Making Military Sexual Assault Visible

January 24, 2012

Did you know that, according to the new documentary Invisible War, about 20 percent of women in the military are raped by coworkers, as are 1 percent of men? Did you know that the Department of Defense estimates that about 19,000 women in the military were raped in 2011?

Not only is rape an epidemic in the military, but prosecution rates are also low and retaliation against people who report it is high. The reporting process has to follow the chain of command, and this often makes it difficult to report the crime, let alone see justice. Of women who reported being assaulted, 25 percent said that the person they would have to report to was their rapist. Another third said that the person they would have to report to was a friend of the rapist. Of the few rapes that are reported, only 8 percent are ever prosecuted and just 2 percent end in conviction.

Survivors are not staying silent, however. They are making visible an issue that has been invisible for too long.

Nearly 30 current and former members of the military are suing Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense. They allege that they were raped by co-workers and that Rumsfeld’s failure to act on the issue of sexual assault in the military amounts to a violation of their constitutional rights. Filed in February 2011, AAUW began supporting this workplace sex discrimination lawsuit in the spring of 2011.

On December 13, 2011, a U.S. district court judge granted the Department of Defense’s motion to dismiss the case. The plaintiffs and lawyer are appealing the case, and oral arguments will be held in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in the coming months.

To try to create a legislative fix to the problem, in November Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) to address structural changes needed in the military.

This issue also is being brought to light by Invisible War. It premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, and it features several of the plaintiffs from the lawsuit, including the named lead plaintiff Kori Cioca. It also features the attorney, Susan Burke, and Speier.

Two days before the film premiere, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon is preparing a series of initiatives to curb sexual assault in the military. While this is a positive step, many people are skeptical that anything will actually change. Sexual abuse in the military has been in the headlines off and on since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, and though military leaders promise over and over to change things, very little has been done. The high rate of assault continues.

I flew to Utah this past weekend and had the privilege of attending a screening and survivor speak-out with the subjects of the film. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. I cannot do justice to their stories, pain, and courage in a short blog post, so I simply recommend that you watch the film when it’s widely available and host screenings for your friends and community groups.

In the meantime, please contact your representative about the STOP Act, donate to AAUW to help offset the legal costs of the lawsuit, and visit the Invisible War website to learn about other action you can take.

Holly Kearl By:   |   January 24, 2012


  1. Avatar ClaudiaProSelfDefender says:

    I’m surprised you are all so shocked about this. This is really nothing new…

    This is a societal issue, not military; it will continue to happen despite efforts by military leaders and officials because of the way society views women. Best thing to do is know how to defend yourself.

  2. Avatar victim of military rapist says:

    I was a member of AAUW a few years back. I stopped being involved in things after I was sexually assaulted and raped by my then Marine boyfriend when he came back from Afghanistan. Because of his screaming about being suicidal as I stopped the rape and other unstable behavior I thought he had severe PTSD. I even attended an AAUW presentation on PTSD about a week later. After being threatened and continued unstable behavior I contacted his base and reported the assault. This was two years ago. I was ignored by his Sgt. Maj., the Pentagon and Congressman Mark Critz. I have overwhelming evidence and can’t get any help. My state senator even tried to get help from Obama and his office blew it all off. People like Burke aren’t really doing anything to help but make a name for themselves with this. I can’t even get criminal charges pressed because my DA in PA can’t get San Diego to get back to her. This country does nothing to help women who have been sexually assaulted. My state senator, after seeing what I have gone through first hand has said this is worse than Penn State. This has been a known problem for years and nobody want’s to talk about it. Not one man has been held accountable, or any commands. The laws are already there, and are nothing more than words on paper. New laws won’t change anything only holding men accountable will. When a guy with 20 years is dishonorably discharged for ignoring a rape things will change. But until them nobody in this country wants to hear their military is full of rapist and druggies (ive witnessed it first hand), instead we call them hero’s and the get out and continue to rape, look at the statistics.
    What the AAUW needs to do is get a law passed that warns women, and men, that their chances of being raped in the military are 1 in 3, if not worse, and that they have a 20% chance or more of being raped more than once. We put a warning label on tobacco, why not for those joining the military. They need to be shamed into change and we owe young women a warning, don’t we? The worst part is most people will forget about it by next week. I will live with this for whatever time I have left in this world. Women have turned out to be a great disappointment. Call the agencies that are supposed to be womens groups or womens law groups. Their are of no help. People need to stop talking and start taking action.

  3. Avatar All-USA-Teacher says:

    This is a national disgrace – let’s all step up to the plate and speak up – promoting respect between both men and women, and acknowledging the VALUE of our differences.

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