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The private war of women soldiers By Helen Benedict (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military/?source=rss)  Many female soldiers say they are sexually assaulted by their male comrades and can't trust the military to protect them. Buspar in canada "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, buspar in canada" says one woman. Buspar in canada "It was for the guys on my own side." As thousands of burned-out soldiers prepare to return to Iraq to fill President Bush's unwelcome call for at least 20, buspar in canada000 more troops, buspar in canada I can't help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. Buspar in canada And I don't mean only the hardships of war, buspar in canada the killing of civilians, buspar in canada the bombs and mortars, buspar in canada the heat and sleeplessness and fear. Buspar in canada I mean from their own comrades -- the men. Buspar in canada I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, buspar in canada interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, buspar in canada 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. Buspar in canada The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, buspar in canada for example, buspar in canada where U.S. Buspar in canada troops go to demobilize, buspar in canada told me they were warned not to go out at night alone. Buspar in canada "They call Camp Arifjan 'generator city' because it's so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can't be heard, buspar in canada" said Abbie Pickett, buspar in canada 24, buspar in canada a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Buspar in canada Yet, buspar in canada she points out, buspar in canada this is a base, buspar in canada where soldiers are supposed to be safe. Buspar in canada Spc. Buspar in canada Mickiela Montoya, buspar in canada 21, buspar in canada who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, buspar in canada took to carrying a knife with her at all times. Buspar in canada "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, buspar in canada" she told me. Buspar in canada "It was for the guys on my own side." Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, buspar in canada but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Buspar in canada Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. Buspar in canada As a result, buspar in canada the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. Buspar in canada It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. Buspar in canada The military's definition of sexual assault includes "rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts." Unfortunately, buspar in canada with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, buspar in canada these measures are not keeping women safe. Buspar in canada When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed, buspar in canada and the fact that the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, buspar in canada the picture for women looks bleak indeed. Buspar in canada Last year, buspar in canada Col. Buspar in canada Janis Karpinski caused a stir by publicly reporting that in 2003, buspar in canada three female soldiers had died of dehydration in Iraq, buspar in canada which can get up to 126 degrees in the summer, buspar in canada because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. Buspar in canada They were afraid of being raped by male soldiers if they walked to the latrines after dark. Buspar in canada The Army has called her charges unsubstantiated, buspar in canada but Karpinski told me she sticks by them. Buspar in canada (Karpinski has been a figure of controversy in the military ever since she was demoted from brigadier general for her role as commander of Abu Ghraib. Buspar in canada As the highest-ranking official to lose her job over the torture scandal, buspar in canada she claims she was scapegoated, buspar in canada and has become an outspoken critic of the military's treatment of women. Buspar in canada In turn, buspar in canada the Army has accused her of sour grapes.) "I sat right there when the doctor briefing that information said these women had died in their cots, buspar in canada" Karpinski told me. Buspar in canada "I also heard the deputy commander tell him not to say anything about it because that would bring attention to the problem." The latrines were far away and unlit, buspar in canada she explained, buspar in canada and male soldiers were jumping women who went to them at night, buspar in canada dragging them into the Port-a-Johns, buspar in canada and raping or abusing them. Buspar in canada "In that heat, buspar in canada if you don't hydrate for as many hours as you've been out on duty, buspar in canada day after day, buspar in canada you can die." She said the deaths were reported as non-hostile fatalities, buspar in canada with no further explanation. Buspar in canada Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. Buspar in canada More than 160, buspar in canada500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, buspar in canada Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, buspar in canada which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Buspar in canada Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, buspar in canada