Support Our (Male) Troops!

Amie Newman

There is a battle happening in Iraq and it's not between the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. It's a "private war" between female and male United States soldiers and you won't find reference to it in any of the mainstream media's headlines offering up the latest car bombing or hijacking.

Helen Benedict, in her recent Salon.com article, "The Private War of Women Soldiers", relays true stories of female soldiers who have fought for their lives on the ground in Iraq as they simultaneously battled rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment—all from their fellow U.S. male soldiers.

According to the Salon.com article, more than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war begin in 2003; more women than in any war in U.S. history. And although the Pentagon officially prohibits women from fighting in "ground combat", the line between front-line combat and "support" is utterly blurred in this war. Women are fighting this war on the ground but are increasingly finding themselves in harm's way in their own camps as well.

There is a battle happening in Iraq and it's not between the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. It's a "private war" between female and male United States soldiers and you won't find reference to it in any of the mainstream media's headlines offering up the latest car bombing or hijacking.

Helen Benedict, in her recent Salon.com article, "The Private War of Women Soldiers", relays true stories of female soldiers who have fought for their lives on the ground in Iraq as they simultaneously battled rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment—all from their fellow U.S. male soldiers.

According to the Salon.com article, more than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war begin in 2003; more women than in any war in U.S. history. And although the Pentagon officially prohibits women from fighting in "ground combat", the line between front-line combat and "support" is utterly blurred in this war. Women are fighting this war on the ground but are increasingly finding themselves in harm's way in their own camps as well.

While statistics on the number of rape and sexual assaults to female soldiers in the Iraq war have not been collected in toto, there are other numbers that make you wonder how and why something hasn't been done to make the military safer for women. According to Helen Benedict, who is also writing a book about women veterans of the Iraq war, a 2003 study by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine indicates that fully one-third of women soldiers are sexually assaulted and/or raped.

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With that in mind, maybe it's not such a surprise to hear about Spc. Mickiela Montoya, a soldier with the National Guard in Iraq in 2005, who "took to carrying a knife with her at all times." According to Montoya, "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis…it was for the guys on my own side."

One of the most telling scenarios about how the military fails to ensure the rights of female soldiers in combat involves latrines and "battle buddies." According to an interview on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! radio program with Spc. Montoya and Sgt. Eli Painted Crow, an army veteran of twenty-two years, female soldiers are told that if they do not have a "battle buddy"—a fellow female soldier by whom they would be accompanied to the latrine at night—then it is too dangerous to go to the latrines by themselves. Men—and by men I mean male U.S. soldiers—"were waiting out there, and they were pulling women into the latrines and abusing them and raping them there."

But what's a woman to do when she must drink at least three liters of water per day simply to survive the unbearable, 120-degree desert heat? If she is the only female soldier at a particular base camp (and according to Sgt. Eli Painted Crow this is not rare), she can either not go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or, according to a story uncovered last year, she may die of dehydration choosing not to drink any water after 3:00 in the afternoon, to avoid the latrine and the threat of attack.

One can hardly call these "choices."

The Salon.com article offers story upon story of female soldiers who have suffered rape and sexual assault at the hands of their fellow soldiers—soldiers who are trained for war and hence to kill. This violence obviously extends towards their female counterparts. Madre recently released a report on the human rights crisis of gender-based violence in Iraq and its effect primarily upon Iraqi women. Clearly, we cannot separate the violence that occurs against women in this war—whether it is targeted at U.S. women or Iraqi women.

The military is not keeping women safe. And while there is a part of me that scoffs at the idea that the military keeps anyone safe, the military must be held accountable. The Defense Department did, writes Helen Benedict, "put up a web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment." But that isn't close to enough to attend to this problem. First of all, relying on female soldiers to report sexual assault or rape to their higher-ups is completely untenable, says the female soldiers themselves:

My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job,… and he wouldn't stop pressuring me for sex. But you can't fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you're screwed. You're gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out.

This also smells a bit too much like asking the female soldiers to fix a problem that is not theirs to fix. The military promotes a culture of violence that will not be remedied by a few more women reporting their own rapes—even if reporting didn't get them labeled "traitors" and placed in harm's way once again, "punished" by fellow soldiers (because "anonymous reporting" is essentially an oxymoron according to Benedict's interviews).

Commanders, who are supposed to be the very superiors that female soldiers can go to report an incident, are sometimes the perpetrators themselves; preying on young "juniors" 18 to 20 years old.

While the Department of Defense likes to point to its new web site as proof that they are actually doing something about sexual assault in the military, Benedict is unconvinced, "My own interviewees and advocates on behalf of women veterans say these reforms are not working. They say there is a huge gap between what the military promises to do on its Web site and what it does in practice, and that the traditional view that reporting an assault betrays your fellow soldiers still prevails."

