The private war of women soldiers By Helen Benedict (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military/?source=rss)Â Many female soldiers say they are sexually assaulted by their male comrades and can't trust the military to protect them. Yeast infections "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, yeast infections" says one woman. Yeast infections "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, yeast infections000 more troops, yeast infections I can't help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. Yeast infections And I don't mean only the hardships of war, yeast infections the killing of civilians, yeast infections the bombs and mortars, yeast infections the heat and sleeplessness and fear. Yeast infections I mean from their own comrades -- the men. Yeast infections I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, yeast infections interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, yeast infections 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. Yeast infections The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, yeast infections for example, yeast infections where U.S. Yeast infections troops go to demobilize, yeast infections told me they were warned not to go out at night alone. Yeast infections "They call Camp Arifjan 'generator city' because it's so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can't be heard, yeast infections" said Abbie Pickett, yeast infections 24, yeast infections a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Yeast infections Yet, yeast infections she points out, yeast infections this is a base, yeast infections where soldiers are supposed to be safe. Yeast infections Spc. Yeast infections Mickiela Montoya, yeast infections 21, yeast infections who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, yeast infections took to carrying a knife with her at all times. Yeast infections "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis, yeast infections" she told me. Yeast infections "It was for the guys on my own side." Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, yeast infections but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Yeast infections Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. Yeast infections As a result, yeast infections the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. Yeast infections It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. Yeast infections The military's definition of sexual assault includes "rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts." Unfortunately, yeast infections with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, yeast infections these measures are not keeping women safe. Yeast infections When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed, yeast infections and the fact that the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, yeast infections the picture for women looks bleak indeed. Yeast infections Last year, yeast infections Col. Yeast infections Janis Karpinski caused a stir by publicly reporting that in 2003, yeast infections three female soldiers had died of dehydration in Iraq, yeast infections which can get up to 126 degrees in the summer, yeast infections because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. Yeast infections They were afraid of being raped by male soldiers if they walked to the latrines after dark. Yeast infections The Army has called her charges unsubstantiated, yeast infections but Karpinski told me she sticks by them. Yeast infections (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. Yeast infections As the highest-ranking official to lose her job over the torture scandal, yeast infections she claims she was scapegoated, yeast infections and has become an outspoken critic of the military's treatment of women. Yeast infections In turn, yeast infections 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, yeast infections" Karpinski told me. Yeast infections "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, yeast infections she explained, yeast infections and male soldiers were jumping women who went to them at night, yeast infections dragging them into the Port-a-Johns, yeast infections and raping or abusing them. Yeast infections "In that heat, yeast infections if you don't hydrate for as many hours as you've been out on duty, yeast infections day after day, yeast infections you can die." She said the deaths were reported as non-hostile fatalities, yeast infections with no further explanation. Yeast infections Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. Yeast infections More than 160, yeast infections500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, yeast infections Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, yeast infections which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Yeast infections Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, yeast infections four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. Yeast infections At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, yeast infections and 71 have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, yeast infections Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. Yeast infections And women are fighting in combat. Yeast infections Officially, yeast infections the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, yeast infections citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm's way. Yeast infections But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff. Yeast infections "Of course we were in combat!" said Laura Naylor, yeast infections 25, yeast infections who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Yeast infections "We were interchangeable with the infantry. Yeast infections They came to our police stations and helped pull security, yeast infections and we helped them search houses and search people. Yeast infections That's how it is in Iraq." Women are fighting in ground combat because there is no choice. Yeast infections This is a war with no front lines or safe zones, yeast infections no hiding from in-flying mortars, yeast infections car and roadside bombs, yeast infections and not enough soldiers. Yeast infections As a result, yeast infections women are coming home with missing limbs, yeast infections mutilating wounds and severe trauma, yeast infections just like the men. Yeast infections