four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. Buspar in canada At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, buspar in canada and 71 have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, buspar in canada Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. Buspar in canada And women are fighting in combat. Buspar in canada Officially, buspar in canada the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, buspar in canada citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm's way. Buspar in canada But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff. Buspar in canada "Of course we were in combat!" said Laura Naylor, buspar in canada 25, buspar in canada who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Buspar in canada "We were interchangeable with the infantry. Buspar in canada They came to our police stations and helped pull security, buspar in canada and we helped them search houses and search people. Buspar in canada That's how it is in Iraq." Women are fighting in ground combat because there is no choice. Buspar in canada This is a war with no front lines or safe zones, buspar in canada no hiding from in-flying mortars, buspar in canada car and roadside bombs, buspar in canada and not enough soldiers. Buspar in canada As a result, buspar in canada women are coming home with missing limbs, buspar in canada mutilating wounds and severe trauma, buspar in canada just like the men. Buspar in canada All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. Buspar in canada They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, buspar in canada acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, buspar in canada raided houses, buspar in canada guarded prisoners, buspar in canada rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, buspar in canada and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Buspar in canada Some watched their best friends die, buspar in canada some were wounded, buspar in canada all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens. Buspar in canada Yet, buspar in canada despite the equal risks women are taking, buspar in canada they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. Buspar in canada As Pickett told me, buspar in canada "It's like sending three women to live in a frat house." Rape, buspar in canada sexual assault and harassment are nothing new to the military. Buspar in canada They were a serious problem for the Women's Army Corps in Vietnam, buspar in canada and the rapes and sexual hounding of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news. Buspar in canada A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. Buspar in canada A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, buspar in canada who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, buspar in canada found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. Buspar in canada And in a third study, buspar in canada conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, buspar in canada 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, buspar in canada which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at. Buspar in canada "That's one of the things I hated the most, buspar in canada" said Caryle García, buspar in canada 24, buspar in canada who, buspar in canada like Naylor, buspar in canada served with the Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Buspar in canada García was wounded by a roadside bomb, buspar in canada which knocked her unconscious and filled her with shrapnel. Buspar in canada "You walk into the chow hall and there's a bunch of guys who just stop eating and stare at you. Buspar in canada Every time you bend down, buspar in canada somebody will say something. Buspar in canada It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people because I didn't want to hear their comments. Buspar in canada It really gets you down." "There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, buspar in canada a ho or a dyke, buspar in canada" said Montoya, buspar in canada the soldier who carried a knife for protection. Buspar in canada "This guy out there, buspar in canada he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. Buspar in canada He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, buspar in canada but they don't have those in Iraq. Buspar in canada So they have women soldiers instead." Pickett heard the same attitude from her fellow soldiers. Buspar in canada "My engineering company was in the first Gulf War, buspar in canada and back then it had only two females, buspar in canada" she said. Buspar in canada "One was labeled a whore because she had a boyfriend, buspar in canada and the other one was a bitch because she wouldn't sleep around. Buspar in canada And that's how they were still referred to all these years later." In the current Iraq war, buspar in canada which Pickett spent refueling and driving trucks over the bomb-ridden roads, buspar in canada she was one of 19 women in a 160-troop unit. Buspar in canada She said the men imported cases of porn, buspar in canada and talked such filth at the women all the time that she became worn down by it. Buspar in canada "We shouldn't have to think every day, buspar in canada 'How am I going to go out there and deal with being harassed?'" she said. Buspar in canada "We should just have to think about going out