The victims of these rampant sexual assaults have little recourse outside their own chain-of-command, where commanding officers often personally know the assailant. That’s why Ziering stressed in her comments that commanders need to be held accountable, holding up the example of the Catholic church, where action against child abuse only came after bishops’ responsibility became an area of focus. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta viewed “The Invisible War” in April and two days later shifted the discretion for pursuing investigations higher up the chain-of-command in order to distance those determinations from the immediate commanders of accusers and accused alike. (Other steps have since been taken, too.)
I want to offer a male perspective from someone who has been through something similar, in order to say it’s not just women who have these reactions. As a young teenager I was sexually abused by a teacher/coach, someone who had become like a father-figure to me (I’ve never met my real father, who left before I was born). It happened a few times, but I was eventually able to avoid him when the teacher transferred to another school.
I never told anyone until I was 19 or so, when I just couldn’t deal with my depression on my own and finally told certain friends and family. My mom reported it to the original school and contacted the police. They were sympathetic but didn’t do anything to follow up or take away his position. Mine was the only reported case. I did write a letter for the police and have it filed as a report, but I never followed up. I spoke briefly with a police investigator on the phone who was pretty clear that since it was several years prior, and my word against his, that it would be a tough case to push forward. I told myself that if other reports came up then I would testify or participate in whatever investigation was necessary, but didn’t want to go any further if it was just me, and ultimately didn’t ever follow up on it.
Later in my early-20s I did get counseling for my depression. The counselor wanted to pursue the police case again, since the individual was still a teacher in the school system.
New Jersey state Assemblyman Troy Singleton is proposing a law that would make it illegal to lie to a prospective sexual partner in order to get them in bed. The bill – which is unlikely to pass – defines “sexual assault by fraud” as “an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not”. Elizabeth Nolan Brown loses it:
No no no just no: we do not need a legal remedy for people having bad judgement. Is it a shame that some people misrepresent themselves to get people to sleep with them? Sure. But not every aspect of social and sexual relationships can be a matter for government concern. What’s next, making it a misdemeanor to use outdated photos on your Tinder profile? Criminalizing push-up bras? Throwing people in jail who say they’ll call the next day but don’t?
The situation Singleton says spawned his proposal involves Mischele Lewis, a woman defrauded by a man claiming to be a British military official. The pair had sex and Lewis also paid the man, William Allen Jordan, $5,000 for an alleged security clearance. When Jordan turned out to be a scam artist, Lewis pressed charges and he wound up pleading guilty to defrauding her. Justice served, right? Not in the warped worldview of New Jersey prosecutors, who apparently can’t stand the idea that some areas of interpersonal dynamics aren’t within their prosecutorial reach.
Ann Friedman argues that, if we’re going to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, we have to force reputation-conscious college administrations to get over themselves:
[M]aking colleges get serious about addressing sexual assaults will probably take more than just urging them to mend their ways. One of the institutional deterrents to encouraging more assault survivors to come forward is that it often means a marked increase in crime statistics. Last week the Pentagon reported that, after a similar campaign to change the way the military handles assault, reports of sexual assault jumped more than 50 percent. This is actually good news for survivors: It means more of them feel comfortable coming forward. But it doesn’t look good for the institutions involved. Universities are eager to please parents and woo new students, which has often led them to prioritize their own reputations above survivors’ needs.
Amanda Hess adds that this is especially important given that many of the trouble spots are among the most elite schools in the country. She worries about the obstacles students face when reporting rape:
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat. It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
Off the top of my head, it’s not even obvious that current Members of Congress who are veterans are more willing to “make compromises for the good of the country” than their non-veteran peers. Certainly, recently-departed Representative Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel allowed to retire after escaping conviction for war crimes, didn’t fit that bill. Nor did Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, who served in the Army Reserve. Looking at a slightly dated list of veterans in the House and Senate, one sees plenty of firebrands. Spencer Bachus. John Conyers. John Dingell. Louie Gohmert. Duncan Hunter. Darrell Issa. Peter King. Charlie Rangel. Bobby Rush. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson. Jim Inhofe.
Jazz Shaw, a veteran himself, piles on Milbank’s theory by calling it “the worst argument in favor of the draft ever”:
There’s plenty to agree with in Frank Bruni’s column today on ameliorating the culture that leads to disparagement of and aggression toward women. In fact, I’d probably endorse most of the proposals he makes. But, unlike Frank, I don’t believe that masculinity is entirely a cultural construct. Here’s how he puts it:
There are times when I find myself darkly wondering if there’s some ineradicable predatory streak in the male subset of our species. Wrong, Chris Kilmartin told me. It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer.
But there is a third option between DNA and culture. It’s called testosterone. It’s a very powerful hormone that makes men men (we are all originally default female embryos) and is the sole real difference between the sexes. And it correlates very strongly with aggression, confidence, pride, and physical strength. There is nothing inherently “dark” about this. Testosterone has fueled a huge amount of human achievement and success as well as over-reach and disaster. And it makes men and women inherently different – something so obvious no one really doubted it until very recently, when the blank-slate left emerged, merging self-righteousness with empirical delusion.
This absolutely doesn’t mean acquiescence to rape or the culture that leads to rape.
The State Department has called bacha baazi a “widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape.” For instance, one military intelligence reservist related a story about an Afghan colonel who stood before a judge after he hurt a chai boy by violently raping him: “His defense was, ‘Honestly, who hasn’t raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha.’ The judge responds, ‘You’re right. Case dismissed.’”
Cracking down on this practice is nearly impossible, as the main culprits are often the very law enforcement and military personnel that the U.S. works alongside. In the documentary “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” (2010), police officials insist that sex traffickers of young boys will be arrested; later that day, two of the same officers are filmed at a bacha baazi party.
