At least 37 allege assaults by U.S. soldiers
overseas, little help afterward
By MILES MOFFEIT and AMY HERDY The Denver Post
The State (South Carolina)
Female troops serving in the Iraq war are reporting an
insidious enemy in their own camps: fellow American
soldiers who sexually assault them.
At least 37 female service members have sought sexual-
trauma counseling and other assistance from civilian
rape-crisis organizations after returning from war duty
in Iraq, Kuwait and other overseas stations, The Denver
Post has learned.
The women, ranging from enlisted soldiers to officers,
have reported poor medical treatment, lack of
counseling and incomplete criminal investigations by
military officials. Some say they were threatened with
punishment after reporting assaults.
The Pentagon did not respond to repeated requests for
information about the number of sexual assault reports
during the conflict. Defense officials would say only
that they will not tolerate sexual assault in their
Members of Congress said they are alarmed by the
assault reports, confirming that they have learned of
incidents as well.
Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, a key figure in the
investigation of the Air Force Academy rape scandal,
said he intends to raise the issue with colleagues on
the Senate Armed Services Committee. And two
Pennsylvania congressmen -- Rep. Joseph Pitts and Sen.
Arlen Specter -- intervened last month on one rape
victim's behalf to bring her home.
"Congressman Pitts is extremely concerned," spokesman
Derek Karchner said. "We have heard that there were
cases that hadn't been reported or were not being
Women have served greater combat support roles in the
Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts than ever before, flying
fighter jets, serving on patrols and analyzing
intelligence data. According to a Department of Defense
estimate, women represent 10.4 percent of the total
forces who were "in theater" between October 2002 and
November 2003. A total of 59,742 women have been or are
currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As women have returned from duty overseas in recent
months, they have sought help from civilian trauma
centers and advocates.
"We have significant concerns about the military's
response to sexual assault in the combat zone," said
Christine Hansen, executive director of the
Connecticut-based Miles Foundation, which has assisted
"We have concerns that victims are not getting forensic
exams. Evidence is not being collected in some cases,
and they are not getting medical care and other
To protect the soldiers' privacy, the foundation and
other victim advocacy organizations contacted by The
Post declined to release details of individual cases --
such as locations of the attacks or a breakdown of
which military branch was involved -- and revealed only
Many of the victims are women of high rank. Several are
officers. Most were stationed in Kuwait, a common
launching point for troops occupying Iraq.
Among the most disturbing trends, say the victim
advocates, is a disregard for the women's safety and
medical treatment following an assault. Women are being
left in the same units as their accused attackers and
are not receiving counseling, they say.
"If you don't even get the victim to a level of medical
accessibility, how do you get to anything else, such as
evidence collection through forensic exams?" Hansen
said. "There appears to be a shortage of criminal
justice personnel to help them, too."
The military environment magnifies intense stress for
victims, Hansen said.
"Just by virtue of the fact that they have to salute
the individual who attacked them adds tremendous
It could take months or years before a more definitive
picture of the prevalence of sexual assault during the
war takes shape. The Defense Department has not
disclosed such statistics in the past.
But some surveys have shown high rates of sexual abuse
and harassment among servicewomen in past military
--Nearly 30 percent of 202 female Vietnam veterans
surveyed in 1990 said they experienced a sexual
encounter "accompanied by force or threat of force,"
according to the Congressional Record.
--A study of troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War by
Department of Veterans Affairs researchers found that 7
percent of surveyed women reported sexual assaults,
while 33 percent reported sexual harassment.
Susan Avila-Smith, a Washington state-based civilian
advocate, assisted Danielle, the rape victim who
received congressional help to return home. A military
intelligence officer who asked that her full name not
be used, Danielle said she was assaulted Nov. 28 while
She was stationed with her Fort Lewis, Wash., unit at
Camp Udairi, 15 miles from the Iraqi border, for
training before deployment to Iraq. She had finished
guard duty at 2:30 a.m. and was stepping into the
latrine on the edge of camp when she was hit on the
back of the head and knocked unconscious, she said.
She recalled waking to a man raping her. She said the
man cut her with a knife and hit her with an object
between the eyes, again knocking her unconscious.
When she awoke, the man, who remains unidentified, had
left. Danielle said she ran into camp, and a fellow
soldier alerted her commanders.
She was driven to an aid station, where a rape
examination was performed. She received no other
treatment for the injuries to her head, back and knees,
she says. She was interviewed for about three hours,
After a few days, she said an investigator scheduled a
polygraph exam for her but never followed through.
"I was hysterical," she recalled. "There I am, all
bruised up and beaten, and somebody in my chain of
command wanted me to take a test."
A Fort Lewis spokesman, Jeff Young, said her case is
being investigated and that she has received proper
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