This piece is part of an Esquire Magazine series penned by infantryman and historian Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, aimed at opening dialogue and galvanizing change to end the military sexual assault epidemic.
By Lt. Col. Robert Bateman on February 11, 2014
Now we should start talking about solutions, because it is damned clear that despite all the rhetoric, despite all the press releases, regardless of the promises and pleas for more time, we are failing to stop sexual abuse, harassment, and rape in the Armed Forces.
Nothing I have seen -- no statistic, no pabulum from press releases, nothing -- has countered this. The cold hard fact is that the number of rapes and instances of sexual harassment in the military is apparently going up, not down. Taken all together, since women joined the Armed Forces in 1976, there are an estimated 500,000, at least, who have been abused while in uniform.* This shall not stand. But, at the same time, I do acknowledge that in some small ways it might be possible that we are making progress. Even I can see that, though it was too long coming and had to come in from the outside. The problem, sadly, is my culture.
Because I should not be the only one talking about this, let me hand you off to a couple of serious soldiers. One is an officer, a strategist like me. She is highly educated and almost by definition, brilliant. Another outranks me, and is also probably a damned sight smarter than me. These people are in uniform, currently serving our nation, and they too have stories. We will start with one about command.
"...[this was] written from the betrayal I felt from many years ago as I tried to navigate past what was an emotional, spiritual, and intellectual sexual harassment (which the Army does not have a definition or regulation for, but the civilian counselor I saw for a year after assured me was captured in civilian law), while I was not physically raped. ... Long story short: at a high stress/dangerous and isolated site, I was defending 3 NCOs [sergeants] who had been told to sleep up their chain of command or get bad NCOERs [yearly evaluation reports] and my entire system and everything and everyone I believed in turned on me for over six months. My boss would have me at attention or parade rest for hours and publicly scream at me because I refused to "let it go" days in row. He would try to turn NCOs against me and then ignore me for weeks. Then he would repeat the whole process and use other harassing behaviors all while trying to destroy my reputation throughout the unit and chain of command. All of this because I was standing up for Soldiers."
That was bad, but it gets worse.
"I was at a duty station overseas. I worked at a high level command where I worked day in and day out with O6s. [Full colonels in Army-speak] I was placed in a position that was higher than my grade [Army-speak again, this means "rank"]. One of those O6s was my direct supervisor. He made every effort to get me into bed. Even when I rebuffed all of his effort he continued inappropriate advances making clear that as my boss, he held sway over my career and day-to-day life. Multiple colonels heard and saw these advances and did nothing, even when this happened at work. I asked for help from several O6s. Two said that they would talk to him, but that nothing would change. The others said "Tough, you are working with the big boys." Things continued to escalate ... however, it was made clear to me that because of his position it did not matter what happened. In the end he would never be held accountable, regardless of what he ultimately did.I know this may not seem as bad as the story that you told in your article but like others, I am the sum of my experiences. My experience as a female officer taught me not to trust. Senior officers will hurt you and it does not matter what happens. Even those that are supposed to protect you may hurt you.I have spent my entire military career experiencing various events that were across the sexual harassment and assault spectrum. In my career it seems like all I learned is that the system will never work, and you will always be blamed. When I was a 1LT it was my training NCO, the person I worked closely with who was supposed to help me learn about the unit and how things worked. He pushed for sexual interaction and I refused. I thought I could deal with it, until he attacked me while we were on TDY. [Temporary Duty, meaning travel away from your normal base.]Once this came to the attention of my supervisor they worked through the system. When I was interviewed, I was read my rights and told that this did not look good for the command. Then I was informed that nothing would happen and I was kept in a unit with him. [Much as what happened to my friend. She had to stay on the same ship as those who raped her.]When overseas in a warzone, I was accosted in the dark area by my tent. When I reported it, CID questioned if I was just trying to get a ticket out of there. I finished my deployment. I was in another overseas area and was subject to constant sexual innuendo and approaches. I worked at a stateside office and within my first week at a new duty station and position was told that as a woman it was not my place to be in the work place. The treatment at that job was not threatening it was only hostile. I could deal with hostile, at least I was not afraid of being assaulted.At another job, my direct supervisor displayed his interest and often crossed the line...by a lot. After all of this I went overseas where the O6 issue happened. Throughout my career I experienced things like this. This is just a short overview. I also experienced life as an MP [Military Police]. I saw all of the people that were not charged, all of the victims that were subject to horrendous questioning, and the general lack of justice. This all changed my outlook until I had little faith left in the system, but at least I had some faith in the chain of command, until...The assault by the O6 took away what little faith I had left in anything. I lost all trust in the system, and all trust in anyone in the chain of command, and all faith in those of higher rank. I learned that life in the Army means living in fear. Every time I deploy, I know that I will be subject to at least sexual harassment and possibly worse. I go to work resigned at what I have to deal with. I know that this may not seem bad, I know it could all be worse. I have left the more explicit details of the assaults out. I don't know if anything will ever change in the Army. I doubt it will change in my time. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the way things are. I still cannot be alone in a room with a man of senior rank without that element of fear. Unfortunately I accept it as just the way life in the Army is. I wish that could change."
Actually, you know what? That is enough. You get the picture.
Solving things from the inside and preventing these events is what we should be working towards. Unfortunately, that has been a slow process. In my own case, I was a commissioned officer for 24 years before I ever saw anything even remotely effective on this issue. Then last year the United States Army made it mandatory that every single one of us in the Army (I cannot speak for the other services) watch a film that will absolutely induce rage. It is titled, "The Invisible War." You can watch it here. If you are a man, you will watch the whole damned thing. We did not make it -- civilian moviemakers acting on their own anger made it -- but thankfully somebody somewhere in the system realized, "That is our tool."
It was only then, after all of those years of ineffective PowerPoint briefings that for the first time, I heard men and women, talking frankly about the issue. We were forced (this was part of the annual deluge of "mandatory training" that all servicemen and women know all too well) to watch that movie. I came in skeptical, I finished it with veins throbbing on the surface of my shaven skull. It was the closest thing to effective that I have seen in my entire career. It got us talking, and angry, and among the officers and senior non-commissioned officers I work with, it brought out emotions that needed to be exposed so that we can all move forward. Before this, it was just a yearly PowerPoint briefing, usually given by somebody who got stuck with the task. Bottom Line: Posters in the hallways and in the unit training room do not stop rapes. Videos like this one, and the anger of good men (and women for that matter) are what might effect change.
If you really want to lose your toast, go ahead and take the time out of your life to watch all of that movie. You will be so furious at the end that hopefully you to will do something, and that is what I am trying to provoke.
In the meantime, since it is now obvious to me that these stories are being shared among survivors as well, let me give you, or more precisely them, some links. There is support out there.
Military Rape Crisis Center
Military Sexual Assault Advocacy
Military Sexual Assault and Awareness Facebook Group
Service Women's Action Network
I have been writing about prevention, and that is good. But there is another aspect to this whole conundrum, which is what to do legally. I will put forward the options currently advocated in the next post on this issue.
*Women were, in fact, wearing uniforms long before then. The WACs, the WAVEs, and all of the other auxiliary women's units saved our bacon in WWII and beyond. But for political reasons republicans adamantly opposed the acknowledgement of these women being "in service" until the mid- to late-1970s. In 1976, the Congress forced the admission of women upon the military academies, and in 1978, the enlisted women officially became part of the services.
To read the article on Esquire, click HERE.