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Rape in the military

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There’s a very important public service being offered for free by leaders from the Denton County Veterans Coalition, Denton Friends of the Family, Grace After Fire and Denton County MHMR. These groups are hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary “The Invisible War,” at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26.

The movie, one of the nominees for Best Documentary in last month’s Academy Awards presentation, is about sexual assault in the military. Those who have viewed it describe it as a gut-wrenching film, replete with incidents of rape and the arrogant disregard for the victims who seek justice. Woman after woman tells about being attacked by a fellow soldier, sailor, or Marine, and then being betrayed by the officers and by the military as an institution. Instead of the rapists being punished, the women were the ones who ended up paying a price, sometimes losing their careers. After suffering through the ordeal of rape, some were warned not to report it because they could be punished for making “false charges.” Many were cautioned by superior officers that they had better be prepared to risk not being believed.

The fact is; the Pentagon’s own estimate is that close to 20-thousand servicewomen were sexually assaulted in 2010, while only a small fraction resulted in courts martial, and fewer in convictions. One can only imagine how much courage it took for these women to go public with their complaints, knowing they’d be up against the overwhelmingly male-dominated establishment, incurring harassment and possibly even more sexual assaults. We admire courage in our soldiers, but who would have thought that some would need it to fight off the sexual advances of their comrades? It’s a given that military training teaches men and women to be strong, brave and resilient; able to deal with adversity and overcome it. But, there’s nothing in the manual that says you should be capable of dealing with forcible rape by the men you put your trust in and were willing to serve with on the battlefield. This should be disturbing to anyone who cares about the sustainability of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. The reputation of our soldiers, here at home and around the world, must not be tainted with the image of a skulking sex offender preying on those unable to fight him off.

Moreover, the military hierarchy should not be viewed as a good old boys network that merely scoffs at female sexual abuse. Women make up more than more than fifteen percent of the active-duty force, and about twenty percent of the reserves. If we want to have a high-quality all-volunteer force, we need to weed the rapists out of the corps. In some cases we not only lost some good women, but lost their military husbands and fathers, who, upon seeing the irresponsible treatment of their loved ones, decided to quit.  Last year, while still Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta saw “The Invisible War” and immediately changed the requirement that a woman (or man; that’s right, men have been sexually assaulted too) report a sexual assault to his or her immediate superior, who in many cases was a friend or colleague of the assailant, or the assailant himself. Now, the superior must be at least a colonel. But, what happens if the rapist is a colonel? Only last week, Lt. General Craig Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Commander, overruled and tossed out a military court jury’s decision that found Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson guilty of sexually assaulting his subordinate, a woman service member who serves in the Air Force as a physician’s assistant. The assault occurred while the victim lay sleeping.

A few days later, Chuck Hagel, the new Defense Secretary, got involved in the case by calling for a Pentagon review of the ruling to determine whether changes are needed in the way sexual abuse cases are handled. Frankly, that seems like a no-brainer. With all the turmoil around the world, requiring brave men and women to risk life and limb every day, the last thing they need is to have their reputation smeared on the international stage by the criminal actions of a few reprobates.

At the Tuesday night screening, the sponsoring organizations will have trained veteran peer specialists, as well as counselors from Denton Friends of the Family, and veteran support groups on hand to provide information on available treatment and counseling. After the film, Col. Kim Olson (USAF-Retired), President/ CEO, Grace After Fire, will lead a panel discussion on this critical veterans’ issue.

Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.

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