The struggle by women to stop being treated as men’s property and sexual objects has finally surfaced in the U.S. military.
What once was totally swept under the rug — that women, and some men, face a high risk of being sexually assaulted while on duty — has now surfaced to such an extent that President Barack Obama had to call in the Pentagon chiefs on May 16 for a special meeting about it.
That very day, the third active-duty officer in charge of investigating sexual harassment cases was arrested for — you guessed it — sexual harassment.
Lt. Col. Darin Haas, manager of the sexual abuse prevention program at Fort Campbell, Ky., was charged with stalking his ex-wife in violation of a restraining order. He was later released after being removed from his position in the sexual assault prevention office.
Ten days earlier, on May 6, the man heading the Air Force’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, Lt. Col. Jeff Kruzinski, had been arrested in Arlington, Va., after he grabbed a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. According to police, she fought the drunken stranger off. His mug shot showed scratches on his face.
Moreover, on May 14, “An unnamed Army sergeant assigned to an assault prevention office at Fort Hood, Texas, was accused of multiple sexual offenses, including ‘abusive sexual contact’ and forcing at least one female officer into prostitution.” (tv-msnbc.com)
These are just the ones who were caught in the act. The day after Kruzinski’s arrest in the Arlington parking lot, the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assaults in the military. It revealed not only a steep rise in assaults but also a reluctance on the part of those attacked to file a formal report about what had happened to them.
According to the Pentagon document, reported sexual assaults in fiscal 2012 rose by 6 percent, to 3,374, over the year before. However, the Pentagon had to admit that a survey it conducted based on allowing respondents to remain anonymous revealed that unreported assaults in the military skyrocketed in the same period from 19,000 to 26,000 — an increase of nearly 39 percent.
Obviously, it didn’t take the arrest of officers like Kruzinski and Haas to convince most survivors of rape and abuse that their ordeal would only be compounded if they reported it to military authorities. They already knew that.
The political response of Congress and the Obama administration to the crisis is based on fears that widespread knowledge of these crimes committed within the military — usually by officers against vulnerable troops under their command — will weaken the U.S. war machine. Obama himself, after meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the civilian heads of the Defense Department, said this scandal was “dangerous to our national security.”
But what is the danger to “national security”? The sexual attacks, or the fact that the struggle of women and their advocates has finally forced them into the light? Are those in charge so worried about the sufferings of people who have been raped, groped and otherwise assaulted, or are they worried that the struggle against this vicious and criminal behavior weakens their chain of command?
One of the demands of those abused is that high-ranking officers not be allowed to overturn convictions reached by military courts. To even have to raise such a demand shows how common it has been for the “good old boys,” many of whom are now proven to be abusers themselves, to look out for each other at the expense of the rank and file.
85,000 veterans treated last year
It is ironic that, in this era of government cutbacks which impact the lives of so many in the working class, it is the sheer cost of dealing with the results of these assaults that has some politicians worried.
Hard on the heels of the Pentagon report on rising sexual assaults in the military came an accounting from the Department of Veterans Affairs that hinted at the monetary costs of these crimes.
It revealed that last year, the DVA treated more than 85,000 veterans for injuries or illness stemming from sexual abuse in the military. Some 4,000 suffered long-term effects and applied for disability benefits.
While the veterans involved are primarily from the period of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they go back as far as the Vietnam war era. Most of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression connected to what the DVA calls “military sexual trauma.” Although women make up only 10 percent of all veterans, a full 60 percent of those treated were women.
During the Vietnam war era, tens of thousands of active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force joined the American Servicemen’s Union, which struggled to empower the rank and file, women and men. The ASU had a thoroughly progressive program, which included an end to racism and sexism in the military, no saluting and sir-ing of officers, the right to collective bargaining and the right to refuse illegal orders — specifically, the order to fight in the illegal, imperialist war in Vietnam.
The breakdown of the officers’ dictatorship over the ranks, known as the “chain of command,” was a large factor in Washington’s eventual decision to pull out of Southeast Asia.
Today the U.S. military is embroiled in a number of imperialist interventions, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Despite all the rosy Pentagon press releases, these are dirty, colonial wars in which young men, and increasingly young women, are trained to be killers and occupiers of oppressed nations.
The imperialist mindset that glorifies the conquest of other peoples promotes the abuse of women as part of the deal. Besides the horrendous acts of rape and murder carried out by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan that have been documented in grisly detail, it is par for the course that “rest and recreation” for U.S. troops stationed overseas includes prostitution.
Military sexual abuse is not an aberration or the result of a few “rotten apples.” It is built into the way this repressive organ of the capitalist state functions.
All sufferers of sexual abuse in the military, particularly women, need to feel their power. They don’t have to be helpless pawns in defense of a system that spreads exploitation around the world at the bidding of the 1%. They can unite, as so many did during the Vietnam war era, to demand their rights — in the same way that civilian workers did when they organized the first labor unions. Anything is possible when there is unity and resistance. n