A powerful counter-recruiting tool to use with young women considering enlistment is facts about the risk of rape among active duty soldiers. This is not something recruiters bring up when they’re touting job training, travel and educational opportunities. It often doesn’t occur to young women to wonder about their safety in the military, beyond knowing that they may face violence from enemy combatants.
Kelly Dougherty of Iraq Veterans Against the War testifies in “Before You Enlist” (view the film online here): “When you’re a woman, specifically in a combat zone, not only do you have to be afraid of the supposed insurgents and the enemies and the Iraqis, but then you also come back to the base and then there you have to be fearful of your fellow soldiers.”
Several friends of hers were raped in the military. One brought charges and was subjected to a pre-trial hearing — aimed at discrediting her! Another was told by her officer that the charges “would be too hard to prove” and was advised to drop it.
The parents of 19 year-old LaVena Johnson were told their daughter committed suicide by gunshot to the head while on active duty in Iraq. They don’t buy it. They think she was raped and then shot by another soldier, and that the military officers in charge of investigating covered up the crime.
Another nugget from Kelly Dougherty to share with teen girls who hope a uniform and a paycheck will earn them some respect — at least, more respect than they’re getting growing up poor in America: “When you’re a woman in the military you’re either a bitch, a slut or a lesbian.”
There’s an implicit understanding that women are in the military to be sexually available to the men after hours. Not much different from growing up in a home or neighborhood with that culture in place.
But factors like strong female role models and the growth of athletic programs for girls that are comparable to those for boys have helped empower American girls to believe they deserve better. Advertising for the military floods youth-oriented programming like MTV with messages that a “job” in the military puts women in a strong position. The truth of life on a military base can be an effective counter to this myth. Note also that women face 2 to 3 times higher risk of domestic violence if their spouse is a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD.
Women make up about 15% of active duty military now, and recent Boston Globe article cited Veteran’s Administration statistics that female veterans are especially at risk of becoming homeless. The VA is being called upon to provide services for a completely new generation of vets with special needs: single mothers. Ironically, a key strategy for recruiting teen girls is presenting enlistment as a chance to serve their families by accessing a steady income and “job training” in the military.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans made this statement in testimony before a Senate subcommittee on March 4, 2009: “Women veterans report serious trauma histories and episodes of physical harassment and/or sexual assault while in the military. The VA and homeless veteran service providers are also seeing increased numbers of female and male veterans with children seeking their assistance.”
Get the word out to young women being preyed upon by recruiters: military service is an unsafe option.