and doing our job." Pickett herself was sexually attacked when she was training in Nicaragua before being deployed to Iraq. Buspar in canada "I was sexually assaulted by a superior officer when I was 19, buspar in canada but I didn't know where to turn, buspar in canada so I never reported it, buspar in canada" she told me. Buspar in canada Jennifer Spranger, buspar in canada 23, buspar in canada who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, buspar in canada a prison camp for Iraqis, buspar in canada had a similar experience. Buspar in canada "My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. Buspar in canada He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, buspar in canada and he wouldn't stop pressuring me for sex. Buspar in canada If somebody did that to my daughter I'd want to kill the guy. Buspar in canada But you can't fit in if you make waves about it. Buspar in canada You rat somebody out, buspar in canada you're screwed. Buspar in canada You're gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out." Spranger and several other women told me the military climate is so severe on whistle-blowers that even they regarded the women who reported rape as incapable traitors. Buspar in canada You have to handle it on your own and shut up, buspar in canada is how they saw it. Buspar in canada Only on their return home, buspar in canada with time and distance, buspar in canada did they become outraged at how much sexual persecution of women goes on. Buspar in canada Having the courage to report a rape is difficult enough for civilians, buspar in canada where unsympathetic police, buspar in canada victim-blaming myths, buspar in canada and simple fear prevent 59 percent of rapes from being reported, buspar in canada according to the U.S. Buspar in canada Bureau of Justice. Buspar in canada But within the military, buspar in canada reporting is even more risky. Buspar in canada Military platoons are enclosed, buspar in canada hierarchical societies, buspar in canada riddled with gossip, buspar in canada so any woman who reports a rape has no realistic chance of remaining anonymous. Buspar in canada She will have to face her assailant day after day, buspar in canada and put up with rumors, buspar in canada resentment and blame from other soldiers. Buspar in canada Furthermore, buspar in canada she runs the risk of being punished by her assailant if he is her superior. Buspar in canada These barriers to reporting are so well recognized that even the Defense Department has been scrambling to mend the situation, buspar in canada at least for the public eye. Buspar in canada It won't go so far as to actually gather statistics on rape and assault in Iraq (it only counts reported rapes in raw numbers for all combat areas in the Middle East combined), buspar in canada but in 2006 the DOD did finally wake up to the idea that anonymous reporting might help women come forward, buspar in canada and updated its Web site accordingly. Buspar in canada The Web site looks good, buspar in canada although some may object that it seems to pay more attention to telling women how to avoid an assault than telling men not to commit one. Buspar in canada It defines rape, buspar in canada sexual assault and harassment, buspar in canada and makes clear that these behaviors are illegal. Buspar in canada The site now also explains that a soldier can report a rape anonymously to a special department, buspar in canada SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), buspar in canada without triggering an official investigation -- a procedure called "restricted reporting." And it promises the soldier a victim's advocate and medical care. Buspar in canada On closer scrutiny, buspar in canada however, buspar in canada the picture is less rosy: Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, buspar in canada which means that neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged to report rapes to a chaplain, buspar in canada and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors; if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, buspar in canada that friend is legally obliged to report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, buspar in canada gender, buspar in canada age, buspar in canada race, buspar in canada service, buspar in canada and the date, buspar in canada time and/or location of the assault, buspar in canada which in the closed world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, buspar in canada in practice, buspar in canada since most people in the Army are men, buspar in canada the soldier will likely find herself reporting her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work. Buspar in canada Worse, buspar in canada no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim agrees to stop being anonymous. Buspar in canada The DOD insists on the success of its reforms, buspar in canada the proof being that the number of reported military sexual assaults rose by 1, buspar in canada700 from 2004 to a total of 2, buspar in canada374 in 2005. Buspar in canada "The success of the SAPR program is in direct correlation with the increased numbers of reported sexual assaults, buspar in canada" Cynthia Smith, buspar in canada a Defense Department spokeswoman, buspar in canada wrote to me in an e-mail. Buspar in canada In fact, buspar in canada as anyone