All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. Yeast infections They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, yeast infections acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, yeast infections raided houses, yeast infections guarded prisoners, yeast infections rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, yeast infections and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Yeast infections Some watched their best friends die, yeast infections some were wounded, yeast infections all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens. Yeast infections Yet, yeast infections despite the equal risks women are taking, yeast infections they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. Yeast infections As Pickett told me, yeast infections "It's like sending three women to live in a frat house." Rape, yeast infections sexual assault and harassment are nothing new to the military. Yeast infections They were a serious problem for the Women's Army Corps in Vietnam, yeast infections and the rapes and sexual hounding of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news. Yeast infections A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. Yeast infections A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, yeast infections who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, yeast infections found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. Yeast infections And in a third study, yeast infections conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, yeast infections 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, yeast infections which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at. Yeast infections "That's one of the things I hated the most, yeast infections" said Caryle GarcÃa, yeast infections 24, yeast infections who, yeast infections like Naylor, yeast infections served with the Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. Yeast infections GarcÃa was wounded by a roadside bomb, yeast infections which knocked her unconscious and filled her with shrapnel. Yeast infections "You walk into the chow hall and there's a bunch of guys who just stop eating and stare at you. Yeast infections Every time you bend down, yeast infections somebody will say something. Yeast infections It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people because I didn't want to hear their comments. Yeast infections It really gets you down." "There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, yeast infections a ho or a dyke, yeast infections" said Montoya, yeast infections the soldier who carried a knife for protection. Yeast infections "This guy out there, yeast infections he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. Yeast infections He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, yeast infections but they don't have those in Iraq. Yeast infections So they have women soldiers instead." Pickett heard the same attitude from her fellow soldiers. Yeast infections "My engineering company was in the first Gulf War, yeast infections and back then it had only two females, yeast infections" she said. Yeast infections "One was labeled a whore because she had a boyfriend, yeast infections and the other one was a bitch because she wouldn't sleep around. Yeast infections And that's how they were still referred to all these years later." In the current Iraq war, yeast infections which Pickett spent refueling and driving trucks over the bomb-ridden roads, yeast infections she was one of 19 women in a 160-troop unit. Yeast infections She said the men imported cases of porn, yeast infections and talked such filth at the women all the time that she became worn down by it. Yeast infections "We shouldn't have to think every day, yeast infections 'How am I going to go out there and deal with being harassed?'" she said. Yeast infections "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. Yeast infections "I was sexually assaulted by a superior officer when I was 19, yeast infections but I didn't know where to turn, yeast infections so I never reported it, yeast infections" she told me. Yeast infections Jennifer Spranger, yeast infections 23, yeast infections who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, yeast infections a prison camp for Iraqis, yeast infections had a similar experience. Yeast infections "My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. Yeast infections He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, yeast infections and he wouldn't stop pressuring me for sex. Yeast infections If somebody did that to my daughter I'd want to kill the guy. Yeast infections But you can't fit in if you make waves about it. Yeast infections You rat somebody out, yeast infections you're screwed. Yeast infections 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. Yeast infections You have to handle it on your own and shut up, yeast infections is how they saw it. Yeast infections Only on their return home, yeast infections with time and distance, yeast infections did they become outraged at how much sexual persecution of women goes on. Yeast infections Having the courage to report a rape is difficult enough for civilians, yeast infections where unsympathetic police, yeast infections victim-blaming myths, yeast infections and simple fear prevent 59 percent of rapes from being reported, yeast infections according to the U.S. Yeast infections Bureau of Justice. Yeast infections But within the military, yeast infections reporting is even more risky. Yeast infections Military platoons are enclosed, yeast infections hierarchical societies, yeast infections riddled with gossip, yeast infections so any woman who reports a rape has no realistic chance of remaining anonymous. Yeast infections She will have to face her assailant day after day, yeast infections and put up with rumors, yeast infections resentment and blame from other soldiers. Yeast infections Furthermore, yeast infections she runs the risk of being punished by her assailant if he is her superior. Yeast infections These barriers to reporting are so well recognized that even the Defense Department has been scrambling to mend the situation, yeast infections at least for the public eye. Yeast infections 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), yeast infections but in 2006 the DOD did finally wake up to the idea that anonymous reporting