Enemy in their Camp: Scores of U.S. Servicewomen Raped by Fellow Soldiers

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The Denver Post revealed earlier this year that scores of female troops have reported being sexually-assaulted by fellow service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ll talk with the reporter who broke the story and a former Air Force officer who says she was repeatedly abused by senior officers. [includes rush transcript]

Female troops serving in Iraq are reporting a lurking enemy in their own camps: fellow American soldiers who sexually assault them.

So far, 176 female troops have reported being sexually-assaulted by fellow service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of sex crimes in the military is probably much higher since a large number of cases go unreported.

Among the most disturbing trends, is the military’s treatment of sexual assault cases. Women have reported poor medical treatment, lack of counseling and incomplete criminal investigations–some say they were even threatened with punishment after reporting assaults.

A task force appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called for sweeping changes in May, but victim advocates expressed alarm, saying emergency needs of women overseas were basically ignored.

Rumsfeld ordered the investigation in February after The Denver Post first reported that dozens of female troops were returning from the war zone seeking counseling at civilian crisis centers.

  • Miles Moffeit , investigative reporter for the Denver Post. For the last year and a half he has been investigating how the army has been mishandling domestic abuse, sexual abuse and prisoner detentions.
  • Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel. She is a nine-year career Air Force officer, during which time she was subjected to a year of physical, sexual and emotional assaults by 2 senior officers.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the studio by one of the reporters who broke that story, Miles Moffeit, investigative reporter for the Denver Post. For the last year and a half, he’s been investigating how the Army has been mishandling domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and prisoner detentions. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

MILES MOFFEIT: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you lay out the story as you learned about it and reported on it?

MILES MOFFEIT: For about a year and a half, my colleague, Amy Herdy and I, were investigating how the military deals with sexual assault victims as well as the accused attackers. And what we concluded after about a year and three-months of investigation was that the women were not receiving proper services, services that they could normally get in the civilian world, and that their attackers were typically given lenient treatment. Instead of criminal punishments, they were facing administrative, job-related discipline, such as reprimands, such as fines, such as rank reductions. Our major investigation was published in November, and then after a few months, in February, we learned that women in the combat zone were actually being— actually facing these assaults. And on the return to the states after serving overseas, they were going to the crisis centers, victim advocacy centers, saying, you know, we’ve been raped. Sometimes it was their superior, sometimes it was a colleague that they were encountering, you know, these same problems in the war zone.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, a nine-year career Air Force officer, during which time she was subjected to a year of physical, sexual and emotional assaults by two senior officers. Can you describe your experience, Dorothy Mackey?

DOROTHY MACKEY: First of all, just to add to that, I was also raped three times in the first five years of my service career, twice by military doctors during appointments. So my experience is identical to what a lot of the women are going through, and we have clients going back six decades, which regardless of the age of the woman, our youngest client is 3 years old. The eldest is in her 70’s, and these are also happening to men. We have men coming back from the war zone. And there really is no difference between the war zone scenario and what’s happening in the United States, other than that while you’re looking to save your own life from potential enemy fire, that there is the threat of death around you. We’ve had several clients coming back from the war zone who’ve told us that, they are being told that, you know, the most dangerous time for a woman is to go to the bathroom or go even to the showers at night. And yet when they’ve been asked to have guards posted for their own well-being and safety, the commanders will not do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well let me ask you, Miles Moffeit, about the response of the military once this came out.

MILES MOFFEIT: Well, within a matter of days, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered an internal task force to investigate what was happening to these women. That sort of dovetailed on leaders of Congress’ move to launch a series of hearings, and so we’ve had at least three hearings since February. And then the task force, of course, concluded its report in late May. And essentially said, we have no uniformity of services for victims in the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines. There’s no common approach. We have no victim advocates, no women who can, you know, step into the situation and make sure that women in the military, you know, know how to navigate the legal system, know where to go for counseling, know where to go to get a protective order. This task force study also said that commanders are interfering in cases. Sometimes they’re launching their own investigations prior to any kind of criminal investigation and sometimes tainting the evidence. So there’s a slew of recommendations.

AMY GOODMAN: In one of your more recent pieces, you say, “saying they’re tired of years of foot dragging by the military, lawmakers warn Pentagon officials to supply Congress soon with more details about their plans to improve responses to sexual assault cases. They also demanded more answers about reports that military rape victims are being denied abortion services in the war zone, a trend several legislators called troubling,” and you particularly highlight the response during the House Armed Services Committee hearing of Congress member Loretta Sanchez of California.

