INSTITUTIONALIZING SEXUAL AGGRESSION IN THE MILITARY – Part 5
Action on Rape in the Military
Before rape will be taken seriously and in a new context, as a crime against women that reflects a system of gendered power, there must be a mass movement against rape, and it must be understood in ways that transcend its definition in liberal law. Moreover, the mass movement against rape must be part of a movement that identifies all violence against women-as-women not as a technically determined legal aberration but as a means of enforcing the social power of men over women. And before rape will become an issue that receives the kind of command emphasis it needs in the military voluntarily, this mass movement must create the conditions that will make that inevitable.
We have already seen some of the inherent limitations in the existing â€œwomenâ€™s movementâ€ to take this on in a more meaningful way â€“ the captivity of the most well-resourced (white, â€˜middle-classâ€™) sections of â€˜feminismâ€™ by liberal civil society. Liberal civil society has as core values the maintenance of social stability and the stability of the state. But, as was pointed out, patriarchy as a system of power, within which rape is an extra-judicial means of social control, is articulated into all social relations, and can not be overcome from inside that system, or without creating a fundamental destabilization of it. I feel fairly safe saying that this actually holds true about imperialism as well.
We donâ€™t need elections that only serve to legitimize existing relations of power. We need actions more akin to strikes and other disruptions. Instability must be the goal.
This, of course, requires the development of a much higher level of consciousness than currently exists about gender, the state, and how these relate to rape. On the other hand, the issue of rape is not one whose urgency is difficult to describe to countless women.
This brings me back, yet again, to the military, which â€“ oddly enough â€“ may ba a very good place to begin the process of building that larger, more radical social movement against patriarchy.
Not only is the military the key state institution â€“ far more central than, say, the Department of State â€“ right now in US foreign policy, in our current ideological milieu of hyper-militarism, the armed forces are under a spotlight that makes them the Achillesâ€™ heel of the legitimation of the US state. Any disruption of the idealized image of the military with which the public must be indoctrinated has a powerful ripple effect against the more general perception of legitimacy of, first, the government, and later, the state and system.
Far more pressure can be applied to elected officials, bureaucrats, and military commanders by a campaign against rape in the military. The reason these people collaborate as they do, to suppress public discourse on the issue, is because it is so sensitive. The subject of rape simultaneously confronts them with the necessity to express unqualified outrage at each instance of it and the need to avoid any discussion of rapeâ€™s larger, systemic, social implications. It generates tremendous controversy, and the rationalizations required for said public officials are skin-thin and easily demolished in any real debate.
The automatic response of all these governmental strata will be to make it go away as quickly as possible, and they will bend over backward to do so if there is any sustained pressure on them. It is a way to win concessions, but more importantly it is eventually a way to wake up and unite with women who are in the military and who have been subjected to all manner of sexual aggression there. This is an integral part not just of the struggle against rape and patriarchy, but to build resistance inside the US military.
For those uninitiated in the military bureaucracy, I need to point out that there is no more potent hand grenade that anyone can roll into the room of a military commanderâ€™s office than a Congressional inquiry. Military commanders who are contacted by any Congressperson about any of their troopsâ€™ situation are required to reply in writing within days to any questions or concerns posed in the letter of inquiry. Precisely because the officer personnel management system (OPMS) is so intensely cannibalistic, any whiff of controversy that might get out and â€˜reflectâ€™ badly in any way on said officerâ€™s own commander has the potential to end a career.
The initial stage of a campaign targeting the military on the issue of rape is not to win policy concessions, or even to begin organizing within the military. It is to raise the visibility of rape in the military to the point where it can not be ignored. The fact that it has been systematically covered up in Iraq is a huge issue, and one that merges with the anti-war effort itself. But simply complaining about it is not raising its visibility; to do that, public visibility must become a strategic organizing goal designed to reach the largest possible audience with the most sustained intensity possible.
As part of that effort, military women must be made aware of the extra-military resources available to them for the redress of rape and other forms of sexual aggression. Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP) http://staaamp.org/ has a hotline for military victims of sexual aggression (including men who have been raped by other men â€“ which also happens in the military) at 1-937-879-2568.
While I have said that policy concessions are not the initial phase or the only goal, there are some concessions that must be fought for, though not in such a way that it becomes a form of lobbying â€“ the death knell of any militant social movement.
Lobbying is working to convince legislators and others to do what you want. It involves building relationships with them, and it consolidates existing relations of power. Creating the conditions outside the legislature that forces them to meet a demand is not lobbying, and it does change the relations of power.
At least one of those concessions must be forcing the military to redefine rape, and demanding not a definition that is on par with neutral liberal state law, but one that uses the advantages of codified law to explicitly establish rules of procedure and evidence that, as Ann Scales says, test whether said procedure or presentation of evidence itself â€œintegrally contributes to the maintenance of an underclass or a deprived position because of gender statusâ€ and rules it out if it does. The question of consent must be disengaged from the archaic criterion of direct â€œforce,â€ and not merely as a component of â€œsexual assault.â€ A womanâ€™s sexual history prior to any charged incident must become unequivocally inadmissible. Use of the McDowell checklist by military defense attorneys needs to be made a violation of policy â€“ an act of inappropriate legal hostility against a plaintiff â€“ tantamount to insubordination.
The complexity here is the difference between policy and law. Congress must make the laws that amend the UCMJ, while policies can be issued by commanders up to and including the Secretary of Defense and the President.
Here are some policies that can be implemented at will by commanders from the level of post/base and above. Pornography that is sold on the installations can be banned, as can the possession of pornographic materials while troops are on post or on duty. Pornography is hate-speech, demeaning to women the same way racial caricatures would be demeaning, yet it is still widely tolerated. Sexually-exploitative bars and nightclubs that feature topless or nude dancing can be placed off limits. A special assistant to the Inspector General can be assigned to exclusively handle sexual aggression complaints.
Yun Kum Yi, raped and mudered in South Korea by an American soldier
On the issue of gender, ever since the military found it necessary to fill out the rosters by recruiting and integrating women into the military, it has wanted to have its cake and eat it, too.
As commanders, male military officers â€“ as well as most members of Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch â€“ actually believe that masculinity and aggression are synonymous, that this is a product of nature and not socialization, and that men will perform consistently better in war than women. Their position on this is not a conscious effort to keep women in their place to preserve their own power in spite of their own knowledge that women are perfectly capable of performing military tasks, etc. They believe what they used to say on these matters; and this is reinforced by all the affective attachments they have to their own individual sexual “identities.”
On the other hand, as careerist bureaucrats and political creatures (in the limited, pejorative sense), these same commanders do not want to jeopardize their careers by being drawn into the line of fire of the social movements â€“ particularly issues that smack of race or sex.
It is this split institutional personality on sex that created the contradictory firestorms around the whole Jessica Lynch affair, which tied them into rhetorical knots. See my own analysis of this particular episode at Freedom Road’s web site.
The gap between the two poles of this contradiction is big enough to fly through with a 747. This is precisely the reason that commanders at every level feel compelled to make the issue of rape go away. Rape is the 747.
All of us owe this struggle to the women who have been victimized, and we owe it to all women.
(References available on request)