 percent of men who were sexually assaulted did not report their attacks.
  9. The Pentagon estimates that 85 percent of sexual assault crimes go unreported.
  10. About 40 percent of victims in one study indicated that the perpetrator was their ranking officer.
  11. One-third of victims indicate that the perpetrator was a ranking officer's friend.
  12. 43 percent heard about negative experiences from other victims who had reported and 50 percent thought nothing would be done.
  13. During the reported period, only 302 service members faced punishment or dismissal as the result of being charged: Less than 2.5 percent of the total suspected number of acts of sexual assaults and rape.
  14. Fully 20 percent of survivors of sexual assault and Liz Trotta think that rape is "to be expected" in the military.
  15. "I was repeatedly drugged and raped by several of my superior officers over a nine-month period. ...There was no one I could turn to because, like so many victims of sexual assault in the military, my attackers were in my chain of command. So I kept my mouth shut." -  Testimony of Trina McDonald, who was 18 when she was stationed in Alaska and assaulted.
  16. 62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation.
  17. "They gave him the Military Professional of the Year Award during the rape investigation."
  18. Military victims of violent assault or rape are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than service members and veterans who have not experienced sexual assault and rape.
  19. Estimated number of pregnancies resulting from rape in the military: Unknown
  20. In the past 25 years, more than 500,000 people have been sexually assaulted in the military.
  21. 22 years (1981-2013): the duration of the law that denied women in the military insurance coverage for abortions while they served.  Jessica Kenyon was allegedly raped while stationed in Korea.  She didn't report the rape because she was "was trying to 'soldier on' and didn't trust [her] chain of command." She found out she'd been forcibly impregnated when a doctor told her commanding officer, who called her into his office to say she'd be charged with adultery (she was divorced, so was not charged). She could not get an abortion on base and was discharged.
  22. 79 percent of women serving in the military during the past 40 years report persistent experiences of sexual harassment.
  23. Feel "like a ho?" Question asked by Andrew Weinstein, the lawyer for one of three U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen accused of sexually assaulting a classmate. During 30 hours of grueling questioning she was also asked, "Were you wearing a bra?" "Were you wearing underwear?" and what her oral sex technique is.
  24. "The command's attitude towards rape is why most victims don't report rapes...The man did not get convicted even though he had raped multiple women in [military] law enforcement."
  25. The chances of a female veteran developing PTSD are nine times more likely if she has been sexually assaulted.
  26. Veterans with PTSD linked to military sexual trauma are significantly more likely to be denied disability compensation, especially male survivors.
  27. 66: Age of man who still has to sit with his back to a wall after being raped three times, 47 years ago at Lackland Air Force Base.
  28. 48,100 women and 43,700 men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, responding to a survey, acknowledged suffering from military sexual trauma.
  29. Heath X reported that he was gang raped, told he was lying, threatened, bullied, assaulted again and tried to commit suicide all during his first month in the service. He left, became homeless, was incarcerated and was diagnosed as suffering "intense psychological pain." He was taken to a Naval jail, and then returned to his post where he had to serve with the "gang of molesters" that had attacked him before. He was violently assaulted before and given the day off. He faced court-martial or dishonorable discharge. He was denied benefits because he was dishonorably discharged. He was 18.
  30. "Take an aspirin and go to bed." - Response to survivor of assault after being raped by her superior officer.
  31. 90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged.
  32. 80 percent of perpetrators and those accused are discharged with honor.
  33. "Rape is part of the job description," "jokes" a rape survivor when discussing her assaults and the environment in which they took place.
  34. Female veterans become homeless at a rate 3 to 4 times greater than civilian women, according to a 1996 study.
  35. 53 percent of a growing number of homeless female veterans have experienced military sexual trauma.
  36. "You're probably just a little slut." - One of many similar responses to Kate Weber's describing being raped on a fire escape and being then pushed off, falling two stories.
  37. Studies have found that men and women handle combat stress equally well, but that military sexual trauma -- avoidable and overwhelmingly inflicted by fellow soldiers -- is the only factor increasing the additional risk of PTSD among women. Military Sexual Trauma is the primary source of PTSD for women, whereas combat experience is the strongest contributing factor of PTSD in men.
  38. Black female veterans report that they experience more unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion. Veterans who are white women report higher incidences of sexual and gender-based harassment.
  39. Enlisted women report higher rates of harassment, coercion and assault than officers do. Because, we all know that rape is about accidents and sex and not entitlement and status and the opportunity they create.
  40. "If you tell anyone, I'll tell them you're a dyke." - What Michelle Jones' squad leader told her after he sexually attacked her.
  41. "Service members must report rape to their commanders. However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership."- Brian Lewis, who was 20 when he was raped while in the Navy.
  42. Men make up 85.5 percent of the armed forces.
  43. By the terms of the current military legal code of justice system a general's decision to overturn a jury verdict is the final word.
  44. Men in the military academies have a markedly higher propensity to believe in stereotypical gender roles and rape myths which typically include the ideas that survivors are lying and, if telling the truth, to blame.
  45. Men make up 92.1% of top-ranked military officers.
  46. "I have never met one person who has reported a sexual assault offense and kept her career."
  47. Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by a commanding officer. He also broke her jaw, leaving her with lifelong pain and serious depression. When she attempted to bring him to justice, she was informed by her commanding officer that she'd be court martial as a liar; the man, who granted that an assault happened, but said it did not include rape was restricted to his base for 30 days without pay for a short time. Maybe a book report would have been more effective.
  48. "It is hard to be a Military Sexual Trauma spouse -- not hard to be with a survivor, but hard because at times I feel so helpless to the trauma." Kori Cioca's husband.
  49. 55: Number of senators who have not said whether they support the Military Justice Improvement Act or not.
  50. "Sleep it off."
My Duty to Speak, a Military Rape Crisis Project, is filled with stories you'd probably rather not read.

But really, don't listen to a girl and a "lefty liberal," as someone just tweeted me mockingly.  Instead listen to three major veterans organizations.  The Vietnam Veterans of America, the Service Women's Action Network and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have formed a coalition to support MJIA.  As veterans they believe that Congress should pass MJIA for four reasons:

  • It strengthens military justice for both the victim and the accused.
  • It in no way inhibits commanders from preventing and responding to sexual assault.
  • The removal of the commander of the accused from the process does not degrade unit discipline, cohesion and combat readiness, none of which are tied to one person, but to collective effort and trust - something that clearly does not exist currently.
  • Additionally, they note that American allies have already made this change to no ill effects.
As John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America and Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network, explained last week, "Increasing service members' access to justice will not threaten military readiness. Instead, it will increase recruitment and retention and build confidence that our military reflects the ideals it is charged with upholding."  They are "not choosing survivors over our military; survivors are part of our military."

Whether it happens in the military or in civilian life, people, almost all men, rape because they can. It's a cultural entitlement. Our military chain of command has itself degraded any confidence that it is interested in changing either - the culture or the entitlement. In the end, this list of statistics is a litany of broken promises to people who've sacrificed their lives.

Amazingly, all 55 of the undeclared senators have phones, websites with email contacts and Twitter accounts.  They might like to learn more about this problem and what their constituents think before next week's vote. To follow the week's proceedings use #passMJIA.