The Buzz

The Military's Rape Problem

Imagine that you are the victim of a horrific crime. If reporting it would do nothing but endanger your career, retirement and reputation, would you think twice?

So is the choice facing rape victims in the military. There are 20,000 assaults each year, and 86 percent of these crimes go unreported. Why? James Kitfield unveils the disturbing details in a powerful and well-reported piece, “The Enemy Within,” in this week’s National Journal.

The problems behind this silent epidemic in the U.S. military are twofold: one, the very values instilled by these esteemed institutions including “obedience, self-sacrifice, [and] stoicism in the face of deprivation” are the very ones that sexual predators are apt to exploit, making the military a hotbed of opportunity for abusers. The other is that corroborated accounts repeatedly describe “a command climate that tends to cast suspicion and blame on victims.” Reporting assault is often seen as an “unwanted distraction from ‘good order and discipline.’” 

In practice, this often means that, however shocking, the accused, instead of being investigated, are simply transferred or demoted for “sexual harassment.” The violated? Most distraught victims are referred to “uniformed mental-health experts who diagnose them with ‘personality disorders’ and help wash them out of the military.” An astounding 31,000 service members—a disproportionate number of them women given the overwhelmingly male forces—were discharged with “personality disorders” between 2001 and 2010. The Defense Department does not keep track of how many of these discharges involved sexual-assault victims.

This worthy topic has been getting some attention lately, including the documentary The Invisible War, which interviewed five female marines who reported being raped. The Corps disciplined four of the women after they reported the rapes but punished none of the accused.

This cover story sheds much-needed light on the flawed nature of military command for reporting violent crimes. Kitfield’s comprehensive reporting takes on the full extent of this shameful secret and makes a compelling case for a civilian agency (much like those in Australia, Great Britain and Canada) within the DoD to handle sexual-assault cases.