familiar with sexual assault statistics knows, buspar in canada nobody can ever tell whether increases in rape rates are due to more reporting or more rapes. Buspar in canada My own interviewees and advocates on behalf of women veterans say these reforms are not working. Buspar in canada They say there is a huge gap between what the military promises to do on its Web site and what it does in practice, buspar in canada and that the traditional view that reporting an assault betrays your fellow soldiers still prevails. Buspar in canada "Are soldiers who report sexual assaults in the military still seen as betraying their comrades?" I asked Smith. Buspar in canada "Our soldiers are being fully trained that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime, buspar in canada" she wrote in reply. Buspar in canada "In that training, buspar in canada not reporting a sexual assault is the betrayal to their comrades." Back in real life, buspar in canada Pickett watched several of her friends try to report sexual harassment and assault since the 2005 reforms, buspar in canada and she said that none of them were sent a victim's advocate, buspar in canada a counselor or a chaplain. Buspar in canada "These women are turning perpetrators in and they're not getting anyone to speak on their behalf, buspar in canada" she told me. Buspar in canada "There's no one sitting in that room with you, buspar in canada so you're feeling all alone." In the end, buspar in canada she added, buspar in canada it boils down to the woman's word vs. Buspar in canada the man's, buspar in canada and he is the one with the advocate, buspar in canada not her. Buspar in canada Meanwhile, buspar in canada the studies I have cited, buspar in canada along with the other past and present studies of veterans, buspar in canada who feel freer to talk than soldiers because they are out of the military, buspar in canada show that women soldiers are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of military sexual abuse. Buspar in canada All soldiers with PTSD come home to some combination of sleeplessness, buspar in canada nightmares, buspar in canada bursts of temper, buspar in canada flashbacks, buspar in canada panic attacks, buspar in canada fear and an inability to cope with everyday life. Buspar in canada They often turn to drugs or alcohol for escape. Buspar in canada Some become depressed, buspar in canada others commit suicide. Buspar in canada Many are too emotionally numb to relate to their families or children. Buspar in canada But those who have been sexually assaulted also lose their self-respect, buspar in canada feel they have lost control over their lives, buspar in canada and are particularly prone to self-destruction. Buspar in canada I have yet to meet an Iraq war veteran of either sex who does not suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, buspar in canada but officially the number of Iraq veterans with PTSD is estimated to be about 30 percent for those newly back from war, buspar in canada according to a 2004 study of combat veterans in the New England Journal of Medicine. Buspar in canada The extent and severity of PTSD in women who have had to cope with both combat and sexual assault in Iraq is still being studied, buspar in canada but as it is known that these are two of the highest predictors of PTSD, buspar in canada it is logical to assume that the combination is pretty bad. Buspar in canada "When you are sexually assaulted by people who are your comrades, buspar in canada PTSD can be worse than in other circumstances, buspar in canada" said Paula Shnurr, buspar in canada a research professor of psychiatry who conducted a new Veterans Administration study of therapy for women veterans with PTSD, buspar in canada published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Buspar in canada "You feel incompetent and helpless, buspar in canada like children feel when abused by the very people who are supposed to look after them, buspar in canada" Schnurr told me. Buspar in canada "The people you depend on have attacked you." I am not claiming that sexual persecution is universal in the military, buspar in canada or that it is inevitable. Buspar in canada Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won't tolerate the mistreatment of women, buspar in canada it will not happen, buspar in canada and studies back this up. Buspar in canada Jennifer Hogg, buspar in canada 22, buspar in canada who was a sergeant in the Army's National Guard, buspar in canada said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn't permit the mistreatment of women. Buspar in canada But another National Guard soldier, buspar in canada Demond Mullins, buspar in canada 25, buspar in canada who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, buspar in canada told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time. Buspar in canada "Rapes were happening every night, buspar in canada" he said. Buspar in canada "One time a woman was taking a shower late, buspar in canada and guys went and held the door closed so she couldn't get out, buspar in canada while the others went in to rape her. Buspar in canada Married men were doing it, buspar in canada everyone." Some commanders not only turn a blind eye to assault and harassment but engage in it themselves, buspar in canada a phenomenon known in the military as "command