Congress Hears Voices of Sexual Assault Survivors in Military

"Reproductive and sexual health and rights" sounds like such an unwieldy and imprecise phrase to describe so many issues that we address on RH Reality Check. The truth is, we’ve yet to come up with a better way to describe so many of these issues. 

Sexual assault, for instance.

It’s about a woman’s right to live free from violence, it’s about sexual health, it’s about your right to bodily autonomy. And, so, it’s critical that we make the connections between sexual assault and reproductive and sexual health and rights.

Consider this: 

Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.  

The military has been slow – too slow – to build its capacity, to create an infrastructure for dealing with the rising numbers of sexual assault and rape cases within its ranks. In fact, in March of 2008 the Department of Defense’s fourth
annual report on sexual assault in the military stated that there were 2,688
reported cases of sexual assaults by people in uniform. In addition, reports of sexual assault jumped by about 24 percent in 2006 and nearly
40 percent in 2005.

Thank god for Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and the parents and victims of sexual assault in the military who have so bravely stepped forward to push, prod and pull the military through this process in order to ensure that the United States military has the tools to deal with sexual assault survivors and cases properly. 

Today, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs
held a hearing on sexual assault in the military. Representative Louise Slaughter testified. She also reintroduced the Military Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Act, a bill that would do a number of things to protect service members who are victims of sexual violence and their families, including:

  • Establish an Office of Victims Advocate (OVA) within the Department of Defense
  • Strengthen policies for reporting, prosecuting and treating perpetrators of  violence
  • Create counseling and treatment programs through the Department of Veterans Affairs; and
  • Codify rights, restitution policies, treatment and other services for victims…including creating comprehensive confidentiality protocols to protect the rights of victims within military law.

Scheduled to testify as well were: Congresswoman Jane Harman of California; Mary Lauterbach, the mother of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who went missing last year just as she was going to testify in her own rape case and was found dead in the yard of a Marine whom she had accused of rape; Ingrid Torres was also scheduled to testify today as a member of the armed forces and a survivor of rape by a fellow soldier.

In her testimony, Rep. Slaughter reminded the committee that this act would also protect government contracted employees  – women like "Lisa Smith" who was raped while working in Iraq and Tracy Barker, sexually assaulted by another contractor – both employees of KBR.

Ingrid Torres’ remarks are brutal and should be a call to action for Congress and the United States military:

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  • scott-swenson

    These facts seem to undermine the unit cohesion argument that a shrinking minority of the military use to keep gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country openly and honestly. Any woman or man, regardless of orientation, that is willing to volunteer to serve in this nation’s uniform should have everyone’s respect — especially their fellow soldiers.

    Sexual assault doesn’t feel much like respect.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for posting this. I spent a few hours last night reading all the testimony. I recommend everyone to read Mary Lauterbach’s testimony. You can see the best of the Marines, those who comforted her after her daughters murder, as well as the worst of the Marines, an all branches wide problem of inneffective application of the half assed rules and regulations.

    I do want to say that it doesn’t matter how much legislation is passed if it cannot be enforced. Unnofical training in the form or language and military culture undercuts all official training meant stop sexual assault. Viewing women as “bitches dykes or sluts” and men who question that gendered language as “brokedicks” will only continue the problem.

    Also to Scott, as a former gay service memebr I can tell you the unit cohesion rationale is complete BS.

  • scott-swenson

    Thank you for your service to our country, and for confirming (once again) that the unit cohesion argument is BS. It has been since 1993, but somepeople are just slow learners.

    In case you missed it, this Daily Show segment pretty much sums up all the "arguments" against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • kirsten-sherk

    And Amie, thanks for highlighting this issue. If we’re going to continue massive military action, it’s irresponsible for the armed services not to be several decades behind in dealing with sexual assault.


    As I was listening to some of the testimony on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (from those who opposed openly integrating gays in the military), Scott, I was wondering what those behind the mic thought of women in the military. Do women disrupt "unit cohesion" too? Why are they so afraid of sexual assaults on men, but unwilling to speak out against the deplorable assault rates and 19th century treatment for women?

  • invalid-0

    Well, heads up gals. There is more to come. In the V.A. system, you will be subjected to gangs of medical students performing practice pelvic, rectal, and breast exams if you should have to be put under anesthesia for surgery or a procedure like a colonoscopy. If you do not feel secure with male care providers doing certain things, well tough luck. Try to assert your rights all you want, they will challenge that limitation every chance they get with no consideration for your expressed concerns. You will be given a female primary care and even specialty care, but male students, trainees, and nurses will be all over your every time you turn around. If you really complain, your chart will be flag and you will be told no men, but this is a “don’t ask don’t tell flag” telling doctors not to inform you of student, trainee participation, or male cna, nurse, anesthesia care. Just drug you and then do what they want. Nothing will be thought of leaving you in the care of a male or males while you are under anesthesia. Women are being raped in V.A. hospitals by other patients, medical staff, even doctors. Nothing is being done, not about the “medical rape” in the form of practice exams and bait and switch operations in absence of informed consent, and in part due to the necessity to cover up these practices not about the sexual assaults by staff members. This old vet learned the hard way. Now I am here to tell you, “STAY AWAY FROM THE V. A.” for any procedure requiring any form of anesthesia or memory wiping drugs like versed or even high doses of valium. These are date rape drugs. The men in the hospital know how to use them as such, and many avail themselves of the opportunity.