Eliminate Our Culture of Abuse

Those who watched the Oscars last month were moved as Vice President Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga, who passionately sang her song, “Til It Happens to You,” written with Diane Warren for the documentary, The Hunting Ground. Did you see the emotional reactions of many in the audience?

Our culture of abuse is a major problem in the United States and in our world. Look around and see that in our military, we have over 20,000 sexual assaults per year. The Department of Justice report from December 2014 estimates that 110,000 women between ages 18 and 24 are raped each year, and one in four women on college campuses are raped. Recently, there was a case in Oklahoma where a police officer was convicted of 18 countsof raping Black women with his abuse of power. Similarly in Los Angeles, two police officers were charged with preying on vulnerable women to rape them, again abusing their power and authority.

I interviewed more than 58 women veterans from WWII up to and including Iraq and Afghanistan between 2006 and 2013, and read everything written about sexual assault to women serving in our military while writing my book Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military. Over and over in their stories, women made it clear that if they report sexual assault — or someone else reports it on their behalf — they are punished harshly and the perpetrator is protected, promoted and permitted to continue their inappropriate abusive language and behavior.

In 1997, Major Elspeth Ritchie, assistant chief of outpatient psychiatry at Walter Reed Health Care System, testified against a drill sergeant from Aberdeen Proving Ground during their sexual assault scandal, and described a hierarchical structure so powerful that any victim reporting a rape would find her superiors closing ranks and protecting one another instead of her. That was 1997, and 19 years later, the situation is worse than ever.

Bob Herbert, writing in The New York Times March 2009, said, “The military could bring about a radical reduction in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault if it wanted to, and it could radically improve the overall treatment of women in the Armed Forces. There is no real desire in the military to modify this aspectof its culture.”

In 2003, there were three female soldiers who died in their cots of dehydration in Iraq, because they would not drink liquids at night for fear of being raped by their fellow soldiers on the way to the latrines, and their screams for help would not be heard because of the sounds of the generators. Col. Janis Karpinski was in the room when the deputy commander told the doctor not to say anything about the report of deaths — because it might bring attention to the problem. More likely, if known, it would bring attention to our military’s failure to deal with the problem.

Ninety-five percent of the rapes and assaults to military personnel are from repeat offenders and serial rapists. The military response has been completely inadequate and has only engendered more crime.

Why does our military condone and support the rape culture it has fostered? Why are college administrations following the lead of our military by hiding behind image rather than substance, and allowing our bright young women to be raped repeatedly with no accountability for the perpetrators?

Catholic churches and colleges, like our military, are becoming far too skilled at covering up criminal behavior in their ranks, yet saying they stand for integrity. When our most revered institutions respect rape and rapeculture more than the people they purport to serve — all honor is lost!

There is little or no protection for any woman who speaks up and reports her assault and there is noaccountability for perpetrators.

That this culture of abuse exists is not in question. But, there is a question: “Where does this come from and why is it so pervasive?”

In former President Jimmy Carter’s book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, he noted a presumption that boys and men are superior to girls and women, and those boys and men are therefore justified in mistreating girls and women. This thinking is based on a distortion of certain parts of the Bible and the Koran.

Jimmy Carter states clearly that the deprivation and abuse of females is the most serious worldwide challenge we face. The relegation of females to inferior status by male religious leaders is one of the primary reasons for the promotion and perpetuation of sexual abuse of girls and women. If his perspective is accurate, and I believe it is, then it is our male religious leaders who created this culture of abuse and need to step up to the plate, own their mistaken belief and correct it throughout churches, colleges, military institutions, our families and communities. Women are equal in essence and deserve the same respectful treatment.