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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. Order discount medithin "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, order discount medithin" says one woman. Order discount medithin "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, order discount medithin000 more troops, order discount medithin I can't help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. Order discount medithin And I don't mean only the hardships of war, order discount medithin the killing of civilians, order discount medithin the bombs and mortars, order discount medithin the heat and sleeplessness and fear. Order discount medithin I mean from their own comrades -- the men. Order discount medithin I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, order discount medithin interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, order discount medithin 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. Order discount medithin The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, order discount medithin for example, order discount medithin where U.S. Order discount medithin troops go to demobilize, order discount medithin told me they were warned not to go out at night alone. Order discount medithin "They call Camp Arifjan 'generator city' because it's so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can't be heard, order discount medithin" said Abbie Pickett, order discount medithin 24, order discount medithin a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Order discount medithin Yet, order discount medithin she points out, order discount medithin this is a base, order discount medithin where soldiers are supposed to be safe. Order discount medithin Spc. Order discount medithin Mickiela Montoya, order discount medithin 21, order discount medithin who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, order discount medithin took to carrying a knife with her at all times. Order discount medithin "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, order discount medithin" she told me. Order discount medithin "It was for the guys on my own side." Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, order discount medithin but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Order discount medithin Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. Order discount medithin As a result, order discount medithin the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. Order discount medithin It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. Order discount medithin The military's definition of sexual assault includes "rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts." Unfortunately, order discount medithin with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, order discount medithin these measures are not keeping women safe. Order discount medithin When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed, order discount medithin and the fact that the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, order discount medithin the picture for women looks bleak indeed. Order discount medithin Last year, order discount medithin Col. Order discount medithin Janis Karpinski caused a stir by publicly reporting that in 2003, order discount medithin three female soldiers had died of dehydration in Iraq, order discount medithin which can get up to 126 degrees in the summer, order discount medithin because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. Order discount medithin They were afraid of being raped by male soldiers if they walked to the latrines after dark. Order discount medithin The Army has called her charges unsubstantiated, order discount medithin but Karpinski told me she sticks by them. Order discount medithin (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. Order discount medithin As the highest-ranking official to lose her job over the torture scandal, order discount medithin she claims she was scapegoated, order discount medithin and has become an outspoken critic of the military's treatment of women. Order discount medithin In turn, order discount medithin 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, order discount medithin" Karpinski told me. Order discount medithin "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, order discount medithin she explained, order discount medithin and male soldiers were jumping women who went to them at night, order discount medithin dragging them into the Port-a-Johns, order discount medithin and raping or abusing them. Order discount medithin "In that heat, order discount medithin if you don't hydrate for as many hours as you've been out on duty, order discount medithin day after day, order discount medithin you can die." She said the deaths were reported as non-hostile fatalities, order discount medithin with no further explanation. Order discount medithin Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. Order discount medithin More than 160, order discount medithin500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, order discount medithin Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, order discount medithin which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Order discount medithin Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, order discount medithin four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. Order discount medithin At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, order discount medithin and 71 have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, order discount medithin Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. Order discount medithin And women are fighting in combat. Order discount medithin Officially, order discount medithin the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, order discount medithin citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm's way. Order discount medithin But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff. Order discount medithin "Of course we were in combat!" said Laura Naylor, order discount medithin 25, order discount medithin who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Order discount medithin "We were interchangeable with the infantry. Order discount medithin They came to our police stations and helped pull security, order discount medithin and we helped them search houses and search people. Order discount medithin That's how it is in Iraq." Women are fighting in ground combat because there is no choice. Order discount medithin This is a war with no front lines or safe zones, order discount medithin no hiding from in-flying mortars, order discount medithin car and roadside bombs, order discount medithin and not enough soldiers. Order discount medithin As a result, order discount medithin women are coming home with missing limbs, order discount medithin mutilating wounds and severe trauma, order discount medithin just like the men. Order discount medithin All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. Order discount medithin