Military "Don't Tell" Policy Hushes Up Rape and Sexual AssaultNOW Urges Defense Budget Allocation to Anti-Violence Efforts
March 11, 2003
by NOW Staff
Dozens of current and former female cadets at the United States Air Force Academy have come forward to report the academy's mistreatment of women who were raped or sexually assaulted by male cadets. Air Force leaders finally confirmed that these cases exist, but only after intense Congressional and media scrutiny.
"Feminists are tired of hypocrisy from the high command and the code of silence that is imposed on the victims," said Lt. Col. Karen Johnson USAF (Ret.), NOW Executive Vice President. "It's time for the Department of Defense to hold its leaders accountable, restore discipline to the troops and put its money behind eradicating the violence against women."
As more reports of mishandled sexual assault complaints became public in the largest military sexual misconduct scandal since the Navy's Tailhook fiasco in 1991, the Air Force announced last week that it has investigated 54 reports of sexual assault or rape over the past 10 years at the Air Force Academy. While they contend that no one at the academy has been absolved of responsibility, they also admit that very few prosecutions have taken place.
NOW leaders, who for years have advocated for civilian investigations of military abuse, criticized the Department of Defense for paying lip service to the problem while ignoring rampant abuse over the past decade. Johnson noted that a 1994 report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that 78% of the 90 female cadets at the Air Force academy reported either sexual assaults or unwanted sexual advances.
"How much longer will the entire military system remain in denial?" Johnson said. "Nine years ago, a government report showed that there was a serious problem, but the military failed to police its own and protect the women and men who have sworn service to this country."
"Those of us who have served proudly in the military know about discipline and following orders," Johnson continued. "We read reports that cadets sleep on the floor rather than wrinkle their beds for fear of reprisal. Where is that same discipline and fear of stigma and punishment for the rapist? I can only assume that the orders against assault and rape have not come down from command leaders and that the policies are not taken seriously."
Johnson called on the Defense Department to allocate at least 1% of its 2004 budget (which is currently pegged at $399 billion) to mount a campaign to eradicate violence against women, starting with service members and their families, and eventually providing a model and program support for the nation and the world to address the vicious and oppressive epidemic of sexual violence.
Some of the women who have come forward to report rape and sexual assault at the U.S. Air Force Academy include:
"As a female who was in uniform for 20 years, I believe that rape and sexual assault in the military is a gross abuse of power resulting from the failure of leadership," Johnson said. "The military's 'zero tolerance' policy against abuse means nothing unless there is the will and the fundingfrom the highest levelsto enforce that policy."
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