On Sluts, Whores, and Rape in the Military
by Jamison Koehler on March 6, 2012
I found out about the press conference this morning when Susan asked me for feedback on the suit she was wearing. “How come nobody from the media ever talks about the good-looking and supportive husband?” I asked her. Craving attention almost as much as she eschews it, I was annoyed the last go-round when one of the media reports mentioned her three children without bothering to say that she is married. Between the two of us, our publicity-seeking quotient is average.
Susan filed yet another law suit against the military this morning, this one on behalf of eight women who were raped and/or sexually assaulted by other members of the military during their time in the service. According to the complaint:
Rape, sexual assault and harassment are widespread throughout the Navy and Marine Corps. Beginning with the Tailhook scandal in 1991, military leadership has been claiming that it is taking effective steps to address the problem. That is simply not true. Although Defendants testified before Congress and elsewhere that they have “zero tolerance” for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: they have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and zero tolerance for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.
After making some introductory remarks herself, Susan turned the press conference over to two of the plaintiffs, Ariana Klay and Elle Helmer. Kay and Helmer were both Marine Corps officers at the time of their assaults. Both women were assaulted at the Marine Corps Barracks in D.C., the oldest and most prestigious Marine Corps base in the U.S. Both were attacked by a superior officer. And both suffered retaliation when they attempted to report the assaults.
Lt. Klay, for example, was called a “slut” and a “whore” and told that she must have welcomed the attacks because “she wore make up, regulation-length skirts (as part of her uniform) and exercised in running shorts and tank tops.” Lt. Helmer was told that she needed to “pick herself up” and “dust herself off” and that her superiors could not “babysit” her all the time.
Included in the press information packet was a one-page questionaire that the base’s director of protocol posted on Facebook. Entitled “Hurt Feelings Report,” the questionnaire included a list of the possible reasons for filling out the report: “I am a pussy;” “I have woman like hormones;” “I am a queer;” and “I am a little bitch.” At the bottom of the page the person was asked to name the “Real man who hurt your sensitive little feelings.”
Eleanor Smeal, formerly of the National Organization of Women and now of the Feminist Majority Foundation, concluded the press conference by congratulating the two women on their courage in speaking out. It was also Smeal who drew the parallel with Rush Limbaugh’s use of the exact same terms – “slut” and “whore” – in the context of the Sandra Fluke debacle.
After the questions, the husband of one of the plaintiffs and I stood in the back of the room while our wives did one-on-one interviews with the media. A product of Yale and Harvard, the husband was also a member of the military until he too submitted his resignation as a direct consequence of the rape. He and I found we have much in common. He too knows a little something about being married to a courageous woman.
Other stories on the suit:
Reuters: “Eight Women Allege Rape, Retaliation in U.S. Military”
MSNBC: “Lawsuit Claims Rape, Misconduct at D.C. Marine Barracks”