Military Labels Rape Victims “Crazy”

Sexual assault is a growing problem in the US military. A recent report points to 3,192 reported cases in 2011 alone. And only a small fraction of sexual assaults are ever reported. The Pentagon estimates the actual figure may be closer to 19,000. Previous studies have suggested that 1 out of every 3 women and 1 in 15 men in the military experience sexual assault at the hands of other service members.

There are myriad reasons why someone wouldn’t want to report sexual assault in the armed forces, and a recent CNN report points to one disturbingly common possibility. Rape victims throughout the armed forces are claiming to have had their allegations ignored by superiors, suddenly finding themselves diagnosed with “personality disorders” which force them to leave the military.

Anu Bhagwati, the executive director for the Service Women’s Action Network, tells CNN she’s seen a disturbing pattern of women given psychiatric diagnoses to make their rape reports disappear:

“It’s convenient to sweep this under the rug. It’s also extremely convenient to slap a false diagnosis on a young woman … and then just get rid of them so you don’t have to deal with that problem in your unit. And, unfortunately, a lot of sexual assault survivors are considered problems,” Bhagwati says.

These sudden diagnoses don’t fit with the medial understanding of a personality disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), a personality disorder is a long-standing, inflexible pattern of maladaptive behavior and coping which begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Considering that these women were able to pass military screening and basic training, the likelihood they’re actually suffering from pre-existing personality disorders is incredibly low.

Not only that, but psychiatrists consider such diagnoses given during or just after periods of trauma (such as sexual assault) to be inaccurate. If the changes in personality persist following a stressful or traumatic event, the DSM points to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the best diagnosis.

The numbers CNN is reporting are troubling. Women are a minority in every branch of the military, but make up a disproportionate percentage of all personality disorder diagnoses:

Military records show the personality disorder diagnosis is being used disproportionately on women, according to military records obtained by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic under a Freedom of Information Act request.

–In the Army, 16% of all soldiers are women, but females constitute 24% of all personality disorder discharges.

–Air Force: women make up 21% of the ranks and 35% of personality disorder discharges.

–Navy: 17% of sailors are women and 26% of personality disorder discharges

–Marines: 7% of the Corps and 14% of personality disorder discharges

The records don’t reflect how many of those women had reported sexual assault.

The consequences of reporting military sexual assaults don’t stop with simply being discharged from the military. Service members with a personality disorder aren’t eligible for education benefits or veterans health benefits. They may not be able to receive help for their PTSD. They can lose pension benefits even when close to retirement. Some women report being forced to repay their enlistment bonus after being discharged — with hefty interest fees.

On the heels of these reports come some good news for victims of both sexes in the military — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced the military will take new steps to prevent sexual assault. These measures include a “Special Victims Unit” within each of the services to track the outcome of sexual assault cases, which will hopefully be able to safeguard against cases like those reported by CNN.

Panetta also emphasized that the most important step the military can take is simply prosecuting offenders. What do Care2 readers think of the announcement? Do Panetta’s proposed policies go far enough?


Related Stories:

Fox Pundit Says Women In The Military Should ‘Expect’ To Be Raped

Veterans Sexually Assaulted in VA Clinics and Hospitals

Thousands of Military Rapists Escape Punishment

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr


Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jude Hand
Judith Hand4 years ago

I've a friend who was gang-raped in the military. She had been in military intelligence. It was not until a psychiatrist was able to translate her medical records from a foreign language that she was able to know more about the incidence. She had been put in a military psychiatric hospital, her family having received no notification of where she was. She would've stayed in the military for her career. If we see a positive, it is that these records state the truth of the occurence and give her service related disability accompanying her PTSD, though not more than 50%. They did, however, receive education that led her to getting her juris doctorate. Whether she'll ever be able to practise is unsure. She feels that it gave her some way to seek justice and to integrate some of her experiences. If I had my druthers, she would sue their butt off and win a substantial sum. I don't see that happening. She is unable to work but bravely, thank God, takes her life one day at a time and is a wonderful person. The service lost a brilliant, intelligent woman who might have been a devoted lifelong soldier. Remarkably, she harbors no ill will. The military needs to do something, and soon!

Cindy L.
Ci L4 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 A4 years ago

In my eyes,the crazy ones and dangerous are the rapists! They are the ones that should be in the "sick-lists" I would want see that diagnose! In public!
The real man would NEVER rape! The lowlife animals,gutless wimp do that...-and call themselves MEN!!!

Christine R.
Christine Ramsey5 years ago

What I want to know is what they plan to do about the injustices that have already happened.... Like all those women who were wrongy diagnosed with a mental disorder and had their benefits taken away... They should reinstate their benefits at the very least.

Sue H.
.5 years ago

Unfortunately nothing changes in the military establishment until someone high enough up the chain of command gives the orders.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

First getting raped.
Then being ignored by superiors.
Then be diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.
Then be discharged.
Then stripped of all benefits.
Then be forced to repay training costs.
I wonder:
How can a woman survive all these attacks on her?
How can any man allow this to happen?
How on Earth will this encourage any more women to serve?
How can this go on without mainstream media uncover these dreadful stories and demand that all victims are treated with respect?

Janice S.
Janice S5 years ago

At least this is the article I thought I would be reading earlier. If these numbers are accurate, it is indeed very disturbing. I hope and pray that there are not large numbers of women being raped and not large numbers of women being incorrectly diagnosed with mental disorders.

Certainly ANY accusation of RAPE should be investigated!!!! Anyone convicted of rape should be dishonorable discharged and sent to prison!!!! However, if it is proven that the accusation is false , then the person making it should be given harsh consequences as well.

As far as MENTAL DISORDERS -- there should be great care taken to ACCURATELY DIAGNOSE and TREAT them. Sadly, the very nature of war does lead to many soldiers -- both male and female--- to suffer from PTSD .

Sheryl D.
Sheryl D5 years ago

This kind of thing makes my stomach churn! When are men going to realize that WITHOUT women, they wouldn't be around!! We women are not meant to be slaves to men. I don't know where that thought came from, but it is truly a wrong attitude. No body should be afraid to report sexual abuse to their superior!!! And the officers should do whatever they can to check out the facts & turn in the abuser if the report is correct! What is this world coming to? Do you know that most animals care more about each other than humans care about their fellow human (man or woman)! How sad!!

Josha N.
Josha N5 years ago

This is just so horrible. But thank goodness they're finally acknowledging it's a problem and are trying, however inadequately to solve it.