An open letter to
29 June 2011
We welcome your comments about military rape (Question Time, BBC1, 9 June 2011). There are ample hard facts that support your view.
· British troops have been involved in murder, torture, rape and sexual humiliation during military operations abroad, from Kenya in the 50s to Gulf War 2.
· Prominent politicians have shielded British soldiers against international law. John Reid, ex Defence Secretary in the Blair government stated: “[We need] to re-assure [British soldiers against the] perception that human rights lawyers and international bodies such as the International Criminal Court are waiting in the wings to step in and act against them.”
· Among the former top brass now defending British soldiers’ record, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, seems to have made it his job to support war criminals. At the UN Human Rights Council debate on the Goldstone Report on the bombing of Gaza -- which killed 1,400 people, including over 300 women and children -- he stated that “the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare."!
· Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who served for almost 25 years with the Army, adds his own touch of racism: British soldiers cannot be confused with “irregulars from other countries."
(a) For years the armed forces have investigated rapes committed by soldiers outside the UK. Now the military also has the responsibility to investigate rape in the military within Britain. When military police investigate rape there is a conviction rate of only 2.6% (Channel 4, 17 October 2010) – less than half the conviction rate of civilian police investigations, an already appallingly low 6.7%.
(b) When Ben Griffin, former SAS soldier in Iraq, exposed the complicity of the British army in extraordinary rendition and torture of prisoners in the many Guantánamos, Abu Ghraibs and Bagrams of this world, he was served with an injunction, a lifetime gagging order.
Studies of the US army, with which British forces collaborate, show that:
· Rape within military families is from two to five times more frequent than in civilian families. (The War At Home, 60 Minutes, January 17, 1999; Heyman and Neidig).
· Ms. Magazine reported on a Pentagon study confirming that militarized sexual violence is on the rise while
(a) Perpetrators regularly escape punishment and often re-enter the civilian world with no criminal record;
(b) One-third of women who join the military are raped or sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers.
(c) Rape and sexual assault rates rise in the civilian world during wartime. Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, calls this “collateral damage” and adds: “In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.”
· Areas around military bases have seen increasing numbers of sexual assaults. The women of Okinawa, after the rape of a 14-year-old girl by US Marines Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, later jailed for it, stated: “The military organization has sought to teach you to see people not as people, but as something to kill. It is that same training that has taught you see us as someone you can rape casually.”
· A recent investigation of Veterans Affairs found that nearly two-thirds of rape accusations by veterans in mental health facilities were not officially followed up.
· Ex-US Marine Andrew Schmidt told us: “You are taught [in the military] to take what you want. You are told -- ‘You do whatever you want and we will protect you.’” Andrew was sexually abused several times by fellow marines. When he tried to report it to his superiors, he was met with silence, threats, slander and beatings, and they even threatened to beat up and rape his mother if he didn’t shut up.
Our main work has been with refuseniks – soldiers in a number of countries who refuse to kill, rape & torture. We work with Women Against Rape (WAR) in the UK and Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP) in the US.
In their letter “Neither Blood Nor Rape for Oil” WAR and Black Women’s Rape Action Project ( BWRAP) wrote: “once killing is acceptable, rape is hardly a moral problem.”
They went on to quote Prof Huda Shaker: “[S]everal women held in Abu Ghraib jail were sexually abused, including one who was raped by an American military policeman and became pregnant. She has now disappeared.” And more: “’A female colleague of mine was arrested and taken [to Abu Ghraib]. When I asked her after she was released what happened there she started crying. It is very difficult to talk about rape. But I think it happened.’ […] How convenient for the troops that the women and girls they rape should be too vulnerable to tell the truth.”
WAR and BWRAP’s letter, sent to all women legislators in the UK and in the US in 2004, asked for their “accountability in the present crisis of war, occupation, war crimes and torture, including rape, in which both your governments are complicit.” It got not a single reply.
In our experience military training teaches us the exact opposite of what’s needed – to not care about others, adults or children, or the planet, or even ourselves. We support those who refuse to become the killers and rapists that governments and their military want men in particular to become, because these refusers provide an example and hope for all of us, in uniform or not. As teenage Israeli refusenik Shimri Tzameret, said when he was tried: "Already for years I know that I am not going to join the army. I know it with as much certainty as I know that I will never kick a homeless person lying on the sidewalk, never rape a woman, and when I will have a child – never abandon it.”
Thank you again for your stand. If you think that we can help further, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Yours for refusing to rape,
Payday men’s network
PS: We attach a leaflet Payday circulated at the Slutwalk in London. May we also refer you to Selma James’s comment on Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman in the Guardian, where she compares it with the impact The Feminist Eunuch had in the Seventies.