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don't ask, don't tell -- especially not about THAT

April 11, 2011

The Military's Secret Shame - Newsweek by Jesse Ellison April 03, 2011

Greg Jeloudov was 35 and new to America when he decided to join the Army. Like most soldiers, he was driven by both patriotism for his adopted homeland and the pragmatic notion that the military could be a first step in a career that would enable him to provide for his new family. Instead, Jeloudov arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training in May 2009, in the middle of the economic crisis and rising xenophobia. The soldiers in his unit, responding to his Russian accent and New York City address, called him a “champagne socialist” and a “commie faggot.” He was, he told NEWSWEEK, “in the middle of the viper’s pit.” Less than two weeks after arriving on base, he was gang-raped in the barracks by men who said they were showing him who was in charge of the United States. When he reported the attack to unit commanders, he says they told him, “It must have been your fault. You must have provoked them.”

What happened to Jeloudov is a part of life in the armed forces that hardly anyone talks about: male-on-male sexual assault. In the staunchly traditional military culture, it’s an ugly secret, kept hidden by layers of personal shame and official denial. Last year nearly 50,000 male veterans screened positive for “military sexual trauma” at the Department of Veterans Affairs, up from just over 30,000 in 2003. For the victims, the experience is a special kind of hell—a soldier can’t just quit his job to get away from his abusers. But now, as the Pentagon has begun to acknowledge the rampant problem of sexual violence for both genders, men are coming forward in unprecedented numbers, telling their stories and hoping that speaking up will help them, and others, put their lives back together. “We don’t like to think that our men can be victims,” says Kathleen Chard, chief of the posttraumatic-stress unit at the Cincinnati VA. “We don’t want to think that it could happen to us. If a man standing in front of me who is my size, my skill level, who has been raped—what does that mean about me? I can be raped, too.”

In fact, it is the high victimization rate of female soldiers—women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat—that has helped cast light on men assaulting other men. For most of military history, there was neither a system nor language in place to deal with incidents of soldier-on-soldier sexual assault. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Defense Department even acknowledged such incidents as an offense, and initially only female victims were recognized. But last year more than 110 men made confidential reports of sexual assault by other men, nearly three times as many as in 2007. The real number of victims is surely much higher. Even among civilians, sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime. In the military the silence is nearly complete. By the Pentagon’s own estimate, figures for assaults on women likely represent less than 20 percent of actual incidents. Another study released in March found that just one in 15 men in the Air Force would report being sexually assaulted, compared with one in five women.

While many might assume the perpetrators of such assaults are closeted gay soldiers, military experts and outside researchers say assailants usually are heterosexual. Like in prisons and other predominantly male environments, male-on-male assault in the military, experts say, is motivated not by homosexuality, but power, intimidation, and domination. Assault victims, both male and female, are typically young and low-ranking; they are targeted for their vulnerability. Often, in male-on-male cases, assailants go after those they assume are gay, even if they are not. “One of the reasons people commit sexual assault is to put people in their place, to drive them out,” says Mic Hunter, author of Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America’s Military. “Sexual assault isn’t about sex, it’s about violence.”

According to Hunter and others, the repeal of the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” might actually help the institution address the issue. Under that rule, being gay meant being fundamentally unfit to serve; it meant you didn’t belong. It also meant that victims were even more reluctant to report their attacks. “I wouldn’t say that the repeal is going to make it safe,” says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays in the military. “But male victims will be a little bit less reluctant to report their assaults.” [...]

Another Reason Why Open Gays Will Be Good for the Military
by Stephen H. Miller on April 9, 2011 (http://igfculturewatch.com/2011/04/09/another-reason-why-open-gays-will-be-good-for-the-military/)

...A key argument by those opposed to letting open gays serve in the military was that it would lead to sexualized barracks (often with the none too subtle invoking of gays as sexual predators). In all likelihood, having open gays around will decrease the incidents of male-on-male sexual assault. Reporting and follow-up measures being put in place measures to protect straights from gays will have the effect of protecting both gays and vulnerable straights from the assaults of twisted, hetero bastards....

