Women in the Armed Forces: Why Does Sexual Assault Occur in the Army

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Have you ever considered to join the armed forces? To be part of something greater than yourself and to serve your country. Lots of people have considered joining, but most people don’t take into consideration of all the cons of the military. One major downfall the military faces today is sexual assault. Sexual Assault in the United States military is a major enemy for people serving. In particular, females suffer more from sexual assault because of the male-dominant majority. It destroys the teamwork aspect and it begins making the military not combat effective.

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The military isn’t easy to join as lots of people think it is. It takes lots of strenuous hours of waiting and processing just to swear/affirm the oath to defend the United States constitution before you get shipped off to basic training. You also have two sides to choose from whether it be the enlisted or officer side. After that, you have to choose what branch to join and then the job you want. There are requirements to join as well. You have to be a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, there are age limits, education requirements, and health and fitness requirements. Fast forward in time and you completed all of the in-processing and get shipped off to basic training. Males and females get separated and treated how they should be treated. Males will be with a male drill sergeant and females with a female drill sergeant. While going through basic training there are a series of tests that trainees have to go through like a physical fitness test. If we look at the old army physical fitness test also known as the APFT. You will see the major differences that both male and females face. The APFT consists of 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. Let’s say we both have male and female trainees in the same age group around 17-21. Males have to complete 35 push-ups in under 2 minutes while females have to complete only 13 in 2 minutes. Males and females have the same standard for sit-ups which is to complete 47 sit-ups in 2 minutes. Then finally the 2-mile run. Males have to complete a 2-mile run in under 16:36 to pass. Females have to complete a 2-mile run in under 19:42.

The standards are very different just because of the sheer differences in body type. Biologically males are stronger than females and the standards are proven. Fast forward further and military members who are deployed into combat zones have major differences and its an even bigger toll on women. In an article written by Bradley Nindl about “Operational Physical Performance and Fitness in Military Women” There was a medical surveillance that was taken in 2013 about injuries suffered by male and female soldiers in combat. It was stated that “The medical surveillance data shows women make about 1.3 times as many visits for injuries as men” (Nindl, 54). That is almost twice the amount of males. It is primarily due to the harsh conditions that women face and again restating the differences from a male’s body and a female’s body. However, that is all combat, in a deployment. Going back to basic training there have been studies showing that females experience more injuries than males do. There were about 11 studies taken from 1978 to 2008 of injuries that women have encountered in Army Basic Training. “21 injuries per 100 trainees per month to 31 per 100 per month, whereas rates of injury for men over that period have ranged from 8 injuries per 100 per month to 21 injuries per 100 per month” (Nindl, 54). Female bodies are not as suited to do lots of these strenuous activities.

I’m not saying that females can’t complete basic training or be in the military. However, the differences between a male’s body and a female’s body categorizes them as the minority in the military. In the past 20 years, the military has had a growth of females serving in it. In an article written by Ryan Kelty about 'The Military and the Transition to Adulthood,' there were statistics that show the growth of women serving. “In 1973, at the birth of the volunteer force, women made up 1.6 percent of active-duty personnel; by 2005, that share had grown to some 15 percent' (Kelty, 185). It continues to rise to this day with more females joining and combat positions opening up for them to take. While more women are joining, the military still has a very hyper-masculine culture. Due to the masculine culture, it is a lot harder for women to have the same feminine qualities as a normal woman, not in the military. Kelty also states that it can lead to the devaluation of females while serving. “This devaluation often leads to both physical and symbolic violence against women, a significant source of motivation for women’s leaving military service” (Kelty, 186). Serving in the military takes a toll on a human’s body. Lots of people get injured and sometimes even pass away. The greatest sacrifice that no one wants to give. Also, some things never get told to people when they are signing up for the military. Frankly, it should because this is the reality. One of those things that I am talking about is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a major problem that the military faces. It is beginning to be known as the new enemy for women serving. This shouldn’t be the case, but there are so many instances out there about sexual assault that are reported and many that go unreported. There was a survey that was taken from the fiscal year 2018 about the percentages of women who have been sexually assaulted. “Sexual assault increased, primarily for female Service members ages 17 to 24. About 6.2 percent of active-duty women indicated experiencing a sexual assault in the year prior to being surveyed” (DoD Annual Report, 3). The rate has significantly increased since 2016 which was at only 4.3 percent. The rate is also very different for men, their percentage rate did not change from 2016 to 2018 which was at 0.7 percent. Sexual assault happens mostly to junior enlisted females in the rank of E-3 or E-4. Many military women have reported that the offenders were someone close to them or a peer that they work with. Sexual assault is no joke and many people should take into consideration that this does happen, and it needs to be fixed.

