Where Are the Cries of Outrage Over Military Rapes?
Beyond the Strange Furor Over Imus
By RALPH NADER
Now that the Don Imus flameout has once again demonstrated that vile
words energize many activist groups and many media more than do
devastating deeds, it is useful to revisit this strange dimension of
The latest three word outburst in Mr. Imus' practice of sexist and
racist remarks may be compared with the continuing sexist and racist
behaviors that civic opponents would argu e shou ld at the very least
receive equal time from those who become indignant over cruel, bigoted
On March 18, the New York Times ran a lengthy cover story in its
heralded Sunday Magazine about widespread sexual harassment and rape of
female U.S. soldiers by their male colleagues in Iraq. Written by a
reporter, Sarah Corbett, the article combined the available official
studies, and statements of specialists, with poignant narratives by
women soldiers whom she interviewed intensively.
The evidence she amassed included a report in 2003, funded by the
Department of Defense (DOD), which declared that nearly one-third of a
nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the
V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service.
Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14
percent reported they were gang-raped.
A change in DOD policy in 2005 allowing sexua l assa ults to be reported
confidentially in "restricted reports" led to the number of reported
assaults across the military rising 40 percent.
There are still many reasons why female soldiers are reluctant to report
sexual violence, especially in combat zones. Solidarity is survival.
Complaining about your superior or soldiers of comparable ranking
ruptures the working hierarchy and its military mission. In addition, it
is often the woman's word against the man's word. As one sailor told Ms.
Corbett, "You just don't expect anything to be done about it anyway, so
why even try?" She said she was raped at a naval base on Guam before
being deployed to Iraq.
Female soldiers coming back from Iraq relate their fears of even going
to the latrines in the middle of the night for the fear of being
Sexual violence is often dismissed as fabricated, exaggerated or
consensual. It is important not to tarnish m any up standing and
respectful male soldiers and sailors with sweeping generalizations.
Abbie Pickett, who is a 24 year old combat-support specialist with the
Wisconsin Army Naitonal Guard, told Ms. Corbett: "You're one of three
things in the military-a bitch, a whore or a dyke. As a female, you get
classified pretty quickly."
Particularly since the Tailhook episode in 1991 which involved sexual
violence against women at a naval party, the Pentagon has become more
concerned about such assaults. There are far more women in areas of
combat now as well. Over 160,000 women have seen active duty in Iraq and
Bottom line to all the reports-official and individual-was summarized by
the New York Times this way: "Many have reported being sexually
assaulted, harassed and raped by fellow soldiers and officers." (For
more information see
Assault and rape are crimes, deeds of devastating impact on the lives of
these young women. They are not just vile words. Yet in the month since
the New York Times article was published, there has been almost no
public outrage and no demands for more investigation, more corrective
action, more law enforcement.
The members of Congress-women and men-have not mobilized for action. The
press did not follow up on the article-"The Women's War" by Ms. Corbett. The
National Organization of Women (NOW) condemned Don Imus in no uncertain
terms. They have not yet demanded multiple actions to be taken on this
continuing violence against women.
Aside from the indifference of the ma le leg islators, Congress is now
graced by the largest number of women lawmakers in its history. The
Speaker of the House is a woman-Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she has her hands
full with the Iraq war. But this is an internal war against many women
who need her leadership and her status to spark remedial or preventative
Words inflaming more than deeds is also too often the case when racial
epithets are uttered by public figures. All those groups and civil
rights leaders who conquered and ended the Don Imus media empire should
ask themselves what have they done in any sustained manner, given their
power and media access, about the brutality of racism by commercial
interests in the urban ghettos. Deaths, injuries, disease and loss of
livelihood are a daily occurrence, apart from raw street crime and
drugs. Little children seriously poisoned by lead, asbestos and other
toxics. Whole neighborhoods redlined without adequate corporat e poli ce
protection. Predatory lending, predatory interest rates, marketing
shoddy products and contaminated food proliferate.
Where have been the cries of outrage, the demands for removal of these
conditions and prosecution of these crooks and defrauders? The abysmal
conditions are daily, weekly, monthly. They have been occasionally
reported in gripping human interest terms and statistics and maps.
If only the offenders used words, instead of committing these awful
deeds. Maybe there would have been action, front page headlines and
prime time television and radio coverage. If only they used words!
Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions