As with suicides, the rate of sexual assaults within the US military now exceeds that of the general population. A Pentagon report earlier this year found one in three female service members are sexually assaulted at least once during their enlistment. Sixty-three percent of nearly 3,000 cases reported last year were rapes or aggravated assaults. Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within is a documentary that focuses on the cases of three female service members victimized by rape and other forms of sexual assault. We air excerpts of the film and speak to filmmaker Pascale Bourgaux. [includes rush transcript]
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SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re going to turn now to another critical issue within the military ranks: sexual assault. As with suicides, the rate of sexual assaults within the US military now exceeds that of the general population. A Pentagon report earlier this year found one in three female service members are sexually assaulted at least once during their enlistment. Sixty-three percent of nearly 3,000 cases reported last year were rapes or aggravated assaults.
AMY GOODMAN: Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within is a documentary that focuses on the cases of three female service members victimized by rape and other forms of sexual assault. One of the victims, Tina Priest, she was found dead in Iraq in March 2006, just weeks after she had accused a male soldier of raping her. Her family was told she took her own life, but they don’t believe that. They think she may have been killed because she came forward with the rape accusation. In this scene from the film, Tina Priest’s mother, Joy Priest, visits her daughter’s gravesite.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: How did she die?
JOY PRIEST: She died in Iraq from what the Army says was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her chest. That’s what the Army says. I don’t — I don’t know how she died. I want to find out how she died.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED: Don’t know what to think.
JOY PRIEST: There are so many different opinions. I don’t — I don’t see her killing herself. But if she did, I can understand why —
PASCALE BOURGAUX: Why?
JOY PRIEST: — she did. Yes, because of the trauma that she had been through with the rape and the way that people treated her afterwards. And so, I can see how she would be depressed enough to do that. But it’s not like her.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within. For more, we’re joined by the film’s director, Pascale Bourgaux, a French journalist and filmmaker. The film had its premiere last night here in New York at the Independent Film Festival.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about Tina and the other three women you profile.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: So, Tina, the — you’ve seen in the excerpt, it’s — I mean, the family is still looking for the truth, because they’re convinced that she didn’t commit suicide, that she was killed. But the case is dead. They asked answer — they ask answer to the Army, but they never — you know, they never answer those questions they raised.
And then, the three other cases. There is Suzanne. She was raped by her command. She deserted. She refused to go back to Iraq to escape from her commander. And then she was in jail.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Swift is a case we have covered extensively —
PASCALE BOURGAUX: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — on Democracy Now!
PASCALE BOURGAUX: And then there’s Jessica. She was raped twice, in the United States and then in Korea. And then she left the Army, because it was the only way to escape also. And then she — she still dreams of going back to the Army, but she can’t. So now she’s an activist, and she’s helping other women. And she has, you know, the website and telephone. She answers telephone calls, thirty phone calls every week.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Let’s turn to the clip you have about Stephanie.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephanie is a military veteran. She was too scared to take action after she was sexually assaulted. She also lost her husband, who took his own life after serving in the military.
STEPHANIE: I was sexually assaulted. And when I went days later to see someone about it, because I was bleeding very heavily, she was a higher-ranking officer, and she told me, of course, that it was very stupid that I put myself in that situation. In so many words, she said that. And she asked me how could I not know that that could happen to me and kind of placed the blame on me.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: So Stephanie kept her mouth shut and repeated to others the advices she had been given. Many times she encouraged other women to keep silent and stifle rapes reported by .
STEPHANIE: But I was also an officer, and I should have been the one to step up to the plate at that time. So I was guilty, too, of telling people, “Well, you should move on and go on with your career.” So I was guilty, too, of that. And I think it’s a very common attitude to encounter in the military, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: Another of the women. And back to Tina, you interviewed Tina’s family attorney. Let’s go to that clip.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: Fort Hood, Texas, this is where Tina’s alleged rapist has been stationed since returning from Iraq. It is one of the biggest US Army bases under maximum security. No access, no interview. The military attorney has refused all contact with Tina’s family.
The next morning, Tina’s mother received an unusual visitor: her daughter’s former commander in Iraq. At the mother’s request, we record their conversation. She’s looking for answers. Instead, the commander gives her a lecture.
ARMY COMMANDER: We want to try and get you the information that we know you want. And rather than going through the press —
JOY PRIEST: Right.
ARMY COMMANDER: You know, that’s everybody’s right to do that. I never felt bad when people go to the press about things when they’re not happy.
JOY PRIEST: Oh, I was furious.
ARMY COMMANDER: Yeah. Well, my promise to you is to get back what the answer is to your question.
PASCALE BOURGAUX: The commander leaves with the questions in hand. It took him almost a month to respond. But the answers don’t appease Tina’s family. Are the Army officials are afraid to take it upon themselves and assume their responsibilities? Many anomalies have been confirmed. At her own expense, Joy consulted a ballistics specialist. Today, this independent expert seriously questions the official theory of the suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the film Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within. It’s premiered here in New York at the New York Independent Film Festival. We thank Pascale Bourgaux, the French journalist and filmmaker, for making the film. You can go to our website for details.