Sexual Assault in the United States Military


by Brittany Bamesberger

Attention all women: have you ever thought about joining the armed forces to fight alongside your male counterparts and defend this great country?! Well, I certainly have, and then the thought of rape it hit me like a sack of potatoes after doing a little research. According to Anne G. Sadler and Michelle A. Mengeling, clinical psychologists, “Violence exposure is widespread in the military population, with estimates that 25%-49% are sexually assaulted during childhood and 23%-30% during military service” (1). You heard me correctly ladies, you have up to a 30% chance of being sexually assaulted in the United States military today.

I am a broke college student studying aviation professional flight to become a pilot. In case you don’t know, aviation is one of the most expensive programs out there. At the end of my college career I will be over ($80 thousand) in debt and ($33 thousand) of that just in pilot certificates alone. Why am I telling you this embarrassing amount of debt I am getting myself into? It all goes back to joining the armed forces. If I were to join the military such as the Navy or Air Force I could have all of my schooling paid for including some nice GI Bills after I retired from the force. However, I personally don’t believe that a free education is worth the substantially high risk of being sexually assaulted and having little to no legal representation available to protect me. That is why the United States Government should amend Title 10 of the United States Code.

To begin, Title 10 of the United States code was enacted on August 10, 1956. Title 10 provides legal basis for the roles, missions and organization of each of the services as well as the United States Department of Defense. Five separate Subtitles deals with a separate aspect or component of the armed services. Subtitle A- General Military Law including Uniform Code of Military Justice, Subtitle B- Army, Subtitle C- Navy and Marine Corps, Subtitle D- Air Force and finally Subtitle E represents the Reserve Components. Each Subtitle explains in detail the legal provisions used to solve everyday issues that the armed forces encounters.

Next, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military, for some, presents new and surprising information. However, sexual violence in war has been present for hundreds of years. Elisabeth Wood provides significant information on the history of sexual violence in war. According to Wood, “In some conflicts, sexual violence takes the form of sexual slavery, whereby women are abducted to serve as servants and sexual partners of combatants for extended periods; in others, it takes the form of torture in detention” (308). Although very little data is available to provide accurate percentages about the history of sexual violence in war, it is present without a doubt.

Furthermore, many Americans join the military because prior generations of their family served; others join because they want to serve their country and better their lives. However, some join to escape violent homes in which they wouldn’t have the opportunity to escape without the help of the military. The military provides service, discipline and a new “family” to these people that are escaping broken homes. Unknowingly, these people join the armed forces to find dark and unjustifiable secrets hidden within. These victims of violent homes join the armed forces in search of a better life only to find themselves in an equally or more unsafe environment than before. According to Margret E. Bell and Annemarie Reardon, pathologists, “As perpetrators are frequently other military personnel, this often creates a situation where the victim must continue to live and work with his or her assailant” (40). Bell and Reardon illustrate how “work life” and “home life” while deployed become one of the same. For the victims there is no escape from their assailant.

The mental and physical damage from sexual assault is life altering. Women and men sexually assaulted can have lifetime negative effects. MSA or military sexual assault and CSA civilian sexual assault have two very different outcomes. Alina Suris and Lisa Lind present a study of women, civilian and veterans, and the results of sexual assault. Civilian sexual assault reported a lesser quality of life compared to no history of sexual assault, naturally. Interestingly enough, Suris and Lind report, “…women veterans with an MSA history demonstrated additional negative consequences above and beyond the effects of CSA” (179). These additional negative consequences include two times the risk of developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in addition to other psychological trauma, physical trauma and readjustment problems after the soldier returns home from deployment.  How can we as Americans allow this physical and mental abuse occur and occur so frequently without providing assistance? Michael Urbina, a frequent human rights blogger, posted a contributor’s idea on rape:

Women in one way or another live their lives on a rape schedule. Every action women take is built on an awareness that you could be attacked. From walking with your keys in hand to a woman’s inability to walk alone in the dark without deep anxieties, from the things women wear or don’t wear to the time of day women go certain places, these are ways in which women’s daily lives are altered. It is a privilege to live without a rape schedule, a privilege women do not hold. (Urbina)

Victims that are strong enough to present their case are encouraged to go to their leaders. However, in a multitude of cases the assailant is indeed their leader. This leaves the victims with nowhere to go and no one to help them, utterly stranded. The truth is a majority of sexual assaults are never reported. The United States needs to bring forth the effort of providing sustainable legal representation for these victims and bringing the rapists to justice. The legal representation must have knowledge of the armed forces and its law, however, be separate from the military system to provide unbiased assistance.

The U.S. military needs to remove the power of military commanders to dismiss such cases by providing soldiers the availability of an outside source at all times. This outside source needs to be available even while soldiers are deployed overseas. Finally, screening of civilians to enter the military needs to be more precise and less accepting of everyone that applies. The military needs to take into consideration the applicant’s past and their motive for joining the armed forces.

Additionally, the close relation between childhood sexual assault and sexual assault in the military is not just a coincidence. According to Walter E. Penk and Bret A. Moore, “Comprehensive review of the extant literature found repeated association between pre-enlistment exposure to violence (including childhood sexual or physical abuse) and sexual assault in the military” (257). Thus, this situation is “setting the military up for sexual assault disaster”. An unspoken balance of sexual aggressors and victims does indeed exist in the military.  By eliminating or at least limiting the number of sexual aggressors in our armed forces will greatly reduce the percentage of sexual assault within U.S. military. Indeed, this will call for more time and effort by military recruiters to screen each individual that applies, however, in the long run this simple step could immensely change the United States Military for the better. Bringing our troops closer together and allowing them to actually build trust in one another and trust the person next to them while in combat scenarios will benefit every party involved. Thus, the United States will have a stronger and more bonded armed forces than ever.  In the end, we are all fighting for something, however, fighting for your life in combat shouldn’t be fighting a person wearing the same uniform as you.