They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, order discount medithin acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, order discount medithin raided houses, order discount medithin guarded prisoners, order discount medithin rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, order discount medithin and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Order discount medithin Some watched their best friends die, order discount medithin some were wounded, order discount medithin all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens. Order discount medithin Yet, order discount medithin despite the equal risks women are taking, order discount medithin they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. Order discount medithin As Pickett told me, order discount medithin "It's like sending three women to live in a frat house." Rape, order discount medithin sexual assault and harassment are nothing new to the military. Order discount medithin They were a serious problem for the Women's Army Corps in Vietnam, order discount medithin and the rapes and sexual hounding of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news. Order discount medithin A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. Order discount medithin A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, order discount medithin who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, order discount medithin found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. Order discount medithin And in a third study, order discount medithin conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, order discount medithin 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, order discount medithin which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at. Order discount medithin "That's one of the things I hated the most, order discount medithin" said Caryle García, order discount medithin 24, order discount medithin who, order discount medithin like Naylor, order discount medithin served with the Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Order discount medithin García was wounded by a roadside bomb, order discount medithin which knocked her unconscious and filled her with shrapnel. Order discount medithin "You walk into the chow hall and there's a bunch of guys who just stop eating and stare at you. Order discount medithin Every time you bend down, order discount medithin somebody will say something. Order discount medithin It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people because I didn't want to hear their comments. Order discount medithin It really gets you down." "There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, order discount medithin a ho or a dyke, order discount medithin" said Montoya, order discount medithin the soldier who carried a knife for protection. Order discount medithin "This guy out there, order discount medithin he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. Order discount medithin He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, order discount medithin but they don't have those in Iraq. Order discount medithin So they have women soldiers instead." Pickett heard the same attitude from her fellow soldiers. Order discount medithin "My engineering company was in the first Gulf War, order discount medithin and back then it had only two females, order discount medithin" she said. Order discount medithin "One was labeled a whore because she had a boyfriend, order discount medithin and the other one was a bitch because she wouldn't sleep around. Order discount medithin And that's how they were still referred to all these years later." In the current Iraq war, order discount medithin which Pickett spent refueling and driving trucks over the bomb-ridden roads, order discount medithin she was one of 19 women in a 160-troop unit. Order discount medithin She said the men imported cases of porn, order discount medithin and talked such filth at the women all the time that she became worn down by it. Order discount medithin "We shouldn't have to think every day, order discount medithin 'How am I going to go out there and deal with being harassed?'" she said. Order discount medithin "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. Order discount medithin "I was sexually assaulted by a superior officer when I was 19, order discount medithin but I didn't know where to turn, order discount medithin so I never reported it, order discount medithin" she told me. Order discount medithin Jennifer Spranger, order discount medithin 23, order discount medithin who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, order discount medithin a prison camp for Iraqis, order discount medithin had a similar experience. Order discount medithin "My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. Order discount medithin He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, order discount medithin and he wouldn't stop pressuring me for sex. Order discount medithin If somebody did that to my daughter I'd want to kill the guy. Order discount medithin But you can't fit in if you make waves about it. Order discount medithin You rat somebody out, order discount medithin you're screwed. Order discount medithin 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. Order discount medithin You have to handle it on your own and shut up, order discount medithin is how they saw it. Order discount medithin Only on their return home, order discount medithin with time and distance, order discount medithin did they become outraged at how much sexual persecution of women goes on. Order discount medithin Having the courage to report a rape is difficult enough for civilians, order discount medithin where unsympathetic police, order discount medithin victim-blaming myths, order discount medithin and simple fear prevent 59 percent of rapes from being reported, order discount medithin according to the U.S. Order discount medithin Bureau of Justice. Order discount medithin But within the military, order discount medithin reporting is even more risky. Order discount medithin Military platoons are enclosed, order discount medithin hierarchical societies, order discount medithin riddled with gossip, order discount medithin so any woman who reports a rape has no realistic chance of remaining anonymous. Order discount medithin She will have to face her assailant day after day, order discount medithin and put up with rumors, order discount medithin resentment and blame from other soldiers. Order discount medithin Furthermore, order discount medithin she runs the risk of being punished by her assailant if he is her superior. Order discount medithin These barriers to reporting are so well recognized that even the Defense Department has been scrambling to mend the situation, order discount medithin at least for the public eye. Order discount medithin 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), order discount medithin but in 2006 the DOD did finally wake up to the idea that anonymous reporting might help women come forward, order discount