15/3/13; Jennifer Steinhauer The New York Times
Choking back tears and in voices edged with rage, two women and a man who served in the US military told a Senate panel on Wednesday how they were raped by superiors and then ridiculed or ignored by military officials from whom they sought help. The three former service members – the first military sexual assault victims to testify before a Senate panel – described a pervasive culture of harassment and danger in which victims had little or no redress.
One spoke of a rape she endured during her first months of service, and another told of a sergeant who stripped naked and danced on a table during an official sexual harassment training session. After spending a year being repeatedly harassed, Rebekah Havrilla, a former army sergeant deployed to Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, was raped by a superior a week before returning home. ”I chose not to do a report of any kind because I had no faith in my chain of command,” Ms Havrilla said. When she sought help from an army chaplain, she said, he told her ”the rape was God’s will” and urged her to go to church.
”I no longer have any hope that the military chain of command will consistently prosecute, convict, sentence and carry out the sentencing of sexual predators in uniform,” said BriGette McCoy, who was raped in 1988 when she was aged 18 and stationed in Germany. The hearing, the first the Senate has held in nearly a decade on sexual assault in the military, reflects the increasing attention to the issue because of revelations about pervasive sexual harassment at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and throughout the military. The Pentagon estimates about 19,000 service members are assaulted annually.
A fraction of the incidents are reported because most victims fear retaliation or ruined careers, and only about 10 per cent of those cases go trial.
One in three convicted sex offenders remain in the military, something that many policymakers want immediately corrected. ”The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new, and it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long,” said Democrat senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who convened the hearing as chairwoman of the Senate armed services personnel subcommittee.
The focus on the topic also demonstrates the tenacity of the women on the committee, now at a record seven. ”One reason it has been so difficult to move forward against sexual assault in spite of commitments in the Senate is because we’ve not put a human face on this,” Republican senator Susan Collins said. ”The victims make the violence very real and compel you to act.”
Many committee members said they would like to see all sex offenders in the military discharged from service and would like to replace the current system of adjudicating sexual assault by taking it outside a victim’s chain of command.
The senators focused in particular on a recent decision by an air force general to reverse a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case. Military officials who testified appeared both chastened and defensive. ”The air force has zero tolerance for this offence,” said Lieutenant-General Richard Harding, the judge advocate-general of the air force. General Harding declined to address whether justice had been served in certain cases brought to his attention by Senator Gillibrand. She then told the military officials that she was ”extremely disturbed that each of you believes that the convening authority is what maintains discipline and order within your ranks”.
In the military, a ”convening authority” is a commander in charge of the military justice system within his or her own ranks. ”I appreciate the work you are doing, I honestly do, but it’s not enough,” Senator Gillibrand said. ”And if you think you are achieving discipline and order with your current convening authority framework I am sorry to say you are wrong.” One victim, Brian Lewis, a former petty officer in the navy, said he wanted to bring attention to male victims of sexual assault, who he said were often overlooked. Mr Lewis testified that he was raped in 2000 by a superior and, when his command learnt of the crime, ”I was misdiagnosed as having a personality disorder”.
http://www.smh.com.au/world/abuse-victims-tell-senate-of-rape-and-ridicule-20130314-2g3je.html#ixzz2NXTR5ukP; http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/defence-abuse-claims-on-the-rise-says-smith-20130314-2g1x5.html; http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/blast-for-gladiator-diggers-20130313-2g0xm.html