The consequences that women face having been sexually assaulted have led many things to happen. Women are starting to suffer from mental health illnesses that have been caused by sexual assault. Some things that women are starting to suffer from is depression. It is one of the most common conditions that women serving are facing and it eventually leads to suicide. There was an issue from Military Veterans Affairs about sexual trauma and it stated that “Sexual assault-related posttraumatic stress disorder predicts both suicide attempt frequency and non-suicidal self-injury (itself a significant risk factor for eventual death by suicide)” (VA, 3). If women came to join and to defend our country and the constitution, then why must they suffer from these things? Another mental health illness that women are starting to suffer from is post-traumatic stress disorder. Anthony Rosellini states in his article “Sexual Assault Victimization and Mental Health Treatment, Suicide Attempts, and Career Outcomes Among Women in the US Army” that lots of women in the military who experience sexual assault don’t seek treatment “Many female veterans who experience PTSD after a sexual assault never seek treatment” (Rosellini, 736). One of the reasons why they don’t seek treatment is because they know the person and if that person is in their chain of command they would think twice before asking for help. If we look at the percentages of change for sexual assault from 2016 to 2018, we see that it has gone up a percentage each year. In 2016 it was at 4.3 percent, in 2017 some surveys indicated that 5.5 percent of active-duty women were victimized, and in 2018 it shot up to 6.2 percent. There are roughly 1 out of 100 men and 5 out of 100 women who are sexually assaulted while serving on active duty. The military has seen better days for some people.

There is no doubt that sexual assault is a negative thing for the military. However, if we want things to change for the better, we would need to know the ways that we can help the victims. Not everyone is in the military and you may be asking how I am to help if I’m not even in the military. The simplest ways to approach and help victims is to be proactive instead of reactive. If you are not in the military, the best way is to report it to a sexual assault and harassment advocate in any of the military branches. Another option that civilians not in the military can do to help females in the military is to reinforce women that they are stronger than their physical vulnerability. A study “Vulnerable Warriors” written by Rose Weitz states that “Studies of civilian women have found that a sense of physical vulnerability significantly increases women’s fear of rape” (Weitz, 168). If we continue to reinforce women not to be afraid of rape due to physical differences. It will allow females the ability to think stronger and not let fear overcome your thoughts. Another way that civilians can do to help women in the military is by making the stories of sexual assault less frightening. I am not saying to not talk about it at all because that would make matters worse, but I am saying to stop rumors being spread about the incident. If we were to stop rumors from spreading. Women would have a sense of security and safety. Referencing back to Weitz’s writing she talks about women hearing stories of sexual assault and that “Women’s sense of vulnerability could increase as they began to hear more and more stories about sexual assaults, especially against those they knew and cared about” (Weitz, 168). If we move onto people in the military and what they can do to help assaulted individuals. One of the ways to help your battle buddies is to make sure they get adequate help if they have encountered this issue. In Rachel Kimerling’s writing about “No Mission to Difficult: Responding to Military Sexual Assault” she states that reporting it is benefiting to the individual “Army women who reported assaults received some form of mental health treatment, and they also received a greater intensity of treatment than did controls” (Kimerling, 643). It is always good to report these things even if the individual does not want it reported so that they can get the help they need.

Restating it again the best option is to be proactive instead of reactive and report it! Most individuals won't report it because if they have been sexually assaulted by someone in their unit or chain of command. They wouldn’t want to receive backlash from their chain of command. This was a statement from Journal of International Affairs interviewing Amy Ziering and they asked her the question “Apart from removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command, are there any other solutions that you propose?” (Journal of International Affairs, 213) She responds by saying “If I were assault and knew that my only option was to report this crime to someone within my chain of command, I would automatically think twice before doing so.” (Journal of International Affairs, 213). This should never be the case if you hear something or get told something report it immediately so that you can get help if you are unsure what to do.

If we are to look at sexual assault in the military, we need to see that it is very important and to take this seriously. Jokes are everywhere and people will joke about it, but we need to be careful about what we say. We also need to watch out for our brothers and sisters serving in the military.

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