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Inside the Military Rape Cult

On One Billion Rising, a day to stop rape and violence against women, Sabrina Rubin Erdely discusses her Rolling Stone report on a tragic tale of sexual assault in the military.

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JA: How did you find Rebecca?

SRE: I found her through an explosive series of federal lawsuits – on behalf of about 59 victims of military sexual assault. I went through all of them, and Rebecca’s experience really stood out. She was an example of someone whose career was really cut short. The twists and turns in her case illustrated how dysfunctional the military is and how it treats these victims.

JA: How did she feel about having her story told?

SRE: She was very open about it, but it was difficult for her. She felt it was important to get her story out there to raise awareness. I am so grateful to all the service women who were willing to be identified and go public. It really communicates that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

JA: This is such a sad sory and with the shocking statistics of one in three women in the military being raped, and most of their attackers not being brought to justice—one victim in your story calls the military “a big rape cult.” On the eve of women joining men in full combat, is there any reason to be hopeful that the military will evolve?

SRE: I think there is a lot of hope. The challenges are huge, but not insurmountable. Now that the military has finally acknowledged that sexual assault is a problem, and responding to it appropriately is a priority, that’s huge. That’s a result of survivors coming forward, advocacy groups and Congress putting pressure.

Ironically, I think in some ways the military could be better equipped to get a handle on rape because it is such a closed society. This could become an asset. It is an organization that regulates behavior, so maybe they can regulate this. If sexual assault is a priority, they could turn that around. And if they do get their house in order, civil society might learn from them how better to deal with rape.

Military is overhauling their training programs for sexual assault investigators and prosecutors. They are learning state-of-the-art stuff. I am told by experts that it is far superior to what civilian police departments learn. It becomes like a little lab, a Petri dish where you can measure things. You can take stock.

It takes enlightened leadership. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has taken a strong stance on making sexual assault a priority, and named a new director, Major General Gary Patton, as head of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office. He seems like the right person for the job—he implemented Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which went very smoothly, against dire predictions. It’s been a cultural shift.

So that’s encouraging. But it’s not to say the military can fix things themselves. It’s important that there be outside oversight, by both Congress and advocacy groups.

The fact that things are still this bad after more than 20 years of just atrocious sex scandals is pretty deplorable.

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