“The Private War of Women Soldiers”

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Read this article at Salon, by Helen Benedict, and consider how men who rape fellow soldiers are likely to be treating Iraqis. Here is an excerpt:

As thousands of burned-out soldiers prepare to return to Iraq to fill President Bush’s unwelcome call for at least 20,000 more troops, I can’t help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. And I don’t mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear.

I mean from their own comrades — the men.

I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.

The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, for example, where U.S. troops go to demobilize, told me they were warned not to go out at night alone.

“They call Camp Arifjan ‘generator city’ because it’s so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can’t be heard,” said Abbie Pickett, 24, a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Yet, she points out, this is a base, where soldiers are supposed to be safe.

Spc. Mickiela Montoya, 21, who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, took to carrying a knife with her at all times. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” she told me. “It was for the guys on my own side.”

Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. The military’s definition of sexual assault includes “rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts.”

Unfortunately, with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, these measures are not keeping women safe. …

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0 Responses to “The Private War of Women Soldiers”

  1. bob coley jr says:

    this post and the related info is a sad, sad comment on us as a society. This kind of two-faced aproach is the kind of thing that belittles us all. Our enemies can say “look, the U.S. DOES IT TOO!” Evolve or perish. If we wish to inhabit higher moral ground, we must live and think on that plane.

  2. browneyedgirl65 says:

    As I read articles like this, what I keep wondering is this: what’s going to happen when all these sick bastards come home? It seems to me women are going wind up learning to recognize and stay the hell away from male veterans.

    The consequences of this war, abroad and at home, are going to be with us for generations. Heck, I know childhood abuse survivors whose fathers were PTSD survivors from Vietnam that are more than a little wobbly to this day…

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Yeah, it’s scary to think about. Even the soldiers that hold on to their humanity are going to be traumatized for a long time to come.

  4. Marcia McCormick says:

    Two things about rape in the context of war jump out in this story. One, American males are acculturated to sexually act out when under this kind of pressure (as are males in many other cultures), or the sexual violence against their fellow soldiers wouldn’t happen. And, two, where are the efforts in the military to help men learn how to deal without raping their fellow soldiers? Maybe it’s simply because the author interviewed women, but it seems like the men’s conduct is accepted at least as inevitable if not wholly embraced. The norms of masculinity, including the myth of the unstoppable rapist, are only magnified to a sort of hyper-masculinity here.

    I remember feeling somewhat ridiculous arguing to the international community that sexual violence was bad and a violation of international humanitarian law during the conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. At the time I thought we should have been beyond that. And now, more than a decade later, we’re in the same spot of official tolerance in the context of war. Every time I think we’ve gotten somewhere in this culture on the issue of sexual violence, it comes back to this. Maybe our collective surprise is the sign of humanity I keep hoping for.