Imagine yourself as a woman in the military today? What would your job be like?
In South Korea a senior officer says to you, “It’s Friday afternoon, why don’t you take off your blouse and get comfortable?”
On another night at a party in your base commander’s house, you are grabbed and bound with duct tape to another pilot despite resisting.
In Germany you escape sexual assault from an intoxicated master sergeant only after some of your co-workers intervene.
In South Carolina you are surrounded by pornography on computers you share with your unit and are told to keep quiet.
In Arizona you endure sexual remarks by an Air Force pilot in front of your husband and when you complain to the operations director of the squadron you get a reputation for being “too outspoken.”
Imagine now that you are the woman who endured all five of these incidents and numerous more throughout your 17-year career in the U.S. military.
Meet Jennifer Smith, an Air Force technical sergeant, who has finally come out to share her experience of repeated sexual assault and harassment throughout her career.
Smith is not alone. While more than 3,000 sexual assault cases were reported in 2011 throughout all military services, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said that the actual figures could actually be as high as 19,000 because so many incidents arenít reported or covered up. In fact, the Defense Department has found that nearly 1 in 3 women in the military has been sexually assaulted.
According to Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, “The goal for sexual assault in the United States Air Force is zero. If you’re a commander or a supervisor and you are not directly and aggressively involved in speaking up about this issue in your unit, then you’re not part of the solution, youíre part of the problem.”
On paper this sounds great, but what if it’s the supervisors that are the perpetrators of the abuse?
Take for example Army General Jeffrey Sinclair from Fort Bragg in North Carolina who is being accused of 26 violations of military law including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, possessing pornography while deployed and conduct unbecoming of an office.
Sinclair’s charges involve inappropriate sexual relationships with four female subordinates and one civilian. Over the course of five years he sexually abused all five women, one of whom he threatened to kill if she reported the abuse.
Both Sinclair’s hearing and Smithís reporting of her abuse leave me feeling very conflicted. On the one hand, I feel happy and empowered that women are speaking up against this horrific abuse of power and holding their perpetrators accountable, but on the other hand I feel frustrated and angered that women who serve their country continue to endure such hostile conditions by the men they work with hand in hand to protect our country.
War is for enemies, not comrades.
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Photo credit: Photo by the U.S. Military used under a Creative Commons license.