Sunday, October 28, 2007

Letter to the Editor: Women face risks if they join military

Web posted October 28, 2007

Whether the National Guard recruiters like it or not, young women and their parents should know that thousands of American women in uniform are being raped by their fellow soldiers. In 2005, the Veterans Administration released a 2001 study on the National Guard and Reserves. It found that 60 percent of women Reservists and National Guard had experienced some kind of sexual trauma (Washington Post on Sept. 30, 2005).

Sexual assault is so pervasive that the VA has a name for it - Military Sexual Trauma. Female soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of military sexual trauma were on the "NOW with David Brancaccio" program on Sept. 7 ( Women are dying, losing legs and arms, and suffering brain injuries in Iraq. It's a terrible injustice that they have to watch their backs with their own countrymen.

Personal stories of military women in Iraq are in "The private war of female soldiers" by Helen Benedict (, on March 7). One story tells of three female soldiers who died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being raped by male soldiers if they walked to the latrines after dark. That story is in the brochure distributed at the high school.

Women report that if the commanding officer has a zero-tolerance for sexual abuse, it doesn't happen. Unlike civilians, soldiers can't choose where they work and they can't quit.

Speaking the truth isn't being against the troops. The troops include women. Juneau School Board member Margo Waring was doing her job. (Waring said in a recent meeting that military recruitment is limited to three days at Juneau-Douglas High School because it does not serve the Juneau School District's education mission. She also said the war is seen as controversial.)

Young women need this information to make an informed decision. They must weigh the benefits against the risks.

Barbara Belknap