April 11, 2007

Sara Corbett and the Battle of the Sexes

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article1622986.ece

In Germaine Greer’s article, ‘Rape’ written for The Independent and in Zoë Brigley’s response to that article on the blog for the ‘Women Writing Rape’ Symposium both Greer and Brigley raise crucial questions about what constitutes ‘rape’ and also how rape is perceived in both social and legal spheres.


Just how relative these questions are is clearly evidenced on the cover of The Sunday Times Magazine ( The Sunday Times, 8th April 2007) where a photograph of a woman in army uniform is coupled with the caption:

Sleeping with the Enemy: One in 10 US soldiers in Iraq is a woman. And insurgents aren’t the only threat. There, ‘you’re either a bitch, a whore or a dyke.’ Seven veterans tell their stories.

Inside the Magazine journalist Sara Corbett, tells of the war in Iraq as experienced by these seven women soldiers in an article titled “Battle of the Sexes”. The ‘enemy’ referred to on the cover of the magazine are not the insurgents, but the women’s colleagues and superiors in the army; men supposedly fighting on the same side as their female counterparts. Whatever your personal feelings about the so-called ‘War on Terror’ are, this article takes an important look at women who are subjected to sexual assault and rape perpetrated by their own colleagues, and in many cases their bosses.

In ‘Battle of the Sexes’, Corbett investigates how prolific rape and sexual abuse are in the army and how many women soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of “sexual assault and combat”. She claims that “[a] report financed by the Department of Defense revealed that nearly one-third of females veterans seeking health care through the VA [Veterans Affairs] said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group 37% said they were raped multiple times, and 14% said they were gang raped.”

As is the case with Greer’s article, Corbett also highlights the startling ineffectiveness of the authorities in dealing with the cases of rape that are reported: “there is a pervasive sense among the victims that reporting a sexual crimes is seldom worthwhile. Department of Defense statistics seem to bear this out: of the 3,038 investigations of military sexual-assault charges completed in 2004 and 2005, only 329 of them resulted in a court martial of the perpetrator. More than half were dismissed for lack of evidence.”

Corbett’s article is important in several ways that are pertinent to the investigations and aims of the ‘Women Writing Rape’ Symposium.

Firstly, she asks questions about the role of women in the military, especially in situations of active combat. Most of the literature on rape and sexual assault in conflict situations focuses on ‘local women’. Corbett draws attention to women on the other side of the conflict who also experience sexual violence, but at the hands of their own colleagues and not the officially demarcated enemy. This issue also extends out of conflict zones to broader questions of sexual assault in the workplace.

Secondly, Corbett also focuses on what does, and what should, constitute ‘rape’. How both victim and perpetrator define and construct rape is an important factor especially as the concept of shame is so closely associated with the victim in rape cases. Take one of the cases highlighted in the article for example: “As is often the case with matters involving sex and power, the lines are blurred. Swift does not say she was raped, exactly, but manipulated, repeatedly, by a man above her in rank – and therefore responsible for her health and safety.”

Intertwined with the questions of what exactly constitutes rape is the failure of the authorities, whether military or civilian, to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual violence and rape. By fostering a culture with such low conviction rates, where the victim is often the one put on trial, are the authorities sending out the message that it is easy to get away with rape and thereby complicit in the systematic rape of women?


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