Earlier this year, a group of former and current members of the U.S. military, all women, sued the Pentagon for ignoring their sexual harassment and assault by fellow active duty service members. Now, a new series of disturbing stories of rape in the military are coming to light – but with these, the assault survivors are men.
Newsweek reports that the horrendous victimization rate of female soldiers – “women in the armed forces,” they point out, “are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat” – has started to shed light on the fact that men are also the victims of brutal sexual assaults by fellow members of the U.S. military. For these men, the stigma around speaking out about their rapes is intense. According to Newsweek, a 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.” And this is despite the fact that the numbers of men who are willing to come forward have tripled since 2007.
The men who commit sexual assault are, according to analysts, mostly heterosexual, and the rapes have little to do with sexual desire; rather, they are a display of power and intimidation against service members who are newer, weaker, or suspected to be gay. In this sense, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” may help men who are the victims of sexual assault on two counts – the notion of being gay in the military can slowly start to become normalized, and survivors can speak out less reluctantly.
And the assailants seem mostly to act with impunity. One man who was gang-raped was told by unit commanders, “It must have been your fault. You must have provoked them.”
One man, who said that he was repeatedly attacked and once had a soda bottle shoved up his rectum, explained the feeling of isolation and powerlessness that came with the assaults. “You just feel trapped,” he says. “They basically tell you you’re going to have to keep working with these people day after day, night after night. You don’t have a choice.”
Even with the repeal of DADT, stigma and fear of reprisals keep men from speaking out. But the few brave survivors who are telling their stories can begin to end the horrible proliferation of sexual assault in the military, a devastating problem that isn’t, as this article shows, confined to women.
Photo from Fotopedia.