medithin and updated its Web site accordingly. Order discount medithin The Web site looks good, order discount medithin 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. Order discount medithin It defines rape, order discount medithin sexual assault and harassment, order discount medithin and makes clear that these behaviors are illegal. Order discount medithin The site now also explains that a soldier can report a rape anonymously to a special department, order discount medithin SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), order discount medithin without triggering an official investigation -- a procedure called "restricted reporting." And it promises the soldier a victim's advocate and medical care. Order discount medithin On closer scrutiny, order discount medithin however, order discount medithin the picture is less rosy: Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, order discount medithin which means that neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged to report rapes to a chaplain, order discount medithin and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors; if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, order discount medithin that friend is legally obliged to report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, order discount medithin gender, order discount medithin age, order discount medithin race, order discount medithin service, order discount medithin and the date, order discount medithin time and/or location of the assault, order discount medithin which in the closed world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, order discount medithin in practice, order discount medithin since most people in the Army are men, order discount medithin the soldier will likely find herself reporting her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work. Order discount medithin Worse, order discount medithin no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim agrees to stop being anonymous. Order discount medithin The DOD insists on the success of its reforms, order discount medithin the proof being that the number of reported military sexual assaults rose by 1, order discount medithin700 from 2004 to a total of 2, order discount medithin374 in 2005. Order discount medithin "The success of the SAPR program is in direct correlation with the increased numbers of reported sexual assaults, order discount medithin" Cynthia Smith, order discount medithin a Defense Department spokeswoman, order discount medithin wrote to me in an e-mail. Order discount medithin In fact, order discount medithin as anyone familiar with sexual assault statistics knows, order discount medithin nobody can ever tell whether increases in rape rates are due to more reporting or more rapes. Order discount medithin My own interviewees and advocates on behalf of women veterans say these reforms are not working. Order discount medithin They say there is a huge gap between what the military promises to do on its Web site and what it does in practice, order discount medithin and that the traditional view that reporting an assault betrays your fellow soldiers still prevails. Order discount medithin "Are soldiers who report sexual assaults in the military still seen as betraying their comrades?" I asked Smith. Order discount medithin "Our soldiers are being fully trained that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime, order discount medithin" she wrote in reply. Order discount medithin "In that training, order discount medithin not reporting a sexual assault is the betrayal to their comrades." Back in real life, order discount medithin Pickett watched several of her friends try to report sexual harassment and assault since the 2005 reforms, order discount medithin and she said that none of them were sent a victim's advocate, order discount medithin a counselor or a chaplain. Order discount medithin "These women are turning perpetrators in and they're not getting anyone to speak on their behalf, order discount medithin" she told me. Order discount medithin "There's no one sitting in that room with you, order discount medithin so you're feeling all alone." In the end, order discount medithin she added, order discount medithin it boils down to the woman's word vs. Order discount medithin the man's, order discount medithin and he is the one with the advocate, order discount medithin not her. Order discount medithin Meanwhile, order discount medithin the studies I have cited, order discount medithin along with the other past and present studies of veterans, order discount medithin who feel freer to talk than soldiers because they are out of the military, order discount medithin show that women soldiers are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of military sexual abuse. Order discount medithin All soldiers with PTSD come home to some combination of sleeplessness, order discount medithin nightmares, order discount medithin bursts of temper, order discount medithin flashbacks, order discount medithin panic attacks, order discount medithin fear and an inability to cope with everyday life. Order discount medithin They often turn to drugs or alcohol for escape. Order discount medithin Some become depressed, order discount medithin others commit suicide. Order discount medithin Many are too emotionally numb to relate to their families or children. Order discount medithin But those who have been sexually assaulted also lose their self-respect, order discount medithin feel they have lost control over their lives, order discount medithin and are particularly prone to self-destruction. Order discount medithin I have yet to meet an Iraq war veteran of either sex who does not suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, order discount medithin but officially the number of Iraq veterans with PTSD is estimated to be about 30 percent for those newly back from war, order discount medithin according to a 2004 study of combat veterans in the New England Journal of Medicine. Order discount medithin 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, order discount medithin but as it is known that these are two of the highest predictors of PTSD, order discount medithin it is logical to assume that the combination is pretty bad. Order discount medithin "When you are sexually assaulted by people who are your comrades, order discount medithin PTSD can be worse than in other circumstances, order discount medithin" said Paula Shnurr, order discount medithin a research professor of psychiatry who conducted a new Veterans Administration study of therapy for women veterans with PTSD, order discount medithin published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Order discount medithin "You feel incompetent and helpless, order discount medithin like children feel when abused by the very people who are supposed to look after them, order discount medithin" Schnurr told me. Order discount medithin "The people you depend on have attacked you." I am not claiming that sexual persecution is universal in the military, order