US DoD & Sexual Assault

What are they afraid of now:

Heartbreaking stories of sexual assault perpetrated against female soldiers and military contractors, including those of Maria Lauterbach, Jamie Leigh Jones, and Lavena Johnson, have shown that women in the military face risk harassment, rape, and even murder.

At an oversight hearing on sexual assault held by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs last Thursday, Mary Lauterbach, the mother of Maria, and Ingrid Torres, a victim of sexual assault and an employee of the American Red Cross working with military bases, were called to testify. The subcommittee had also subpoenaed Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SARPO) office, and invited Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary for defense, to testify.

But Whitley didn’t appear before the committee. When Subcommittee Chairman John Tierney (D-MA) inquired why Whitley hadn’t shown, Dominguez said he instructed her not to testify before the committee. Tierney and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted that it was illegal for Whitley not to appear before the committee with a subpoena. “Dr. Whitley is in serious legal jeopardy,” Tierney said. “This is an unacceptable position for the Department to take.” As a result, he dismissed Dominguez before Dominguez even delivered his testimony.

It’s unclear why the DoD isn’t willing to cooperate with hearings on sexual assault, but from the Tailhook scandal in 1991 to what appears to be deliberate resistance to cooperation with Congress today, the DoD’s record on sexual assault is far from stellar.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, but chances of sexual assault on women in the military are worse. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) recently said that 29 percent of women in the military have experienced sexual assault but as little as 8 percent are referred to courts marital. The Pentagon reported (PDF) this March that 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men in the DoD had experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in the previous year.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) preliminary report (PDF) released at the hearing last week surveyed a sample of servicemembers at 14 bases domestically and abroad. Roughly half of the 103 who said they had experienced a sexual assault in the previous 12 months chose not to report the incident, the report found. Women who experience sexual assault in the military seem not to report for a variety of reasons, including “the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip,” says the GAO’s report.

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