Works Cited

Bell, Margret E., and Annemarie Reardon. “Social Work in Health Care”. 1st Edition. 50. London, UK: Routledge, 2011. 34-44.Web. 23 Sept. 2013.

Penk, Walter E., and Bret A. Moore. “Treating PTSD in Military Personnel: A Clinical Handbook.” New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2011. eBook Library. Web. 29 Sept 2013.

Sadler, Anne G., Michelle A. Mengeling, et al. “Lifetime Sexual Assault and Cervical Cytologic Abnormalities Among Military Women.” 20.11 (2011): 1-10. Web. 30 Sep. 2013.

Suris, Alina, Lisa Lind, et al. “Mental Health, Quality of Life, and Health Functioning in Women Veterans.” Differential Outcomes Associated with Military and Civilian Sexual Assault. 22.2 (2007): 179-197. Web. 30 Sep. 2013.

Urbina, Michael. “In Feminism Violence Against Women.” N.p., 05 Jun 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. <;.

Wood, Elisabeth. “Variation in Sexual Violence during War.” Politics & Society. 34.3 (2006): 307-342. Web. 30 Sep. 2013.


9 thoughts on “Sexual Assault in the United States Military

  1. I found this very interesting. I know a man who has been in the military for 10 years, and the way he talks about it didn’t necessarily carry the same tone as this article. From what I’ve heard of his experiences, he found it very positive. He did mention how his bunkmates, would talk about women often, and who they wanted to sleep with in the unit, etc. Well my friend was gay, so he obviously didn’t have the same feeling for women as the other men did, so it was mainly observation. One woman apparently was attracted to my friend, and the other guys in his unit were jealous because she apparently was very attractive. Anyway, everything I’ve heard from him was men being men, being obnoxious and talking about sex. He also mentioned men getting in trouble constantly for fraternising or doing anything out of the ordinary with other women, which makes me assume they are very strict about the segregation of men and women in the military. Obviously my friend wasn’t a woman, so it’s hard to take his opinion into account. But the statistics you posted are very frightening, and put my mind somewhere else than what I’ve been describing. I really wish this didn’t have to interfere with your dreams of becoming a pilot. 😦

  2. Wow. I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I can not understand why the government hasn’t done more! If women want to fight for our country, then there should be a guarantee there will be no harm to them from our own men! Michael Urbina made a very impelling point, women do have to worry more about these issues. But if you go into the military, the woman should be able to feel strong, not terrified. I loved everything about your article, and agree with it 100%. Very well written.

  3. What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a system in place for when the CO is the criminal to someone in the military. That seems like something that definitely should have been thought out even without regards to sexual assault, since if the CO is stealing your food rations and the only one you can complain to is your CO, he’s never going to get in trouble and you’re going to starve. But any time I’ve heard any reporting on this problem, the impression I’ve gotten is that, if it’s the CO that’s doing the assaulting, the women don’t have anywhere else to go.

    So I definitely agree that bringing in outside judicial systems is important, no matter what the issue.

  4. I really like this article. it really brings light to a very serious situation that’s happening inside the very same army that protects the US people. But now those that are protecting us, are in a way turning on themselves. Also, I was surprised by your statistics throughout the article. I knew that sexual assault in the military was a problem, but I didn’t know that it was as big as 1 out of every 3 women are experiencing these cases. Well done.

  5. This article was phenomenal. I really enjoyed your personal input to the situation, and your decision to bury yourself in debt rather than risk your body and mind! I also wanted to join the military, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I was very hesitant in doing so, as I’ve heard many cases of sexual abuse. As I continued to read, I found the “rape schedule,” very intriguing. I realized I always put my keys in my hand while walking to the car during evening hours and I won’t go outside alone at dark when I’m at my apartment! Crazy how the world works…it saddens me. The graphic image you used was also very moving, I liked how you showed they tried to be an equal part of the military family, but unfortunately they were treated like a lesser being. I agree that soldiers who experience sexual abuse need to have someone they can contact as an outside source besides just their superior within the military.

  6. When i read your article for the first time I was very shocked. I knew about rape within the military but I didn’t know how bad it actually was. I think that we have this perception of the military being so perfect but it is not and it scares us when things like this come out about it. Like i have told you before and any who reads this you should all see the movie The Invisible War it explains a lot about what Brittany is talking about.

  7. I guess I’m a little confused as to what the childhood abuse aspect has to do with this article. You say that the situation “setting the military up for sexual assault disaster” simply by allowing people who are abused as children into the military. Are you saying there is some sort of correlation between being abused as a child and then being assaulted later in life? The “unspoken balance of sexual aggressors and victims” also seems unclear as well, this strikes me as a warped version of blaming the victim.

  8. I really enjoyed this article because it shed so much light on parts of the military that not too many people know about. The statistics that you’ve posted are quite sobering; I was aware that rape within the military was an issue but never to this extent. Also, the graphic that you’ve posted along with the article is very thought provoking. It’s not super detailed but it gets the point across tremendously.

  9. I loved your last line! Your approach on this topic is very intriguing, and being a girl, makes me question the military as a whole. It is 2014 and we shouldn’t be worried about situations like this going without attention. The picture you created gives your article a solid finish to a topic not talked about frequently, good job.

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