Rape in the US military

A horrific and important story in the Guardian. I was not shocked by the high rates of rape, but I was shocked to learn that the US military differs form other militaries in their handling of rape: other countries turn rape cases over to non-military police. The US handles the cases within the military. The effects are predictable, though their magnitude still shocked me.

5 thoughts on “Rape in the US military

  1. The “money quote” in the article is that “it is estimated that a female soldier in iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire”. The Guardian’s source for this appears to be an opinion piece by an individual member of Congress published in HuffPo (at least that’s what the Guardian links to), wherein Rep. Jane Harman asserts it. Leaving aside the Guardian’s eyebrow-raising journalistic decision to source this to an opinion piece, I note that we do not see in Harman’s opinion piece (so presumably the Guardian did not see either) the statistics supporting that comparison.

    But even in the absence of a rape statistic, let’s consider the likelihood of a woman serving in Iraq being killed in the first place. Last spring it was widely reported in the US press that more than 230,000 women had served in US military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around the same time, About.com said that there were 113 women fatalities among those forces (though it’s not clear that they were all due to “enemy fire”). That suggests that the average odds of a woman serving in Iraq or Afghanistan being killed in combat are less than 1 in 2000. So while *any* amount of rape or sexual assault is in an important sense excessive, we ought to bear in mind that the survival rate for military women in Iraq is so *extraordinarily good* that comparing other things to it (especially without offering those statistics) is unlikely to enlighten anyone about anything. I’d wager that even civilian sexual assault statistics from countries with a very low relative incidence of rape are going to be much higher.

    Indeed, I’d be interested to see comparisons of military to civilian sexual assault rates, controlling for age, sex and such.

    There are many other problems with the article as well, not the least of which is that it appears unconsciously to be crediting plaintiff allegations in a civil lawsuit as unchallenged fact – something that happens all the time in blog posts but should not be happening in a news article.

    I’d submit that more rigorous, well-sourced and objective reporting on this topic is available from outlets other than the Guardian. That’s probably true of most topics, but particularly in the area of the US military matters, where the Guardian can’t seem to help itself.

    Here, for example, is a strikingly different McClatchy article on the same issue:


    Jender, I hesitate to ask, but why do you say that it’s not only shocking that these cases are investigated by military police and tried by courts-martial, but that the effects are predictable? Granted that no one can clearly understand what those effects are from reading the Guardian article, but still?

  2. The framing of the article really disturbed me. Talking about the profession of every single rape victim makes it sound like what they do now is important to their credibility. At best it’s voyeurism.

  3. well, even if i say “its the system” (Le Sigh) and then merely apply common-sense-rationale ‘who made the laws’, ‘what are military system/structures made of’ and-so-forth, then i actually think this is a mere “tip-of-the-iceberg”-topic as well.

    and i wonder why would anybody – considering the soc. status-quo-society – fund a study of e.g. “military vs. civilian rape/sexual assault-study” (re. @Nemo) ?!

    fyi, compare “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)” released by US-CDC –

  4. Angelika, I’m not sure I fully understood everything in your comment. What, in your opinion, are the answers to, such questions as “who made the laws” and “what are military systems/structures made of”, and more importantly what do you think are the implications of those answers here?

    With regard to military vs. civilian rates of sexual assault, I would think many people would be interested in such an inquiry and might have already carried one out – not the least of which would be the Pentagon, which according to the McClatchy news story has been undertaking a concerted crackdown on sexual assault for some years now (in some respects more harsh than civilian authorities), though that does not emerge from the Guardian’s article. So in the course of developing its approach, it’s reasonable to suspect that the government itself would already have undertaken such comparative empirical inquiries.

    Of course, one could informally compare these on the basis of statistics prepared separately regarding the civilian and military arenas, respectively. But applying the necessary statistical controls for age, sex, and perhaps other matters, would require more effort – and I think such controls would be very important here. It stands to reason that for a pool of people (the US armed forces) in which, compared to the general US adult population, a man is disproportionately likely to belong to a demographic (young male) correlating with higher numbers of sexual assaulters, and a woman is disproportionately likely to belong to a demographic (young female) correlating with higher risk of being sexually assaulted, uncontrolled statistical rates of sexual assault could be significantly higher than non-military rates *without* necessarily indicating any military-specific problem in this respect.

  5. > But applying the necessary statistical controls for age, sex, and perhaps other matters, would require more effort – and I think such controls would be very important here. <
    indeed, i do agree.
    as a realist i tend to say that it will not happen (ergo Le Sigh) because e.g. lack of funding and/or lack of (political) interest.
    various indicators make me tend to realistically
    not "see this research happen" (in my lifetime/any time soon)

    (the system = the kyrarchical-status-quo-system)

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