rape." Because the military is hierarchical, buspar in canada and because soldiers are trained to obey and never question their superiors, buspar in canada men of rank can assault their juniors with impunity. Buspar in canada In most cases, buspar in canada women soldiers are the juniors, buspar in canada 18 to 20 year old, buspar in canada and are new to the military and war, buspar in canada thus vulnerable to bullying and exploitation. Buspar in canada Callie Wight, buspar in canada a psychosocial counselor in women veterans' health in Los Angeles, buspar in canada has been treating women who were sexually assaulted in the military for the past 11 years. Buspar in canada In all that time, buspar in canada she told me, buspar in canada she has only seen a handful of cases where a woman reported an assault to her commander with any success in getting the assailant punished. Buspar in canada "Most commanders dismiss it, buspar in canada" she said. Buspar in canada A nine-month study of military rape by the Denver Post in 2003 found that nearly 5, buspar in canada000 accused military sex offenders had avoided prosecution since 1992. Buspar in canada At the moment, buspar in canada the most shocking case of military sexual assault is that of Army Spc. Buspar in canada Suzanne Swift, buspar in canada 21, buspar in canada who served in Iraq in 2004. Buspar in canada Swift was coerced into sex by one commanding officer, buspar in canada which is legally defined as rape by the military, buspar in canada and harassed by two others before she finally broke rank and told. Buspar in canada As a result, buspar in canada the other soldiers treated her like a traitor for months. Buspar in canada Unable to face returning to the assailant, buspar in canada she went AWOL during a leave at home, buspar in canada and was arrested and put in jail for desertion. Buspar in canada At first the Army offered her a deal: It would reduce her punishment if Swift would sign a statement saying that she had never been raped. Buspar in canada She refused, buspar in canada saying she wouldn't let the Army force her to lie. Buspar in canada The Army court-martialed Swift, buspar in canada and stripped her of her rank. Buspar in canada She spent December in prison and was then sent to Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, buspar in canada far away from her family. Buspar in canada She must stay in the Army for two more years, buspar in canada and may face redeployment. Buspar in canada The men who assaulted her received nothing but reprimanding letters. Buspar in canada Swift's mother, buspar in canada Sara Rich, buspar in canada has set up a Web site with a petition calling for her daughter's release: More than 6, buspar in canada700 veterans and soldiers have signed it, buspar in canada and 102 of them signed their names to stories of their own sexual persecution in the military. Buspar in canada Swift's case, buspar in canada and those of her petitioners, buspar in canada illustrate the real attitude of the military toward women and sexual assault, buspar in canada the one that underlies its fancy Web site and claims that it supports soldiers who've been raped. Buspar in canada The real attitude is this: If you tell, buspar in canada you are going to get punished. Buspar in canada The assailant, buspar in canada meanwhile, buspar in canada will go free. Buspar in canada Which brings up an issue that lies at the core of every soldier's heart: comradeship. Buspar in canada It is for their comrades that soldiers enlist and reenlist. Buspar in canada It is for their "battle buddies" that they risk their lives and put up with all the miseries of sandstorms, buspar in canada polluted water, buspar in canada lack of sanitation, buspar in canada and danger. Buspar in canada Soldiers go back to Iraq, buspar in canada even if they've turned against the war, buspar in canada so as not to let their buddies down. Buspar in canada Comradeship is what gets men through war, buspar in canada and is what has always got men through war. Buspar in canada You protect your battle buddy, buspar in canada and your battle buddy protects you. Buspar in canada As an Iraq veteran put it to me, buspar in canada "There's nobody you love like you love a person who's willing to take a bullet for you." So how does this work for women? A few find buddies among the other women in their squads, buspar in canada but for most there are no other women, buspar in canada so their battle buddies are men. Buspar in canada Some of these men are trustworthy. Buspar in canada Many are not. Buspar in canada How can a man who pressures you for sex every day, buspar in canada who treats you like a prostitute, buspar in canada who threatens or punishes you if you refuse him, buspar in canada or who actually attacks you, buspar in canada be counted on to watch your back in battle? "Battle buddy bullshit, buspar in canada" said Garcéa from the Military Police. Buspar in canada "I didn't trust anybody in my company after a few months. Buspar in canada I saw so many girls get screwed over, buspar in canada the sexual harassment. Buspar in canada I didn't trust anybody and I still don't." If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, buspar in canada where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, buspar in canada and they all gave me the same answer: Alone.