Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Rank Defiled by Jennifer Block

The Village Voice -- Date-Rape Case Shows Air Force Troubles Reach Beyond Academy Gates

The Miles Foundation, an advocacy organization based in Connecticut, has a caseload of 15,000 military harassment, assault, and domestic violence claims. Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAMP), co-founded by former air force captain Dorothy Mackey of Dayton, Ohio, is juggling 30 to 50 cases in any given month. "I have multiple army women calling me; I have multiple navy women calling me; I have men coming forward," says Mackey.

Studies commissioned by the Department of Defense also reveal that conduct most unbecoming is rampant throughout the military. A 1995 survey of 47,000 active-duty personnel found that 55 percent of women and 14 percent of men had been sexually harassed or assaulted within the previous year. When asked about specific offensive behavior, the numbers shot up: 78 percent of women and 38 percent of men. The same survey revealed that 9 percent of women in the marines had been raped or suffered an attempted rape—again, just within the previous 12 months. Another survey, recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that over the course of their careers, 79 percent of female veterans surveyed had been harassed, one-third had been assaulted, and 14 percent of those who had been assaulted were gang-raped by co-workers. It also found troops were four times more likely to be raped if their supervisors looked away from sexual harassment.

It's an insular world, with its own police, prisons, courts, and laws. An offender can be incarcerated and then discharged with no civilian criminal record, as was 22-year-old Robert Burdge, an air force cadet accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl during a week-long summer camp at the academy in 2001. Burdge was convicted of "sodomy with a minor," spent two months in the brig, and went free. The parents have taken legal action against the academy, saying air force officials asked the girl's friends at school for dirt on her.

While offenders like Burdge can be quietly let go, victims can suffer consequences much more damaging. Heather Barnett and Stephanie Kuklish—both 19 at the time—report being drugged and raped by at least three service members while stationed at a naval base in Meridian, Mississippi. Charges were never brought, but the women say the 2001 assaults were so brutal they both needed sutures; Barnett says she can no longer have children. Their scars go deeper. Both women were sent for psychological evaluations following the assaults—the military has its own doctors, too—and ordered to take a cocktail of antipsychotic meds. Four weeks later they were discharged for personality disorders. Now when either of them applies for a job, a background check reveals that they are mentally disturbed. Barnett, who wants to work in child care, has already been turned down for a position five times. "Basically, the world thinks I'm crazy now," she says.

Long story on the sorry state of affairs in the military.

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