Thousands of Military Rapists Escape Punishment

In a post on the Ms. blog from a little over a week ago, Natalie Wilson points out an unusual occurrence: Aaron Pernell, a Fort Bragg soldier, was charged with sexual assault in February and appeared in court two weeks ago on 13 charges including two counts of first-degree rape and three counts each of attempted rape and burglary.  Pernell was accused of instigating three attacks on women from October to December 2008 in single-family homes in North Carolina. One of the women was raped.  He appeared in court earlier in the day in another county, where he was charged with breaking into three homes in spring 2009 and sexually assaulting three women.

The trial was not unusual because of the charges against Pernell, although the judge informed him that he could receive up to 200 years in prison if found guilty.  It was out of the ordinary because the charges were brought at all.  As investigative journalism by the Denver Post proved, thousands of military rapists have escaped justice for spousal abuse, sexual assault, and other crimes committed both within and outside the uniform.

My fellow Care2 bloggers have written often and well about the horrifying frequency of sexual assault in the military.  And there’s much to say on the subject – militarized sexual violence (MSV) is on the rise.  One-third of the women who join the military are likely to be sexual assaulted during their time in service, which means that many soldiers are undetected rapists.  But what gets written about less often is what happens when the soldiers come home.

Wilson quotes Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, in her post.  Bannerman refers to violence against women at home as “collateral damage,” writing:

“In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.”

There are a couple of possible reasons for high rates of sexual violence perpetrated by people in the military.  One is the granting of “moral waivers,” which allow people to enlist despite records of sexual or domestic violence.  Another is the fact that many soldiers who enlist as teenagers are likely to come from troubled homes.  But the fact remains that MSV is not just a problem within the military (although it’s certainly an enormous issue there) – it may seem separate from civilian culture, but people who are rapists don’t just stop when they come back from war.  We need to take this issue more seriously, and to address MSV in all its forms, so that we can begin to end the silence for all of the women who are affected by sexual violence inside and outside the military.

Photo from Lisa Norwood's Flickr photostream.

129 comments

Cindy L.
Ci L3 years ago

This is a big reason why I'm anti-war. It's a place where men are allowed to rape, and even encouraged to rape (in the countries they invade), and get away scot-free. I spit on these people and the system that encourages it.

Pinke A.
Pinke A3 years ago

This looks really,really bad! Without talking about sad! I have so great difficulties to understand,how the "brave" soldiers,can be such a wimp! Raping is such a low and disgusting thing to do! The punishment must follow,otherwise this will grow,no exception can be accepted.

Carol Harnwell
Carol Harnwell4 years ago

Shocking that this is not being addressed, there should be a government health department report done ASAP

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S4 years ago

All military personnel fill out prescreening forms as soon as they return from an active duty area. When this is done immediately, bravado and an "on duty" type of functioning means very few people have PTSD, unless they were dealing with it in the field. The number of active duty troops on Prozac or other drugs is staggering. Mandatory treatment for everyone before coming home is not only prohibitively expensive (those diagnosed with PTSD now have trouble getting treatment) but would be ineffective, since many or most cases don't show until soldiers have been home long enough to decompress.

Marijke Baars
Past Member 6 years ago

Even when people come from a troubled home, that does not give them the right to sexually assult other people. That is not an excuse. My childhood was far from positive and just because of that, I could NEVER do such a thing to anybody

Low B.
low beng kiat6 years ago

Good info

Daniel Meritt
Daniel Meritt6 years ago

Jen Kae, I think your idea of "...mandatory intensive inpatient therapy to reduce the ptsd and all that comes with it before reuiniting with their families" is an excellent one. I agree we "have to move from punitive to preventative". I hope someone influential in the government/military is reading your post, so that the situation can be improved.

Carol Ann Evans
Past Member 6 years ago

I'm really having difficulty with this one .... I see men (and women) who join the military as very brave people and I know for cetain that I couldn't be so brave. What I can't get my head around is the fact that these "good men" who are supposedly doing good for their country, can destroy women who are doing the same, and destroy women in general. It just boggles my mind! Do they not get it .... rape destroys!

Jen Kae
Jen Kae6 years ago

Daniel, I wonder if we could pull off something like that. The only problem I can see is that eventually, using your idea and those of many other really smart people like you, is that we eventually have to move from punitive to preventative.

Emilyanne, You are so right!!! It does require further study. I'm glad you like the idea my husband and I came up with, but it would be difficult to enforce. We're just simple people just wanting to help. I grant that no one of us can completely solve the problem, but working together maybe we all can.

Emilyanne Lewis
Emilyanne L6 years ago

This sounds like a serious issue that needs a lot more attention. Jen Kae, I think the mandatory in-patient PTSD therapy upon completion of a tour is absolutly brilliant! While it probably won't cut out the issue at hand, it would probably make a good dent in quite a bit of it.