Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.
Soldier rape: Don’t ask (for help). Don’t tell (a soul).
Perhaps it is my personal experience of growing up in a family of veterans that grieved for the loss of a son in Vietnam that pushes me to believe that every war-time generation has secrets it does not wish to pass on to the next generation. I know first hand how graphic descriptions can take up residence in your mind, nearly forgotten until they are triggered back to the forefront to blaze a new trail of horror and sorrow.
By that same token, I also believe that when veterans or the families of veterans choose to speak of their experiences, the nation should stop and listen with grave intent.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs recently held a meeting on sexual assault in the military. My hat is off to U.S. Reps. Louise Slaughter of New York and Jane Harman of California for providing testimony at the hearing. My heart broke while listening to the testimony of Mary Lauterbach, the mother of murdered Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, and Ingrid Torres, a Red Cross worker who was raped while serving in Korea.
Merle Wilberding, an attorney for the Lauterbach family and Iowa native, wrote an editorial for Iowa Independent that was published Monday.
The horrific facts surrounding the murder have overshadowed underlying allegations of sexual assault and the Marinesâ€™ responses to those allegations. I believe that Maria Lauterbach would be alive today if the Marines had provided a more effective system to protect victims of sexual assault, a more effective support program, and a more expeditious investigation and prosecution system.
Six months before her murder, Maria Lauterbach filed a rape claim against [Marine Cpl. Cesar] Laurean, a superior in her unit at Camp Lejeune. The period while the claim was pending was a nightmare for Maria. She was subjected to intimidation and harassment. She was sucker-punched in the face one evening. Another evening, her brand new car was keyed â€“ or rather screw-drivered â€“ from bumper to bumper.
Her real concerns were that her superiors and the NCIS investigators did not believe her. Worse yet, she was compelled to be in meetings and formations with her assailant, and she was unsuccessful in getting a base transfer. Finally, she told her mother, Mary Lauterbach, that she just wanted it to go away…
In the last six months I have been contacted by more than a dozen families and support groups, all seeking specific help for women in the military who have been sexually assaulted. The stories have been virtually identical â€“ the complaining victim becomes isolated, taunted, and tormented. She is not guided or directed to appropriate support programs, she does not feel protected from her assailant, and she finds herself treated as the guilty party, not the victim.
The fourth annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (PDF file), completed by the Department of Defense, cites 2,688 cases of sexual assault by military personnel in the 2007 fiscal year. Because of the reasons Wilberding outlines in his editorial, these statistics are suspected to be low. And, in contrast to civil proceedings where 40 percent of arrested rape suspects are prosecuted, the Department of Defense reports that only 8 percent of those investigated for sexual assault were referred to courts martial.
During the course of testimony, Harman said physicians at a California Veterans Affairs hospital told her that 41 percent of female veterans treated there were victims of sexual assault. In addition, the doctors said that 29 percent of all treated female veterans had been raped. Harman has introduced a bill that would compel the DOD to create a strategy to both investigate and prosecute sexual assault charges in the military. It also calls for improved protections for victims who report such crimes.
For her part, Slaughter announced that she would re-introduce the Military Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Act, which creates an Office of Victim Advocates within the DOD, improves counseling programs and enhances confidentiality for those who report sexual abuse.
While we must applaud both congresswomen for bringing their findings to the hearing, we also must admonish them for continuing to try to play by the rules of a failed system. The Department of Defense already has an Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response:
“The Department of Defense does not tolerate sexual assault and has implemented a comprehensive policy that reinforces a culture of prevention, response and accountability that ensures the safety, dignity and well-being of all members of the Armed Forces. Our men and women serving throughout the world deserve nothing less, and their leaders — military and civilian — are committed to maintaining a workplace environment that rejects sexual assault and attitudes that promote such behaviors.”
Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the office, was ordered by her superior, Michael Dominguez, to ignore a congressional subpoena and did not testify at the hearing — a hearing on the very topic she is paid to address each and every day. When questioned by Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, the chairman of the subcommittee, Dominguez, while not asserting executive privilege, said that he gave Whitley a direct order to not appear before or answer to Congress.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Harman said when asked about Whitley’s absence. “The leadership starts at the top, and there’s clearly a major problem at the Department of Defense. There’s an epidemic of assaults and rapes against military women by U.S. soldiers. They’re more likely to be raped and assaulted than they are to be killed in Iraq. And the Defense Department has to send its top people up here to help Congress oversee and decide what to do about this problem.”
While sexual assault and rape are not games, we all understand that politics, for the most part, is a process of manipulating the rules to one’s maximum benefit. When the rules change, good politicians understand that they must adapt if they intend to be effective. But what we see here — indeed what we’ve witnessed time and time again for the past decade — are politicians who believe the gentlemen tactics of the British Army are sufficient against the guerrilla warfare of the colonists.
In an ideal world, the formation of a new and more effective task force or office within the Department of Defense would be of benefit to the soldiers who have been victims of sexual violence. The proposals by the two legislators, when taken in context with the refusal of government agencies to acknowledge the authority of Congress, would do little more than add more pork to a government agency that has already soaked its lips in fat and loosened its belt at the expense of taxpayers. Without real congressional oversight, sexual violence will continue to escalate.
While the game of politics rambles on behind closed doors and before the nation, another soldier is being attacked. While we watch and nod and offer up bills that provide mouth service, another soldier is harassed for being a victim. While the tennis ball volleys from one side of the net to the other, another soldier is, for all practical purposes, bound and placed before a firing squad.
Don’t ask. Don’t tell. It isn’t just a shameful cliche for gays anymore.