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As a new officer in the Air Force who trusted the institution and the men she worked with, Dorothy Mackey didn't think she would ever be sexually assaulted by her fellow servicemen. She was wrong.
When a military ob-gyn did things during an examination that didn't seem right, soon after she joined the service in 1983, she tried to rationalize her disturbing thoughts away. When she had another bad experience with a military ob-gyn in 1986, at the Spangcahlem Air Force base in Germany where she was stationed, it was harder to look the other way.
"He sodomized me," she said. "I started looking into what happens in a normal ob-gyn examination, and that is definitely not supposed to be part of it."
But when she was violated again about a year later, it was clear. Her group was on a training mission in Spain, passing some downtime by playing volleyball. By this time she was a sergeant, in charge of many of the enlisted men there.
"I had had a few drinks, but I know my body really well and I was not drunk," she said. She asked a male friend who was a first sergeant for a drink of water, but after two gulps of it, she realized something was very strange. She demanded to know what was in the drink, but soon she was staggering and losing her balance.
"In college everyone has had their moments, but I never experienced anything like that," she said. "I knew I had been poisoned."
She staggered inside and began violently vomiting.
"He was standing at the door laughing," she said of the supposed friend who gave her the drink.
"When I had nothing left to throw up I passed out and he took me to his room. I woke up and there were four men in the room playing cards, I remember them laughing and saying, 'Sergeant I've never seen you like this,' like they were glad I had loosened up and was enjoying myself. I passed out again and the next time I came to, he was on top of me, penetrating me. I remember telling him no and then passing out again. I woke up again to a loud knock on the door, someone who was concerned about me asking how I was doing. He was hiding behind the door naked with a full erection. I knew if I didn't do something I would be raped again."
Despite feeling like she didn't have the energy to move she pulled herself out of the room and down the hall, she said. Later when she tried to complain to her superiors about the rape, no one wanted to hear it.
Dorothy Mackey is not alone. She and other women veterans recounted their experiences at the National Summit of Women Veterans Issues in Washington, DC June 19th and 20th. As an officer, scores of women had come to Mackey and told her about abuse and rapes they had suffered, by officers, fellow enlisted men and doctors. Many of the attacks involved servicemen intentionally getting women drunk or drugging them and taking them off base.
"When you are a new woman walking onto a military base, you are like a deer and it's deer hunting season, but you don't know it," she said. "You think you can trust these people, you believe in the mission you are on together."
In 1992, Mackey quit the service, mainly because of the repeated incidences of sexual assault and domestic violence and other wrong-doing that she had seen go unpunished on the base. In 1994 she filed a civil lawsuit in a district court in Dayton, Ohio against the specific men who had assaulted her, including the superiors who abused her when she tried to report the previous assaults. The Justice Department decided to represent the defendants, so the case was moved to federal court. The Department of Justice attorney said the case should not be brought to trial on the grounds that it constituted a threat to national security, representing a "disruption of good order, morale and discipline." After making its way through the appeals courts, it ended up in front of the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case in 1998 and again in 2000.
Meanwhile Mackey founded a group called Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAMP) to fight the rampant rape and sexual abuse in the military and demand justice and reform. She says over 4,300 women have contacted her about being raped or assaulted while in the service, and in the vast majority of cases watching their attackers go scot-free while they are humiliated and threatened for speaking out about the attacks.
At a press conference during the National Summit of Women Veterans Issues, women cited surveys indicating that up to 50 percent of military women have experienced sexual assaults, and 78 percent have experienced sexual harassment. Because of the intimidation and harassment that women face for reporting assaults, the military's own numbers are much lower. But even so, they show a rise in assaults over the past few years. An analysis of Army records and reports published by The Washington Post on June 3 showed that reported sexual assaults increased 19 percent from 1999 to 2002, from 658 to 753, and rapes increased 25 percent, from 356 to 445.