might help women come forward, yeast infections and updated its Web site accordingly. Yeast infections The Web site looks good, yeast infections 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. Yeast infections It defines rape, yeast infections sexual assault and harassment, yeast infections and makes clear that these behaviors are illegal. Yeast infections The site now also explains that a soldier can report a rape anonymously to a special department, yeast infections SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), yeast infections without triggering an official investigation -- a procedure called "restricted reporting." And it promises the soldier a victim's advocate and medical care. Yeast infections On closer scrutiny, yeast infections however, yeast infections the picture is less rosy: Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, yeast infections which means that neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged to report rapes to a chaplain, yeast infections and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors; if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, yeast infections that friend is legally obliged to report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, yeast infections gender, yeast infections age, yeast infections race, yeast infections service, yeast infections and the date, yeast infections time and/or location of the assault, yeast infections which in the closed world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, yeast infections in practice, yeast infections since most people in the Army are men, yeast infections the soldier will likely find herself reporting her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work. Yeast infections Worse, yeast infections no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim agrees to stop being anonymous. Yeast infections The DOD insists on the success of its reforms, yeast infections the proof being that the number of reported military sexual assaults rose by 1, yeast infections700 from 2004 to a total of 2, yeast infections374 in 2005. Yeast infections "The success of the SAPR program is in direct correlation with the increased numbers of reported sexual assaults, yeast infections" Cynthia Smith, yeast infections a Defense Department spokeswoman, yeast infections wrote to me in an e-mail. Yeast infections In fact, yeast infections as anyone familiar with sexual assault statistics knows, yeast infections nobody can ever tell whether increases in rape rates are due to more reporting or more rapes. Yeast infections My own interviewees and advocates on behalf of women veterans say these reforms are not working. Yeast infections They say there is a huge gap between what the military promises to do on its Web site and what it does in practice, yeast infections and that the traditional view that reporting an assault betrays your fellow soldiers still prevails. Yeast infections "Are soldiers who report sexual assaults in the military still seen as betraying their comrades?" I asked Smith. Yeast infections "Our soldiers are being fully trained that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime, yeast infections" she wrote in reply. Yeast infections "In that training, yeast infections not reporting a sexual assault is the betrayal to their comrades." Back in real life, yeast infections Pickett watched several of her friends try to report sexual harassment and assault since the 2005 reforms, yeast infections and she said that none of them were sent a victim's advocate, yeast infections a counselor or a chaplain. Yeast infections "These women are turning perpetrators in and they're not getting anyone to speak on their behalf, yeast infections" she told me. Yeast infections "There's no one sitting in that room with you, yeast infections so you're feeling all alone." In the end, yeast infections she added, yeast infections it boils down to the woman's word vs. Yeast infections the man's, yeast infections and he is the one with the advocate, yeast infections not her. Yeast infections Meanwhile, yeast infections the studies I have cited, yeast infections along with the other past and present studies of veterans, yeast infections who feel freer to talk than soldiers because they are out of the military, yeast infections show that women soldiers are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of military sexual abuse. Yeast infections All soldiers with PTSD come home to some combination of sleeplessness, yeast infections nightmares, yeast infections bursts of temper, yeast infections flashbacks, yeast infections panic attacks, yeast infections fear and an inability to cope with everyday life. Yeast infections They often turn to drugs or alcohol for escape. Yeast infections Some become depressed, yeast infections others commit suicide. Yeast infections Many are too emotionally numb to relate to their families or children. Yeast infections But those who have been sexually assaulted also lose their self-respect, yeast infections feel they have lost control over their lives, yeast infections and are particularly prone to self-destruction. Yeast infections I have yet to meet an Iraq war veteran of either sex who does not suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, yeast infections but officially the number of Iraq veterans with PTSD is estimated to be about 30 percent for those newly back from war, yeast infections according to a 2004 study of combat veterans in the New England Journal of Medicine. Yeast infections 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, yeast infections but as it is known that these are two of the highest predictors of PTSD, yeast infections it is logical to assume that the combination is pretty bad. Yeast infections "When you are sexually assaulted by people who are your comrades, yeast infections PTSD can be worse than in other circumstances, yeast infections" said Paula Shnurr, yeast infections a research professor of psychiatry who conducted a new Veterans Administration study of therapy for women veterans with PTSD, yeast infections published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yeast infections "You feel incompetent and helpless, yeast infections like children feel when abused by the very people who are supposed to look after them, yeast infections" Schnurr told me. Yeast infections "The people you depend on have attacked you." I am not claiming that sexual persecution is universal in the military, yeast infections or that it is inevitable. Yeast infections Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won't tolerate the mistreatment of women, yeast infections it will not happen, yeast infections and studies back this up. Yeast infections Jennifer Hogg, yeast infections 22, yeast infections who was a sergeant in the Army's National Guard, yeast infections said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn't permit the mistreatment of women. Yeast infections But another National Guard soldier, yeast infections Demond Mullins, yeast infections 25, yeast infections who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, yeast infections told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time. Yeast infections "Rapes were happening every night, yeast infections" he said. Yeast infections "One time a woman was taking a shower late, yeast infections and guys went and held the door closed so she couldn't get out, yeast infections while the others went in to rape her. Yeast infections Married men were doing it, yeast infections everyone." Some commanders not only turn a blind eye to assault and harassment but engage in it themselves, yeast infections a phenomenon known in the military as "command rape." Because the military is hierarchical, yeast infections and because soldiers are trained to obey and never question their superiors, yeast infections men of rank can assault their juniors with impunity. Yeast infections In most cases, yeast infections women soldiers are the juniors, yeast infections 18 to 20 year old, yeast infections and are new to the military and war, yeast infections thus vulnerable to bullying and exploitation. Yeast infections Callie Wight, yeast infections a psychosocial counselor in women veterans' health in Los Angeles, yeast infections has been treating women who were sexually assaulted in the military for the past 11 years. Yeast infections In all that time, yeast infections she told me, yeast infections 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. Yeast infections "Most commanders dismiss it, yeast infections" she said. Yeast infections A nine-month study of military rape by the Denver Post in 2003 found that nearly 5, yeast infections000 accused military sex offenders had avoided prosecution since 1992. Yeast infections At the moment, yeast infections the most shocking case of military sexual assault is that of Army Spc. Yeast infections Suzanne Swift, yeast infections 21, yeast infections who served in Iraq in 2004. Yeast infections Swift was coerced into sex by one commanding officer, yeast infections which is legally defined as rape by the military, yeast infections and harassed by two others before she finally broke rank and told. Yeast infections As a result, yeast infections the other soldiers treated her like a traitor for months. Yeast infections Unable to face returning to the assailant, yeast infections she went AWOL during a leave at home, yeast infections and was arrested and put in jail for desertion. Yeast infections 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. Yeast infections She refused, yeast infections saying she wouldn't let the Army force her to lie. Yeast infections The Army court-martialed Swift, yeast infections and stripped her of her rank. Yeast infections She spent December in prison and was then sent to Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, yeast infections far away from her family. Yeast infections She must stay in the Army for two more years, yeast infections and may face redeployment. Yeast infections The men who assaulted her received nothing but reprimanding letters. Yeast infections Swift's mother, yeast infections Sara Rich, yeast infections has set up a Web site with a petition calling for her daughter's release: More than 6, yeast infections700 veterans and soldiers have signed it, yeast infections and 102 of them signed their names to stories of their own sexual persecution in the military. Yeast infections Swift's case, yeast infections and those of her petitioners, yeast infections illustrate the real attitude of the military toward women and sexual assault, yeast infections the one that underlies its fancy Web site and claims that it supports soldiers who've been raped. Yeast infections The real attitude is this: If you tell, yeast infections you are going to get punished. Yeast infections The assailant, yeast infections meanwhile, yeast infections will go free. Yeast infections Which brings up an issue that lies at the core of every soldier's heart: comradeship. Yeast infections It is for their comrades that soldiers enlist and reenlist. Yeast infections It is for their "battle buddies" that they risk their lives and put up with all the miseries of sandstorms, yeast infections polluted water, yeast infections lack of sanitation, yeast infections and danger. Yeast infections Soldiers go back to Iraq, yeast infections even if they've turned against the war, yeast infections so as not to let their buddies down. Yeast infections Comradeship is what gets men through war, yeast infections and is what has always got men through war. Yeast infections You protect your battle buddy, yeast infections and your battle buddy protects you. Yeast infections As an Iraq veteran put it to me, yeast infections "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, yeast infections but for most there are no other women, yeast infections so their battle buddies are men. Yeast infections Some of these men are trustworthy. Yeast infections Many are not. Yeast infections How can a man who pressures you for sex every day, yeast infections who treats you like a prostitute, yeast infections who threatens or punishes you if you refuse him, yeast infections or who actually attacks you, yeast infections be counted on to watch your back in battle? "Battle buddy bullshit, yeast infections" said GarcÃ©a from the Military Police. Yeast infections "I didn't trust anybody in my company after a few months. Yeast infections I saw so many girls get screwed over, yeast infections the sexual harassment. Yeast infections I didn't trust anybody and I still don't." If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, yeast infections where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, yeast infections and they all gave me the same answer: Alone.