MILES MOFFEIT: That’s right. Lots of questions swirling around exactly what the women troops have right now, because six months after Rumsfeld launched this task force, it’s unclear exactly what has improved. Rape crisis counselors, it’s not clear whether there are full-fledged rape crisis counselors in the war zone. The military simply won’t answer that question directly. Are there enough forensic evidence kits to gather, you know, evidence after rapes? The common answer from the military is they’re about 100, but we have thousands of women in the war zone. So advocates say that’s not nearly enough to handle, you know, this case load. The abortion question. It’s clear that many women, I’m not sure how many, are coming back from the war zone seeking assistance from Planned Parenthood and other centers for pregnancies resulting from rapes. This is something that we’re trying to find out more about. The military will not fund abortions for women who are raped. They will, they say, give abortions to women who are poor. However, they have to pay for the services themselves. So what’s not clear on that issue is whether they’re actually explaining to the women when they come in that, if they pay for it, they will get it. But there’s the mass confusion about exactly what the soldiers are getting overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: You have this interaction between Ellen Embree, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Protection and Readiness at the Armed Forces Services Hearing, saying “abortions are not authorized by Department of Defense officials unless the life of the person is threatened,” and Congress member Sanchez, shoots back, “that’s incorrect,” later adding, “the Armed Services possibly don’t understand the policy of this Congress.”

MILES MOFFEIT: That exchange certainly illustrates the confusion, because, yes, Miss Embree responded that abortions are not given unless the woman’s life is in danger, and Sanchez immediately picked up on the fact that that is not accurate. But, you know, given that the Pentagon has this policy that the woman must pay, the question has to be answered, are they getting any kind of these, you know, abortion services after they’re being raped, that’s the big question.

AMY GOODMAN: Dorothy Mackey, do you think the situation is improving at all with, for example, the Denver Post exposés?

DOROTHY MACKEY: Well, I think it has shed some light on some of what’s going on, but one of the most disturbing issues is that there’s been no advocate survivors, women who really know what’s going on, who’ve lived it, being brought in on any of these task forces. So that while these task forces appear to be appeasing the public’s, you know, qualm for dealing with these issues, the reality is we’re not even getting to the real, full truth of what’s happening inside. For those of us who’ve lived it, we have not been invited to the table. We’ve been refused access, even when we’ve gone to the Congress and to the public and said, we know what’s going on, we’ve lived it. Military women and men being raped in the four deployed areas, it’s not a matter of not reporting it. When they have been reporting it and the mass majority are trying to report it, they are being refused access to document this information. Evidence is being tainted by the criminal investigators themselves or not taken at all. So there’s a lot more to this, and yet no one wants to invite those of us who know. And one of the moves on right now is to have the Pentagon itself establish a victim’s advocacy office. I would hate to tell you, but from the Congressional Congress’ own lips, the Women’s Congressional Congress’ own lips, they said, as we have been telling them, that rapists keep getting promoted into the senior ranks. Up into the Pentagon. And when you have the Pentagon itself, who has refused any recommendations in the last 16 years with 19 task forces of sexual misconduct, it’s not being addressed. What’s going to happen is the same thing that many of us who’ve lived through it have seen, and they will typically shut down these victims even more so. I mean, a nice term they really should do for this victim’s advocacy office they’re considering, call it the Pentagon’s Lobotomy Shop, because that’s what it will be for these victims. Many of the women who have ended up getting pregnant in the four deployed areas, I’ve had reports of them coming back to the United States, getting abortions here from their rapist. I mean, after the rape by rapists, they come back, they get abortions here and sent right back into the war zone. No recovery time, no time to deal with any of the abuse going on, and the military knows us. As far as any type of rape trauma, folks upfront, there’s probably virtually none being given, none. And those who may say they’re rape crisis counselors, maybe they’ve read a couple of little phrases of it, but not adequate.

AMY GOODMAN: Miles Moffeit, we are here in Denver. We’re right next to the military academy, where there was a big scandal. What is happening there?

MILES MOFFEIT: Well, what is happening there is that they’ve put new policies on the books. The question is whether the policies are strong enough. One of the big issues is whether these cadets who are poor get any kind of confidentiality protections, and they have not resolved that issue, which many advocates, such as Dorothy, I believe, one of the most important things that can be done. The other thing is they have said that they’re not going to discipline cadets who have been victimized for infractions they may have committed around the time of the rape. Another, you know, huge question, you know, are they practicing this? Exactly how are they using it? Are they going to make this an immediate action? Are they going to simply, you know, wait, you know, a few weeks before they punish the victim for any kind of infraction? So there’s a little bit of haziness surrounding what they have actually done.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything you’d like to conclude with, Dorothy Mackey, as founder of the Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel?

DOROTHY MACKEY: Well, I think the only way in which we can truly see some adequate changes given the decades of rapes is to have an outside investigative agency, independent investigative agency separate from the Pentagon. They must be able and willing, this investigative agency, to equally and unbiasly prosecute generals and admirals all the way down to those at the lowest ranks, because it does come from the very top. Until we have that, we will not have these things stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for joining us, Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, and Miles Moffeit, investigative reporter for the Denver Post.

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