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.