Geva is thrilled to present the world premiere of Other Than Honorable, written by Jamie Pachino and directed by Kimberly Senior, running through May 21! Here’s another look at the context surrounding the play:
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) By The Numbers
Based on anonymous surveys in 2014, the Department of Defense estimated there were 20,300 cases of sexual assault in the military (approximately 10,600 men and 9,600 women). Because there are more men enlisted than women, a larger number of men than women have been assaulted in the military. However, with approximately 200,000 women currently enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, the percentage of service women affected by military sexual trauma (MST) is startlingly high: one in three female vets say they were sexually assaulted while in the service– meaning that a female service member is twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as her civilian counterpart.
In addition to those statistics on assault and rape, an overwhelming number of female service members face sexual harassment from their follow soldiers. One chilling example of this culture that perpetuates harassment is the currently unfolding scandal of Marines United, the private Facebook group in which over 30,000 Marines and others shared photos of nude female Marines – in and out of uniform – taken without consent. Some of the women’s contact information was included with the photos, and members of the group encouraged each other to assault the women. The Marine Corps has opened an investigation, and the leadership are considering hefty punishments, but almost as soon as the Facebook group was shut down, a Dropbox link to thousands of nude photos was shared amongst service members, and a new message board popped up. There, service members requested nude photos from their colleagues of specific women by their rank and unit by asking for “wins” of the women they wanted to see (“wins” is the code word for the nude photo itself).
Despite the prevalence of sexual violence among enlisted military members, the overwhelming majority of assault survivors do not report their cases. As Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, explains, “Military platoons are enclosed, hierarchical societies riddled with gossip, so any woman who reports a sexual assault has little chance of remaining anonymous. She will probably have to face her assailant day after day and put up with resentment and blame from other soldiers who see her as a snitch. She risks being persecuted by her assailant if he is her superior and punished by any commanders who consider her a troublemaker. And because military culture demands that all soldiers keep their pain and distress to themselves, reporting an assault will make her look weak and cowardly.” For these reasons, it’s estimated that at least 80% of military rapes are never reported.
Creating a Culture of Respect
In 2004, in response to the prevalence of sexual assault in the military and following the orders of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to do something to address the issue, the Department of Defense created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPR). In 13 years, have they moved the needle at all? The most recent report from the Department of Defense on sexual assault in the military covers the 2015 fiscal year. The report’s introduction claims: “Research has consistently shown that sexual assault is most likely to occur in environments where there are unhealthy social factors. Such factors include gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and other problems that degrade or devalue individuals and their contributions to the workplace. Based on this and other evidence, sexual assault prevention efforts in the military aim to advance a culture of dignity and respect for all who serve.” A laudable statement, but what does SAPR do to reduce sexual assault and create this culture of respect?
They have created a website for the anonymous reporting of sexual harassment and assault and set up a hotline for those who’ve experienced this trauma. The DOD also introduced a new option for victims – if they file a restricted report, they theoretically remain anonymous and receive treatment, although no punitive steps are taken for the assailant and the victim cannot be reassigned. The alternative for a victim is to file an unrestricted report, which immediately triggers a full investigation of the incident. SAPR saw an immediate increase in the number of assaults reported after this introduction, and while they estimate that only 1 in every 5 assaults is reported, they continue to see small increases in reports every year. SAPR is also now attempting to train unit leaders to create an environment which does not tolerate sexual harassment and assault. However, these strategies, which seem to primarily include presentations and role playing, have yet to prove very effective – so far, the number of sexual assaults remains high and the number of prosecutions for those assaults statistically low.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill in conversation Capitol Hill.
In 2014, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) introduced a bill that became law when that year’s annual defense authorization act was passed, which was intended to help encourage more prosecutions of military sexual abuse. The decision to prosecute an offense is in the hands of the alleged assailant’s commander. Prior to McCaskill’s bill, if a commander decided against holding a court martial, there was no recourse for the victim. Now, however, that decision can be reviewed by higher-ranking officers, giving the victim a possible second chance. The bill also removed the “good soldier” defense, which previously allowed an accused soldier to introduce evidence of their effectiveness as a soldier as a way to infer that they were could not possibly have committed the crime they were accused of.
While the bill passed unanimously and is seen as progress, it does not remove a major stumbling block to the reporting of sexual assault. As it stands now, sexual assault victims are expected to report their attack through the chain of command, which means that they must report the assault to their superior. Because 60% of victims are harassed by a superior, the odds are high that the only person a victim can go to is her abuser. Additionally, a court martial can only be ordered by someone within the alleged assailant’s chain of command, which means that, again, the person deciding whether or not to prosecute a case of sexual assault may actually be the victim’s abuser, or one of their mentors. Because 62% of victims who file a report experience retaliation, it’s clear that this system needs revision. Since 2013, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has advocated for the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which would require an officer outside of a victim’s chain of command to decide whether or not to court martial an alleged assailant. Despite Senator Gillibrand’s efforts and stamps of approval from many military individuals and civilian organizations, the MJIA has not yet been passed by the Senate.
The Culture Problem Remains
Regardless of any official attempt to change these statistics, the DOD’s report on sexual assault is clearly right about the need to change the culture in the armed forces. The men and women who serve our country honorably – and there are many, many service members who treat their brothers and sisters in arms with dignity and respect – should be lauded as heroes and thanked for their service. We might see the armed forces are a microcosm of the American society, the best America has to offer. Which means that we all have something to contribute to a culture that refuses to allow sexual harassment and assault to continue. Because a change of this magnitude – creating a culture within the armed forces where all can expect to be treated with dignity and respect – will require American society at large to recognize the humanity in each and every one of its citizens, and to prioritize dignity and respect over strength and bravado.