The words of a deputy police chief:
“If they don’t f–k the asses of those boys, what should they f–k?” he asks at one point. “The p—–s of their own grandmothers? Their asses were used before, and now they want to get what they are owed.”
The government just released a massive study on the factors that influence a soldier’s reintegration into normal life after a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. George Zornick focuses on the effects of sexual trauma, reported by 48,100 women and 43,700 men:
The study focuses on what these traumas mean for female veteran’s health: as noted, it concludes that women who have suffered a sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than female veterans with no history of sexual abuse. Female victims are also at much greater risk for a wide variety of other problems upon return: anxiety, depression, substance abuse and family troubles.
These results explicitly control for other factors that lead to PTSD. Contrary to many conservative talking points when Obama lifted the restriction on women in combat, the research cited in this study found that women handle combat-related stress just as well as men—military sexual trauma is a singular factor bumping up the prevalence of PTSD among women.
William Pesek assesses the evolving political crisis sparked by the gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi:
The immediate focus is on the six men accused of torturing a medical student so sadistically that they destroyed her internal organs. The issues of women’s rights, safety and respect have seldom been the stuff of headlines in the biggest democracy. It’s also a complicated issue prone to unhelpful generalities. But the rape cast a spotlight on something well-known to India watchers but given little heed globally: how badly India often treats its women, how sexual harassment is tolerated and the extent to which backward attitudes must be stamped out. Misogynistic comments from a variety of officials suggesting the victim may have encouraged the attack based on her dress and mannerisms don’t help.
But he thinks the outrage will probably transform the country's politics:
It is telling that so many young, urban men are among the aggrieved denouncing the rapes. That is a nod to the important role that gender equality plays in eradicating poverty. But these demonstrations are also shaking the conscience of middle-class Indians who sense that their leaders have lost their way.
Max Fisher points to other consequences of the rape problem in India:
[Y]ou don’t expect to see violence against women translate into immediate and quantifiable national economic damage. But, in a sign of just how serious India’s problem really is, that may already be happening. A study across several cities found that a staggering 82 percent of Indian women say that they are reducing their working hours, leaving the office early because they don’t want to be traveling after dark, when the risk of assault could be higher. Some quit outright, afraid that commuting has become too dangerous.
Mira Kamdar explains how the rise of women in Indian society is making their lives more dangerous:
A woman who can be seen is seen as a woman available for violation.
Rapid modernization and urbanization in India have made women, especially young women, visible as never before. More and more women are seeking education and employment. They go out to school, to work and to socialize with friends. They, like the young woman who was gang raped in Delhi, go out to movies. Increasingly, they go out with men, and, increasingly, they, instead of their parents, choose their life partners.
The young woman who was attacked had come to Delhi from a small village where her enlightened parents had scrimped and saved to educate her. She was studying to become a physical therapist. She was making her own life on the new exciting terms offered by India's changing society. While these opportunities have increased, they can't meet the volume of raised aspirations. Competition for slots in the better schools and for jobs remains fierce. The competition for women is also fierce. In India, girls are too often seen as temporary members of their families who will one day marry and join a new family. Male children are preferred, and sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and the sheer neglect of girls have made for a growing gender gap. Too many young men simmer with aspirations and desires that are simply not likely to be realized.
Erika Christakis elaborates on the link between sex-selection and violence:
Growing evidence suggests that in countries like India and China, where the ratio of men to women is unnaturally high due to the selective abortion of female fetuses and neglect of girl children, the rates of violence towards women increase. "The sex ratio imbalance directly leads to more sex trafficking and bride buying," says Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. A scarce resource is generally considered precious, but the lack of women also leaves many young men without marriage partners. In 2011, the number of cases of women raped rose by 9.2 percent; kidnapping and abductions of women were up 19.4 percent. "At this point, we’re talking correlation, not causation. More studies need to be done….[But] it is clear from historical cases and from studies looking at testosterone levels that a large proportion of unmarried men in the population is not a good thing," says Hvistendahl.
Update from a reader, who caught an error in the post that we immediately fixed:
The 23-year-old victim did not commit suicide. She died from her injuries, which included brain damage, heart failure, internal organ failure (including her disembowelment at the hands of the attackers), and subsequent gangrene and sepsis. It took her the better part of two weeks to die after surviving multiple surgeries, getting on her feet once, and being transferred to a hospital in Singapore where doctors thought she had a better chance. As a result of her death, the six accused men are now being charged with murder in addition to rape and kidnapping.
You were perhaps thinking of the 17-year-old gang rape victim who did commit suicide after being pressed to drop charges and marry one of her attackers. Her suicide took place while the world waiting to see if the 23-year-old medical student could beat the odds and recover.
One of the more interesting and horrifying aspects of the case has been the employment of euphemism to cover it. I have noticed that most articles discuss the victim "having internal injuries" or "having some of her intestines removed", but most seem to suggest that these injuries resulted from her being beaten with an iron rod. Some may, but one or two stark reports have given the full truth, which is that after being penetrated by six attackers (a horror I cannot imagine), one or more inserted an iron rod into the woman and partially disemboweled her. I can't help but think that had such treatment occurred as part of a military operation, we'd be getting the graphic details in every report.
My point here is that as horrific as the crime was, I don't think the reporting on it has been up to the task. If we can't bring ourselves to fully discuss the violence and torture that sometimes accompanies rape – if we can't discuss what such an invasion is capable of inflicting in terms of pain and injury – how can we possibly stop it?
(Photo: Indian students of various organisations hold placards as they shout slogans during a demonstration in Hyderabad on January 3, 2013. A gang of men accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed the nation are to appear in court for the first time. Police are to formally charge five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died at the weekend from the horrific injuries inflicted on her during an ordeal that has galvanised disgust over rising sex crimes in India. By Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)