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  • The Opposite of Love
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  • Why Soldiers Rape
  • For Women Warriors, Deep Wounds, Little Care
  • The Private War of Women Soldiers
  • Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Wherein Lies the Truth
  • The Frightened Muse
  • Racism Railroaded Justice in Jogger Rape
  • The Plight of Women Soldiers
  • The Scandal of Military Rape
  • Violent Veterans, The Big Picture
  • How to Lie with Statistics
  • Betrayal in the Field
  • When Johnny Comes Marching In
  • Women at War Face Sexual Violence

Why Soldiers Rape

Culture of misogyny, illegal occupation, fuel sexual violence in military

Over this past year, I have talked to forty or so women soldiers for my forthcoming book, The Lonely Soldier: Women at War in Iraq, and it has become clear to me that they have a set of needs quite different from those of men. All soldiers must deal with the roadside bombs, mortar and grenade attacks, and gunfire that are a part of daily life in this war, where the front line is everywhere and not even bases are safe; and all soldiers must cope with seeing the dead and wounded close up and with, perhaps, having killed. But women have additional burdens: they are sexually harassed by their male comrades day in and day out; one in three is sexually attacked or raped; and they are pressured every minute to conform to a military culture that is intractably male. "The Army consistently tries to make women into men," as Sergeant Sarah Scully of the Military Police wrote to me. "Any sign that you are a woman means you are automatically ridiculed or treated as inferior."

When women run obstacle courses during training, men line up to ogle their breasts and shout crude remarks. When women walk into the "chow hall," hundreds of eyes undress them. When they reach or bend to pick up something, men whistle, groan, and stare. This goes on every hour of every day, and creates an excruciating self-consciousness and sense of being trapped that few men ever experience.

"Put that thing down!" the drill instructor kept yelling at one female Marine. "Now pick it up! Put it down again! Pick it up again!" The instructor was purposely humiliating her by forcing her to bend over in front of the male recruits, again and again.

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This article appeared in In These Times 8/13/2008.

Additional essays by Helen Benedict can be found at featurewell.com When you reach the site, just type "Helen Benedict" in the Advanced Search window. All essays are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.