Posted by: Kevin | August 14, 2007

Is it Time to Adopt an All Female Army?

Yes the Fish Speakers are fictional
but so were our reasons for invading Iraq 

War is hell, of that there can be no doubt.  The amazing thing in all the news from Iraq isn’t that there are so many atrocities committed by US soldiers, but so few.  We train our soldiers to be the “good guys” and more often than not they stick to that training.  Yet war remains hell, and so we get the steady drum beat of new and unpleasant stories coming from our military. 

A recent rash of stories caught my eye because they were about US soldiers violating other US soldiers.  These are incidents that can’t by explained away simply be saying “war is hell”.  They don’t have anything to do with combat or confronting the enemy in confusing situations.  They have to do with the mistreatment of women and gays and they seem to point to a cultural problem within the US military.

The first story, in the Christian Science Monitor, is about the prevalence of rape in the US military.  It included this excerpt from the Salon which I found disturbing:

A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. And in a third study, conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at.

Sadly, that 30% of female veterans say they were raped puts them only slightly higher than the national average of ~25%.  Neither of those figures is anything to be comfortable with, but the figure amongst veterans strikes me as particularly galling.  I still cling to the naïve view that the members of our armed services are supposed to be heroes, defending those who cannot defend themselves.  Sexual assault is pretty much the opposite of that to me.

Rape is bad enough but the Air Force recently compounded that error in the case of Cassandra Hernandez*.   From Feministing:

The story goes down like this: Hernandez was at a party, where she was drinking. She says that three male airman raped her. She went to the hospital and filed a report accusing her attackers. Due to stress and harsh interrogation tactics by the Air Force, she eventually refused to testify against the airmen.
The Air Force then charged her with underage drinking (of which she admits to being guilty, but that’s hardly the point, now is it?) and, along with her three attackers, “indecent acts.” I had a hell of a lot of trouble finding an official definition for “indecent acts,” and the best one I came up with is a “form of immorality relating to sexual impurity which is not only grossly vulgar, obscene, and repugnant to common propriety, but tends to excite lust and deprave the morals with respect to sexual relations.”

So she gets raped (allegedly), she makes the accusation, she then refuses to testify citing the stress of the incident so she is now charged with “indecent acts”.  Here’s the punch line.  The Air Force gave the 3 alleged rapists immunity from the sexual assault charges in return for their testimony against her.  It’s nice to see that the Air Force has learned from their past mistakes.

So what about that title, about the all female army?  The idea comes from Frank Herbert’s, God Emperor of Dune.  Without getting too deep into that book, the God Emperor, Leto, employs an all-female army.  He gives quite a few reasons for this, some of which ring truer than others, but one stands out.  Rape has been endemic in warfare throughout history, yet it would be foreign to an all female army.  That’s not entirely true.  According to some statistics ~5% of those committing sexual assault are women.  But we’ve knocked it down by 95% and that’s not bad.

Will we ever see the all female army, probably not.  Although given the amount of hardware available to the US military, it’s hard to argue that women couldn’t do the job.  I imagine the idea would founder on the grounds of reverse discrimination or something like that.  So I’ll have to go to plan B, which is advising my own daughter to stay the hell away from the military.

*I feel a little classless pointing this out, but there is a particularly cruel irony in the fact that her name is Cassandra, given the circumstances. 

Also, here is another story which points to a cultural problem in the military.

This post has been edited for truly boneheaded spelling errors.



  1. Hi, Kevin. I met you last night at Drinking Liberally and decided to check your blog out (by the way, great blog). I believe I actually may have posted a rant in the comments section of feministing (cannot go a day without about this. It is truly disgusting. Sadly, it seems that women are constantly blamed when they are sexually assaulted not matter where they were when it happened or what their situation is at the time. I believe that the American tradition of blaming women when they are sexually assaulted may be one of the reasons sexual assaults continue to occur more frequently in the U.S. than they do in other westernized countries. I cannot remember the stats, but when I was going through training to be a volunteer victim’s advocate with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, I remember the numbers were shocking when they compared America to places like the U.K.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the blog Amy. I enjoyed meeting everyone on Tuesday. As for this subject, the idea the “she deserved it” is alive and well in just about every culture. I’d be careful about the numbers from other countries too. I’m not sure if it’s the case in the UK but in many case the stigma against even reporting rapes makes the numbers look better than they actually are.

  3. Then the V.A. will rape these women again. How? Well, when a female vet needs care that requires anesthesia, in spite of female only care requests will be subjected to teams of male and female docs, residents, nurses, techs and students participating in prep, practice pelvic, breast, and rectal exams, and the intimate procedures from mastectomies to colonoscopies to GYN surgery. After this “medical rape” women are then left with male nurses and techs. Women are being raped and the V.A. is covering this fact up. BEWARE!!!

  4. MC Kean, I decided to look at the term “medical rape” before answering you and I’m glad I did.

    To be honest, doctors taking a cavalier attitude towards your body is not limited to female patients and is not limited to the VA. It sucks and it would be awesome if medical training didn’t grant some doctors the belief that they are always right and that patients need to “suck it up” because doctor knows best. So I follow your reasoning there, even if I think you go too far in equating it to sexual assault. What you’ve described is not a VA problem though, it’s a medical field problem.

    That said, you seem to go off the rails with your second to last sentence. Are you suggesting that the presence of male nurses and techs ensures that women are being raped in post-op care? Is this really happening? Before your comment, I hadn’t heard anything like that happening at the VA.

  5. Well, now you have heard of that happening in the V.A.
    Not mere presence but participation in prep, invasive exams, and procedures over my expressed objection. This sets up an culture in which patients are not seen as autonomous humans, women are often left with males while still under sedation, and yes, the medical rape sets the stage for sexual assault. The more one is practiced the more the other seems to result. Oregon where OHSU runs amok and women patients are more likely to suffer sexual assault under anesthesia than 42 other states. Research shows that at least 30% of males say they would rape if they know they could get away with it, some stats put the figure as high as 60%. To leave sedated women in the care of males is to endangerment. Just a FACT, that no one wants to face.

  6. Oh, the V.A. is not subject to the same sort of regulation as lax as it is for other hospitals. Docs play if faster and loser in the V.A. system.
    Battery of patients is common. In terms of modesty, they are the worst. It is true that it is not just a woman issue in terms of modesty; but it is women and children that are being raped, and even convicted docs and nurses continue to practice in many cases.

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