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Does Military Service Turn Young Men into Sexual Predators?

"Everyone has the potential to be a sex offender. It depends on how they have been conditioned."

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In August and September 1944, when the fighting eased, French women were raped by their American liberators at three times the rate of civilian women in the U.S. And during the final drive through Germany in March and April 1945, more than 900 German women were raped by American soldiers, causing Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to issue a directive to Army commanders expressing his "grave concern" and instructing that speedy and appropriate punishments be administered.

According to Madeline Morris, the Duke University law professor and military historian who uncovered that lurid fragment of history, those numbers are almost certainly on the low side.

"Rape is particularly likely to have been undercounted because it is less serious than murder," Morris explains, "it is reputedly the most underreported violent crime, even in the domestic context, and it was perpetrated in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) almost exclusively against non-Americans."

Those women, especially German women, could not easily have found the courage -- or the opportunity -- to file complaints.

The memories of rape brought home by World War II soldiers surely changed their lives forever.

"What does rape do to the rapist?" is a question Krause has struggled with for 20 years. "Somewhere out there is that Rotarian, happy grandfather, son-done-good, solid citizen. Does he block it out, does he remember, does he feel a shred of guilt? Is it truly done with impunity?"

It is important to note that during World War II, according to Morris' research, patterns of violent crime in the United States' civilian population underwent sharp changes as well.

"While civilian murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates decreased 7.5 percent from prewar rates, aggravated assault rates increased substantially (19.9 percent), and forcible-rape rates increased dramatically (by more than 27 percent) above the prewar average."

Similarly, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, BJS statistics show a 42 percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25 percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault.

Except for simple assault, which increased by 3 percent, the incidence of every other crime surveyed -- including violent crimes overall -- decreased, but once again, mirroring Morris' World War II data, domestic violence, rape and sexual assault showed daunting increases.

The first BJS survey of incarcerated veterans found that two-thirds of those veterans had been convicted of rape or sexual assault. In military prisons as well, the report noted, "sexual assault was the most common offense for which inmates were held … accounting for nearly a full third of all military prisoners."

That chilling aspect of soldiers' criminal behavior held true in subsequent BJS surveys.

In 2000, veterans in state and federal prisons and local jails were twice as likely as non-veterans to be sentenced for a violent sexual crime. In the 2004 survey, 1 in 4 veterans in prison were sex offenders (1 in 3 in military prisons), compared to 1 in 10 incarcerated non-veterans.

Chris Mumola, author of the two most recent BJS reports, points out that "when sex crimes are excluded, the violent-offense incarceration rate of non-veterans is actually greater than the incarceration rate of veterans for all other offenses combined (651 per 100,000 versus 630 per 100,000)."

In fact, when sex crimes are excluded , adult male veterans are over 40 percent less likely to be in prison for a violent crime than their non-veteran counterparts. The same holds true for property crimes, drugs and public disorder -- the rates are much higher rates for adult men without military experience.

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