Attack from Within – The Long-Standing Problem of Sexual Assault

Around The Web

Written By Joshua Patton,

Of the many injuries soldiers have to fear, there is something unique about Military Sexual Trauma or MST.  Any good Risk Assessment acknowledges the possibility of injury during training, so if it happens it may be tragic but not entirely unanticipated.  In combat situations, the troop expects the enemy to attempt to kill or injure them.  Yet, with MST the attack comes not from the enemy or from a happenstance accident but instead by a trusted ally.  This trauma does not always come in the form of physical abuse, but also emotional as well.  In fact, as I look back on the units and female soldiers I served with, I often wonder if what I and my male compatriots considered “good-natured humor,” didn’t cross that fine line into the territory of sexual harassment.  I think of one soldier I served with in Iraq that complained about the rampant use of a curse synonymous with female genitalia.  Annoyed with what we saw as unnecessary language-policing, we started using her first name in place of that curse word.  It wasn’t done to hurt her feelings – in fact she claimed to find it funny at first – but with the advantage of hindsight and time, we may have crossed that line. 

If only emotional and verbal harassment were as far as it goes, but unfortunately this is not the case.  Physical sexual assaults are rampant and have been for some time.  An article from The Spokesman Review published in January of 1992 details the all-too-familiar story of a soldier assaulted and her pleas for assistance and justice ignored.  The story ends by discussing a 1988 investigation and 1990 study that showed that this problem was rampant, affecting more than a third of the female force.  These numbers eerily echo a similar study just completed that has shown that sexual assault is rampant even within VA medical centers and these assaults often go unreported.  The embattled VA hasn’t commented much beyond saying that it vows to stop these assaults and ensure that they are actively protecting their patients and employees.

Legislators are taking steps to embolden the military to better curb this assault by reforming the policies in-place for dealing with sexual assault.  Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced a bill that, according to The Portland Press-Herald “would give the Pentagon new tools,” they can use to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators are prosecuted.  In the House, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) has introduced a bill targeting the work the VA can do to assist those suffering from the after-effects of MST – which multiplies the likelihood the soldier would suffer from PTSD, as detailed previously on Veteran Journal – including financial benefits.  The VA, perhaps just constantly on the defense, has said that it will respond to the problems Rep. Pingree outlines in her bill soon.  These bills represent at least an attempt by Congress to address problems raised in the above-mentioned article from 1992, highlighting that many women didn’t report assault and if they did those reports were often ignored.  That the Department of Defense has been aware of this problem for 20 years (possibly more) and it still persists is beyond troubling.  When I was in Iraq, I mistakenly thought that the policies in place to avoid mere harassment represented a coddling of female soldiers who were easily equals to male soldiers, but I was wrong.  With this problem so rampant in the military and considering the weight borne by our sisters-in-arms it is imperative that we protect them from this harm-from-within and do all we can to aid those we didn’t.


Joshua M. Patton

Joshua M. Patton is both a freelance writer and veteran of both the Bosnia peacekeeping mission and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is currently majoring in English Writing and Literature at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the largest organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in existence. His passions, other than veterans' issues are reading and his daughter, Madison. You can tweet him @JoshuaMPatton You can purchase his fiction for your e-reader at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or here:


Back to Top