How serious is the issue of military rape? The latest figures show that a full 20% of female veterans who were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan were the victims of sexual trauma while serving. Worse yet, since the percentage reflects the amount of women who actually report the incidents to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the figure surely underrepresents the extent of the problem.
As The Center for Public Integrity reports, the military is immensely failing women who serve. Not only are the rampant rates of rape and sexual assault not being treated as a serious problem, but also the VA is doing an inadequate job of assisting the women once they return to civilian life and are still suffering from trauma.
For starters, just getting afflicted women to visit the VA facilities for treatment is difficult. After being told to stay strong and tough throughout their service, some women still feel ashamed to admit that they’ve been victimized or that they have trouble coping with the incident. That, or having been previously discouraged from reporting sexual trauma by military superiors or blamed for their supposed “role” in the assaults, the women don’t expect to find actual support at the VA.
In many cases, their instincts are correct. Although efforts have supposedly been made to streamline the bureaucracy and paperwork of reporting sexual trauma to the VA, the process is still unduly arduous. Regulations require that evidence of sexual misconduct be collected, but only 13% of the more than 25,000 annual cases of sexual misconduct are officially reported at the time of these incidents. As a result, victims who are finally ready to confront their trauma in subsequent years must wait additional time for treatment while this evidence is collected. In essence, the same women who were discouraged from reporting their colleagues for sexual misconduct are later punished for doing exactly what commanding officers asked them to do.
Even when female veterans are able to receive treatment from the VA, the results are unimpressive. The main approach is to prescribe veterans with a variety of drugs, a solution that is not always appropriate for trauma victims. Some women receive pills for depression, anxiety and insomnia simultaneously. Rather than encouraging veterans to talk through their negative experiences and develop coping mechanisms, the VA sets the women up for a lifetime of dependency on medication.
The issue needs to be taken more seriously by the VA, particularly since the trauma for most veterans doesn’t end abroad. Once returning to America, the psychological problems generally persist, making it hard for female veterans to maintain employment. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that surprising to learn that 39% of homeless veteran women have been found to experience military sexual trauma.
This year, the Institute of Medicine conducted research that concluded soldiers who suffered sexual assault while serving subsequently experienced higher rates of other physical and mental health problems. Some of the most common effects include insomnia, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorders. Other women start eating more, a subconscious attempt to look less attractive to men and avoid their advances.
Fortunately, some female veterans are seeking treatment outside of the VA system in order to lead healthier, happier lives. The Center for Public Integrity spoke to women who have found more success with group therapy, equine therapy and yoga than any drug the VA could prescribe.
Americans have already witnessed the epidemic of soldiers returning from war with PTSD and the woefully insufficient methods of tackling this disorder. It’s unconscionable to think that some veterans who manage to escape being traumatized by the horrors of war are instead subject to unnecessary sexual trauma by their own comrades. If the government cannot adequately treat these problems, let alone prevent them from occurring in the first place, the system is an utter failure.
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