Yeah, that's ... kind of not how human nature works, unfortunately. Not in the short term, anyway.

"Often, in male-on-male cases, assailants go after those they assume are gay, even if they are not." So what do you think will happen if/when they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the private in the bunk over there actually is gay? Out, proud, just wants to serve their country like all the other soldiers there? What do you think will happen?

In the short term, what's likely to happen is that openly gay people will have a big fat target on their backs. Depending on how well the commanders follow the sexual assault reporting, tracking and disciplinary procedures -- and that's going to be highly variable -- openly gay soldiers may be somewhat less reluctant to report the assaults. After all, they can't accuse you of being gay because you report the assault, which is what frequently happens now. That said, it may also work that some gay soldiers will be less likely to report the assault ... because they're gay. After all, if the idea is that being gay makes you less manly, then the idea that you couldn't protect yourself from being raped by your fellow soldiers only reinforces the point, right? And in either case, in the short term, the likelihood is that actual assaults are going to spike. People who will rape you to put you in your place because they feel you're week, or because you're gay or, well, Just Because They Can aren't any less likely to rape someone who actually IS gay, especially if the idea is to make the person understand just how much they don't belong.

Understand: this isn't a blanket indictment of all male soldiers; of course most aren't rapists, just as most men aren't.

But, just as with society at large, there's a minority of people that are.

...Fear of a ruined career is a major factor preventing victims from coming forward. In 2010 the Pentagon anonymously surveyed active-duty soldiers who had been sexually assaulted about why they declined to report their attacks. Almost half the responding men said they kept silent because they didn’t want anyone to know, a third said they didn’t think anything would be done, and almost 30 percent said they were afraid of retaliation or reprisals....

The only way those numbers will change is for some guys who are angry enough and determined enough to follow the process through to the end, to be unafraid to have it publicly known what happened, and for the Pentagon to publicly and harshly punish the attackers. The first two parts seem to be happening, with the various lawsuits and people willing to be interviewed. The third ... well, we'll see, won't we? The military has been terribly slow to deal with the assault issue against women soldiers -- that a woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted by her fellow soldiers than killed in combat is beyond shameful -- so I can't imagine that dealing with men being sexually assaulted is going to be something that they deal with well or quickly.

...Kathleen Chard, the Cincinnati VA psychologist who runs PTSD programs, says that more than 11 percent of the men she works with eventually admit that they were sexually victimized....

It would be nice if that sentence had been written with a bit more clarity. Assuming that it means that those men were sexually victimized while in the military by other members of the military ... The US has roughly 1.4 million men and women in its armed forces, according to the 2010 stats of the Statistical Information and Analysis Division of the Department of Defense. Of those, roughly 208,000 are women. It's probably a bit of a stretch simply to project out, using that 11 percent number, but then again, given that we know that the crime is spectacularly underreported ... let's project. We're talking about approximately 154,000 of the men under arms who may have been "sexually victimized" by other men in the military. That's ... kind of a lot of people. As I say, even allowing for underreporting, that's probably a huge stretch. I should imagine that if you're being treated for PTSD already, people who have been sexually assaulted may be somewhat overrepresented in that particular population.

But even if it's only 25% of the above, we're still talking tens of thousands of men.

The Pentagon estimates that what it knows about represents less than 20% of the assaults that actually occur. 110 assaults were reported last year. So by the Pentagon's own estimate, there should be at least 2200 assaults per year.

No matter how you look at it, there's a lot.

I do wonder, though. People don't report the assaults because they're afraid of retaliation, they're afraid of the effects on their career. But ... not reporting a rapist that you live with is just going to make it more likely that they rape you again, Just Because They Can. And how well can you function when you have to be with someone who's assaulted you, and you have to do that each and every day? When they live with you, sleep in the same room with you? Surely that's going to be just as damaging to your career, at least in the short term.

I really do hope that the military works its procedures so that people are less afraid to report their attacks, that there's less retaliation, that people are caught and convicted and jailed. One can hope, at least.

Posted by iain at April 11, 2011 06:12 PM







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