Conduct Unbecoming of the U.S. Army

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Military Sexual Trauma

Various studies estimate 20 to 48 percent of women U.S. veterans have been sexually assaulted (range is due to discrepancies in sample size, methodology and definition of "assault"). Up to 80 percent of women veterans say they have been sexually harassed. A 1996–1997 national survey of 558 female veterans found that of the 30 percent who said they had been raped, three fourths did not report the assault, and one fifth believed that rape was an expected part of military service.

About eight percent of alleged sexual assailants are referred to courts martial, compared to a 40 percent prosecution rate in the civilian court system. Of those convicted in military courts, about 80 percent are honorably discharged.

The Defense Department and veterans' advocates believe 80–90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

"There is simply no guarantee that the chain of command will support survivors if they come forward," Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and executive director of Service Women’s Action Network, said at a May 20, 2010, Congressional hearing. "Commanders have consistently ignored equal opportunity and sexual assault policies in order to maintain their personnel at full capacity.  Additionally, commanders have very little incentive to prosecute perpetrators as documented incidents in their units reflect poorly on their leadership performance and reputations."

“Service members who experience military sexual trauma and are brave enough to speak out about their experiences are often marginalized,” Rep. Michael Michaud, chairman of the Health subcommittee on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said at the hearing.  “For many, it means the end of their military career while their offenders often times remain unscathed." 

Show sources


"California's Women Veterans: The Challenges and Needs of Those Who Served," California Research Bureau, August 2009

"Factors Associated With Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment," American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2003

"Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Time, March 8, 2010

"Rapists in the Ranks," op-ed column by U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2008

"Violence Against Women in the Military,", September 14, 2005

"Healing the Wounds: Evaluating Military Sexual Trauma Issues," joint hearing before the the Subcommittee on Health and the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, House Veterans' Affairs Committee, May 20, 2010

Close sources

I looked over at my advocate. She said nothing. Neither did Major R, my commander’s right-hand man. But I knew what they were saying: Occurrences like this were “steady state operations” in the Army.

I'd seen Army indifference of sexual assault before. When the guys at my first unit would grab my ass or whisper vulgar fantasies to me in uniform, the only action my command took was to offer a collective shrug. From drill sergeant to battalion commander, they all told me the same thing: “You need to grow a thick skin and get used to it” because “this is how life is for females in the Army.”

I was hearing it again in the conference room. Get used to it. This is how life is for women in the Army.

But this time, I wasn’t going to be ignored.

Lt. Col. M wasn't willing to push the issue to someone with the power to administer punishment—fine, then I would, I told him. I couldn't serve in a unit or institution that granted impunity to, even rewarded, those in positions of power and responsibility for an offense like rape.

I had trusted J as a friend, a comrade, and my recently appointed boss. He was a noncommissioned officer, a decorated soldier. He was obsessed with power and control, be it through artful manipulation or intimidation. He projected it through the big truck he drove, the gun on his hip, the combat badge he flaunted. J loved to tell people that he was a combat veteran, so he could do what he wanted. And the Army told him that he could.

Not me. The Army told me that I was worthless. I had felt an obligation to serve, to continue on the deployment that I had trained for and committed to. I had always stepped up when the Army called me, and this time was no different. I couldn't let my unit deploy without me. But this dedication I had to my unit and the Army was one-way. After the initial days of support and after I agreed to still deploy, my command treated me as nothing more than a nuisance, a burden, a liability.

The Army doesn’t like to air its dirty laundry, preferring instead to resolve allegations of misconduct “in-house.” Too often, I’d seen that this meant dismissals and hand slaps. So I went to the civilian police the day after I was attacked. Local authorities collected the physical evidence and taped J’s confession when I phoned him from the police station. Police arrested J the night before we were scheduled to deploy, and he was arraigned days later on four counts of Rape by Duress.

The evidence, confession and criminal charges didn’t seem to matter to the Army. Neither did my pain. My commander's intention to give J an honorable discharge reinforced my feelings of worthlessness and dispensability. I was not worth the dark cloud that might hover over the unit if punishments were dealt. I was not worth the blemish on Lt. Col. M's record of “soldier care.” My pain was not worth even a moment of his or his colleagues’ discomfort. The Army’s apathy and betrayal, however passive, hurt more than J's attack.