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Grace Saunders — August 1, 2020

Fighting for Those who Fight for us: Sexual Violence within the Military

Grace Saunders

Those who fight for us, also need people to fight for them. 

The military physically protects us and sacrifices for us, yet some service members are unsafe within the confines of the military system. According to the Department of Defense, almost a quarter of all women in the military experience sexual harassment, and more than 20,000 soldiers were sexually assaulted in the 2018 fiscal year. Women makeup about 20 percent of the military, but are the targets of 63 percent of assaults. While much of the media and statistics talk about sexual violence for women in the military, it is as important that awareness is brought to sexual violence that men face in the military as well. The number for females may be higher, however, men are less likely to report a sexual assault than women are. Men are found to be more likely to characterize their abuse as hazing or bullying than to think it is fit to be reported as sexual violence. 


Reporting sexual assault can come with many barriers and challenges for survivors, and when reporting a commander or superior, the possible career setbacks can be frightening. In a ranking system, in particular, people are afraid to jeopardize their positions or those of high-ranking authority figures. There is doubt among survivors that they will be protected and brought justice through the system. Younger service members are most at risk, usually following the commands and being led by higher-ranked supervisors without a lot of accountability. There is low trust in the system, causing survivors to feel unsupported by their chain of command. Some members reported being called names or accused of trying to ruin their abuser’s career when they attempted to report abuse. 


While the Pentagon’s report notes that the military took action in 65 percent of the cases, most punishments were handled outside of the legal system, resulting in warnings or minor consequences. There needs to be awareness and support for sexual violence survivors in the military, and steps must be taken to create a culture where sexual violence is prevented and reporting is encouraged. 


This issue is current and demands attention. Vanessa Guillen, an Army Specialist, was recently killed by a fellow Specialist in Fort Hood, Texas. After she went missing, her family came forward stating that Vanessa had been sexually harassed on base before her disappearance but never filed a report out of fear for the consequences. Female veterans have begun to speak out regarding their own experiences of sexual harassment in the military. A former Marine Lance Corporal stated in an interview, 

“Regardless if we’re shaking or we’re crying. We need to speak up for her and demand for justice. We need to demand for change. Because the military justice system is not cutting it, and it needs to change.” 

(https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2020/07/06/377402/vanessa-guillens-death-has-highlighted-issues-of-sexual-assault-and-harassment-in-the-military/)

Visit the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen on social media platforms to join the conversation and hear others’ stories.

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