Ban lifted, rape culture still plagues women in combat

by Maayan Schechter – Campus Voice Editor – [email protected]
The Pentagon is now catching up with the reality that women have been on the front line in combat. They must now catch up with the reality of sexual assault and violence in the military.
Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the U.S. Defense Department would recognize what is already a reality: women in the military are placed within combat lines and serve openly alongside their male peers.
After receiving recommendation from current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta signed into action legislation recognizing women as serving openly in combat. Openly serving brings higher pay and allows women to qualify for combat positions just as men are allowed to do.
According to Pentagon records, more than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military. In 2011, women comprised about 74,000 in the Army; 14,000 in the Marine Corps; 53,000 in the Navy and 62,000 in the Air Force out of 203,000 service men and women.
Within top ranking positions – 69 of the 976 generals and admirals – about 7 percent were women. There were 28 female generals in the Air Force, one in the Marine Corps, 21 female admirals in the Navy and 19 in the Army.
Among the common misconceptions, women found themselves quite often in the line of fire during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirty-five thousand Americans died in Iraq, with 67 being women.
One thousand seven hundred Americans died in Afghanistan, 33 being women. In total, almost 1,000 women have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The discussion should not be whether or not women are capable of handling themselves on the front line as men can. Instead we should ask, can women expect to be treated with dignity, honor and responsibility among their male peers?
If Washington and the Pentagon are going to fight for women’s equality during times of war, then politicians must fight harder to protect women against rape and sexual violence.
Service Women’s Action Network, which serves military women and veterans, crunched numbers and found 3,192 military sexual assaults were reported in 2011, an increase of about 1 percent from 2010 and 1.1 percent from 2009. Sexual assaults are notoriously under reported, and in 2010, the Department of Defense estimated only 13.5 percent of survivors reported assault.
A more shocking statistic reported by SWAN is one in three convicted military sex offenders still remain in the military. Many women who report sexual assault or rape turn into the black sheep of the military. Many develop PTSD and depression and some are even kicked out.
Veteran women already face challenges returning from war, including suffering from PTSD, depression and physical traumas. Untreated sexual assault and sexual violence only adds insult to injury. According to the Veterans Health Administration, 39 to 53 percent of homeless female veteran VHA users screened positive for military assault trauma in 2010.
Although many on the right consider the lifting of the ban to pose many problems, a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted last Wednesday and Thursday found 45 percent of Americans favor allowing women in the military to join combat units.
Twenty-one percent said they neither favor nor oppose doing so and 26 percent say they opposed lifting the ban.
Many who appeal to letting women be recognized in combat believe the lift of the ban will create tension on the front line, hygiene issues and will create an overtly sexualized environment.
If a woman wants to serve on the front lines just as men do, then let her.
She is fully capable to protect the soil on which all citizens of the U.S. walk.  In doing so, like our men returning home from war, we must also protect her body, mind and soul.