A May 27 report from an Army task force stated that the Army "does not have a clear picture of the sexual assault issue" and lacks an "overarching policy" to deal with the problem. The report was prepared because of complaints by women's groups and lawmakers about apparently increased assaults against servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the National Summit, women pointed out that far from being an isolated problem, the military nurtures a culture of sexual violence and contempt for women that is linked to the rape and sexual abuse of women in occupied countries or countries where the U.S. has military bases, as well as rapes and assaults of women in U.S. prisons and jails. Rapes and sexual assaults are also often known to be high in U.S. cities and towns with military bases. On June 28, a Nashville T.V. station reported that Fort Campbell soldier Johnathan David Loynes was arrested for violently kidnapping 10- and 13-year-old girls who lived nearby and trying to force them to perform oral sex on him.
"It's all connected," said Phoebe Jones, a member of the group Global Women's Strike, which is joining STAAMP and other women's groups in a campaign to "STAAMP Out Rape by the Military."
"You have prison guards here, like Charles Grainer [implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal], who go to Iraq and abuse people there. Then you have soldiers come back from Iraq or Afghanistan getting jobs as prison guards, and they rape and abuse people. The military could stop it if they want to, but they don't want to. They're socializing men into doing this."
Global Women's Strike has been in contact with women's and human rights advocates in Iraq who say women detainees and civilians are regularly raped and abused there. A press release they put out alleges that as part of the inquiry into abuses in Iraqi prisons, Congressmen have been shown photos of gang rapes and other abuses of women.
"They're suppressing the photos of women being raped because the public would just be outraged," said Jones.
The STAAMP Out Rape campaign is demanding that:
1) an oversight body independent of the Department of Defense investigate all rapes and assaults by military members;
2) that the Veterans Administration (VA) must provide benefits and care to rape and assault survivors;
3) that women be allowed to choose a female health care provider; that reports of rape be treated seriously; and
4) other measures ensuring that there is accountability and that the problem is taken seriously.
Currently, servicewomen are not allowed to request a female ob-gyn or to deal with a female investigator after reporting an assault. And servicewomen who suffer post traumatic stress disorder or other physical and mental effects from being raped or assaulted report that they are often unable to obtain health care or benefits from the VA, with VA doctors and officials denying that their trauma exists or saying that it isn't service-related.
One of the campaign's demands is an end to the use of the so-called McDowell checklist to determine whether rape reports are valid. The checklist, developed by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles McDowell, is made up of 57 questions that are scored with .5 to 5 points for each answer. A score of over 16 points means a woman's rape charge is "probably false," over 36 is "false" and over 76 is "overkill." If a woman is having problems with her husband or boyfriend, she gets three points. Financial problems earn one point. Even "demanding" to be given medical treatment by a female earns her a point.
"There is no way any rape victim can pass this test," said Mackey. Considering the seeming irrelevance and bias of the questions, it is not surprising that the McDowell checklist turns up a 60 percent incidence of "false" rape reports, compared to a national average of about eight percent (according to FBI numbers).
Other statements McDowell has made over the years show his blatant contempt for women. The book "For the Love of Country" by T. S. Nelson quotes a woman who attended a 1992 Air Force Office of Special Investigations seminar given by McDowell, in which he said women who make rape allegations fall into three categories: "narcissists, socio-paths and immature, impulsive, inadequate, types."
His apparent belief that women make rape accusations mainly to get attention is belied in some of the checklist questions, for example does the woman "describe the assault with a sense of relish or enthusiasm."
While women bear the brunt of rape in the military, advocates point out that as seen in Abu Ghraib, both enlisted men and male detainees in foreign countries are also raped and abused, and these attacks are likewise hidden. Speakers at the National Summit said that there is often also a racial element to sexual attacks and harassment.
A male veteran who was sexually abused in the military said that "soldiers are trained to take whatever they want, whether from fellow servicemen or Iraqi detainees, and they know they will be protected."
Mackey sees this culture of arrogance paired with misogyny and resentment toward women in the military.
"There are multiple agendas to the attacks," she said. "There are those who don't want women in the military, and who want to rape them out. And there are those who see civilians [in foreign countries] as 'practice' and don't care what happens to them. Rape is one of the greatest tools of war, and our government is essentially saying that rape of human beings is acceptable. We are a rape nation and this is all being done in our name."
Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at email@example.com.