Female soldiers are fighting a war on the ground for which they are prepared. But the battle within their own ranks is unexpected; one for which they are entirely unprepared. The military provides no protection from sexual harassment, assault or rape. It is up to the women to protect themselves and to look out for each other—which can be hard when there may not be any other females in a unit with which to "buddy up." If the military will not protect its own soldiers, than it is up to us civilians to spread the word—female soldiers are not fodder for the male soldiers to use to let off steam, even if they seem to be treated that way.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

Commentary Human Rights

Love, Respect, Accountability: What We Need in This Time of Tragedy and Crisis

Jodi Jacobson

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems... This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy.

In a time of great strife, in which those who seek to divide us have a very large platform, I remember that these things are all true:

You can oppose an illegitimate or unnecessary war, and still individually and collectively honor and love the troops that serve.

You can honor and love the troops that serve, but protest the ways in which war is waged and abhor the behavior of individual soldiers who abuse human rights and dehumanize the civilians in a population. You can honor and love and support the troops that serve but still work to change the systems, and hold politicians and individuals responsible for crimes they perpetrate.

You can honor and love any and all public servants—as I do deeply—but still abhor systemic problems in civil services that lead to racist behaviors and outcomes (or those based on class, immigrant status, gender, ability, or any other basis for discrimination).

You can honor, love, and respect police, but abhor the militarization of our police forces; racial and ethnic profiling; abuses of fines, fees, and arrests that both target and most adversely affect the poorest individuals; and the growing dependency of the budgets for police forces based on fines drawn from those who can least afford it. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still understand why there is a great level of distrust of policing in some communities. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still recognize real abuses of power by individuals or groups among them, and seek to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

You can honor and love police for putting their lives on the line for public safety, but recognize the very deeply legitimate concerns of movements—like Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, LGBTQ rights groups, and others for whom policing often is not about public safety, but is itself a source of fear—because law enforcement is and has been too often used against these groups in ways that are disrespectful, demeaning, and sometimes deadly.

You can honor, respect, and love the police, but support the work of Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, and LGBTQ rights groups, and defend them against blame for the behavior of someone acting in their name who is not actually acting in their name at all.

You can honor and respect the work of prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials, but recognize when the systems in which they are working are not working for the people or to promote justice, or when individuals within those systems operate more on bias than on integrity.

You can protest and advocate for change in any and all of these systems without dishonoring the individuals within them. Indeed, by protesting and seeking to make them better, you make the world better for those within and outside of law enforcement and, hopefully, promote a more universal justice.

You can and we all must honor and treasure the freedoms of speech and of assembly, and abhor violence, while also recognizing that sometimes it is perpetrated by people, like veterans, whose own needs for health care, love, and honor have not been met by the country that sent them to war, or by people who feel so alienated that they—wrongly but nonetheless—resort to violence.

You can be confused by or even irritated by something you don’t understand, but it is on you, not others, to try to understand it. As Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Read, discuss, challenge yourself. Try to open yourself up to what may seem like radical ideas. Make yourself vulnerable to learning. If you don’t understand the movement for Black lives, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, then listen to the very people fighting for their rights in order to better understand them. You may have started from a very different place than they do; you may stand in a very different place today. The issues may seem alien at first. But just because you don’t have cancer does not mean cancer does not exist. Try hard to understand why there is distance, what you don’t understand, and what you can—what we all must—do to narrow that distance in understanding each other.

We can love, honor, and respect each other and still recognize and raise awareness of our collective weaknesses. Indeed, that is the essence of progress and of democracy. Don’t fight it. Try to help it along.

People are human and therefore flawed. The systems we create also are therefore often flawed. We need mutual love and respect, along with vigorous debate and sometimes protest, to right the wrongs that are the inevitable result of our flawed selves and our flawed systems.

Love, honor, respect, and accountability: We need them all. Accountability, along with freedom, is the essence of a functioning democracy and part of the struggle for justice. The right to speak, the right to protest, the right to agitate for changes in systems that are flawed because we are all flawed in some way. The right to make things better.

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems… This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy. Some will tell you that in speaking out you are being disrespectful, but the opposite is true. You are respecting the many who have fought and given their lives—and who continue to be placed in harm’s way—on behalf of all of us so that we may all exercise our basic freedoms.

Let’s embrace the struggle. We can love, honor, respect police and other public servants, politicians, soldiers, and ourselves, and still work to hold them and ourselves accountable. These things are all true. I can hold these true simultaneously.

Can we all hold these things true simultaneously? I hope so, because I fear our failure to do so will only result in more violence and hatred.