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Rape shame of the US military

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A US female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy. Yet most cases go unreported.

Last week, Jamie Leigh Jones lost a civil lawsuit against private military contracting firm KBR. Jones had accused several of her KBR colleagues of violent gang rape. After two days of deliberation, a federal jury decided her claims were untrue.

Although Jones's case was thrown out, it touched on a prevalent Ц yet underrepresented Ц problem in the US military. According to military reporter Adam Weinstein, a US servicewoman is twice as likely to be the victim of rape as her civilian counterpart. In fact, a US female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy. Worse still Ц the Pentagon estimates that as many as 90% of sexual-assault cases in the military go unreported.

Nancy Gibbs, journalist for Time magazine, moots numerous explanations: a macho culture; the fact that those in charge are solely focused upon winning the war; victim-blaming. Whatever the reason, the outcome for Leigh Jones makes reporting assault even more intimidating for US servicewomen. The jury's verdict is final. But exoneration for KBR doesn't mean that the silencing of sexual assault victims is not an endemic problem.

Last week, Jamie Leigh Jones lost a civil lawsuit against her former employer, the private military contracting firm KBR. Jones had accused several of her colleagues of violent gang rape, to which KBR responded by insisting she settled the matter through private arbitration rather than a civil court. It took four years for Jones to be granted her day in court. After two days of deliberation, a federal jury decided that her claims were untrue.

Although Jones's case was thrown out, it touched upon a prevalent Ц yet gravely underrepresented Ц problem within the US military. According to military reporter Adam Weinstein, a US servicewoman is twice as likely to be the victim of rape as her civilian counterpart. In fact, a US female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy. Worse still, the Pentagon estimates that as many as 90% of sexual assault cases in the military go unreported.

Nancy Gibbs, a journalist for Time magazine, moots numerous explanations for the lack of attention given to sexual assault cases in the military: an overly macho culture; the fact that those in charge are solely focused upon winning the war; the well-trodden ground of victim-blaming. Whatever the reason, the outcome for Jones makes the prospect of reporting assault even more intimidating for US servicewomen. KBR's defence attacked Jones's character, depicting her as a "self-promoter" who had fabricated her case to pave the way for a book and movie deal.

Ultimately, the jury's verdict is final and has been accepted by Jones's attorney. But exoneration for KBR doesn't mean that the US military is even-handed in its treatment of women. It doesn't mean that silencing of sexual assault victims is not an endemic problem. A jury may have decided that Jones wasn't a victim of rape. But that doesn't mean the victims don't exist.

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