discount medithin or that it is inevitable. Order discount medithin Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won't tolerate the mistreatment of women, order discount medithin it will not happen, order discount medithin and studies back this up. Order discount medithin Jennifer Hogg, order discount medithin 22, order discount medithin who was a sergeant in the Army's National Guard, order discount medithin said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn't permit the mistreatment of women. Order discount medithin But another National Guard soldier, order discount medithin Demond Mullins, order discount medithin 25, order discount medithin who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, order discount medithin told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time. Order discount medithin "Rapes were happening every night, order discount medithin" he said. Order discount medithin "One time a woman was taking a shower late, order discount medithin and guys went and held the door closed so she couldn't get out, order discount medithin while the others went in to rape her. Order discount medithin Married men were doing it, order discount medithin everyone." Some commanders not only turn a blind eye to assault and harassment but engage in it themselves, order discount medithin a phenomenon known in the military as "command rape." Because the military is hierarchical, order discount medithin and because soldiers are trained to obey and never question their superiors, order discount medithin men of rank can assault their juniors with impunity. Order discount medithin In most cases, order discount medithin women soldiers are the juniors, order discount medithin 18 to 20 year old, order discount medithin and are new to the military and war, order discount medithin thus vulnerable to bullying and exploitation. Order discount medithin Callie Wight, order discount medithin a psychosocial counselor in women veterans' health in Los Angeles, order discount medithin has been treating women who were sexually assaulted in the military for the past 11 years. Order discount medithin In all that time, order discount medithin she told me, order discount medithin 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. Order discount medithin "Most commanders dismiss it, order discount medithin" she said. Order discount medithin A nine-month study of military rape by the Denver Post in 2003 found that nearly 5, order discount medithin000 accused military sex offenders had avoided prosecution since 1992. Order discount medithin At the moment, order discount medithin the most shocking case of military sexual assault is that of Army Spc. Order discount medithin Suzanne Swift, order discount medithin 21, order discount medithin who served in Iraq in 2004. Order discount medithin Swift was coerced into sex by one commanding officer, order discount medithin which is legally defined as rape by the military, order discount medithin and harassed by two others before she finally broke rank and told. Order discount medithin As a result, order discount medithin the other soldiers treated her like a traitor for months. Order discount medithin Unable to face returning to the assailant, order discount medithin she went AWOL during a leave at home, order discount medithin and was arrested and put in jail for desertion. Order discount medithin 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. Order discount medithin She refused, order discount medithin saying she wouldn't let the Army force her to lie. Order discount medithin The Army court-martialed Swift, order discount medithin and stripped her of her rank. Order discount medithin She spent December in prison and was then sent to Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, order discount medithin far away from her family. Order discount medithin She must stay in the Army for two more years, order discount medithin and may face redeployment. Order discount medithin The men who assaulted her received nothing but reprimanding letters. Order discount medithin Swift's mother, order discount medithin Sara Rich, order discount medithin has set up a Web site with a petition calling for her daughter's release: More than 6, order discount medithin700 veterans and soldiers have signed it, order discount medithin and 102 of them signed their names to stories of their own sexual persecution in the military. Order discount medithin Swift's case, order discount medithin and those of her petitioners, order discount medithin illustrate the real attitude of the military toward women and sexual assault, order discount medithin the one that underlies its fancy Web site and claims that it supports soldiers who've been raped. Order discount medithin The real attitude is this: If you tell, order discount medithin you are going to get punished. Order discount medithin The assailant, order discount medithin meanwhile, order discount medithin will go free. Order discount medithin Which brings up an issue that lies at the core of every soldier's heart: comradeship. Order discount medithin It is for their comrades that soldiers enlist and reenlist. Order discount medithin It is for their "battle buddies" that they risk their lives and put up with all the miseries of sandstorms, order discount medithin polluted water, order discount medithin lack of sanitation, order discount medithin and danger. Order discount medithin Soldiers go back to Iraq, order discount medithin even if they've turned against the war, order discount medithin so as not to let their buddies down. Order discount medithin Comradeship is what gets men through war, order discount medithin and is what has always got men through war. Order discount medithin You protect your battle buddy, order discount medithin and your battle buddy protects you. Order discount medithin As an Iraq veteran put it to me, order discount medithin "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, order discount medithin but for most there are no other women, order discount medithin so their battle buddies are men. Order discount medithin Some of these men are trustworthy. Order discount medithin Many are not. Order discount medithin How can a man who pressures you for sex every day, order discount medithin who treats you like a prostitute, order discount medithin who threatens or punishes you if you refuse him, order discount medithin or who actually attacks you, order discount medithin be counted on to watch your back in battle? "Battle buddy bullshit, order discount medithin" said Garcéa from the Military Police. Order discount medithin "I didn't trust anybody in my company after a few months. Order discount medithin I saw so many girls get screwed over, order discount medithin the sexual harassment. Order discount medithin I didn't trust anybody and I still don't." If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, order discount medithin where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, order discount medithin and they all gave me the same answer: Alone.