The Private War of Women Soldiers: Female Vet, Soldier Speak Out on Rising Sexual Assault Within US Military
On International Women’s Day, we look at the ongoing global struggle for gender equality and equal rights within the US military. Specialist Mickiela Montoya came face to face with the dangers of rape by her male comrades when she was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard. Eli Painted Crow served in the Army for 22 years including time in Iraq in 2004, facing challenges both as a woman and a Native American. And Columbia professor Helen Benedict is author of a forthcoming book about women veterans of the Iraq war.
Today is March 8th, International Women’s Day. Millions around the world are marking the day by celebrating advances made by women and to honor the ongoing global struggle for gender equality and equal rights. One of those struggles is taking place within the US military.
In the United States, there are more women serving in the Armed Forces than in any other period in American history. More than one hundred sixty thousand female US soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since 2003, which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. At least four hundred fifty women have been wounded in Iraq, and seventy one have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined.
With the increased number of women serving in the US military, something else is on the rise too: rape and sexual assault by their male comrades. To make matters worse, female soldiers say they can’t trust the US military to protect them.
Helen Benedict. Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is author of three books on sexual assault, including “Recovery: How to Survive Sexual Assault,” and “Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes.” She currently working on a book about women veterans of the Iraq war. Her latest article, on Salon.com, is “The private war of women soldiers.” Spc. Mickiela Montoya. She came face to face with the dangers of rape by her male comrades when she was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2005. Eli Painted Crow. She served 22 years in the Army retiring at the rank of sergeant. In 2004 she served in Iraq and Kuwait. She is member of the Yaqui Nation in Tucson, Arizona. \brdrth
AMY GOODMAN: Today is March 8th, International Women’s Day. Millions around the world are marking it by celebrating advances made by women and to honor the ongoing global struggle for gender equality and equal rights. One of those struggles is taking place within the US military.
In the United States, there are more women serving in the Armed Forces than in any other period in American history. More than 160,000 female US soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since 2003, which means one in seven soldiers are women. At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, seventy-one have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined.
With the increased number of women serving in the US military, something else is on the rise, too: rape and sexual assault by their male comrades. To make matters worse, female soldiers say they can’t trust the US military to protect them.
Specialist Mickiela Montoya came face to face with the dangers of rape by her male comrades when she was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2005. She joins me on the line from California. Joining me in our firehouse studio is Helen Benedict, a professor of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She’s author of three books on sexual assault, including Recovery: How to Survive Sexual Assault and Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes. She is currently working on a book about women veterans of the Iraq war. Her latest article at salon.com is called "The Private War of Women Soldiers." And in San Francisco, we’re joined by Eli Painted Crow. She served in the Army for twenty-two years, including time in Iraq in 2004. She’s the mother of two sons who served in the military and has seven grandchildren. She is also a member of the Yaqui Nation in Tucson, Arizona. And we welcome you all to Democracy Now!
Helen Benedict, why don’t we begin with you? What is the private war of women soldiers?
HELEN BENEDICT: It’s partly to be treated equally, but it’s mostly to feel safe. The harassment is almost universal -- sexual harassment -- throughout the military. Sometimes it’s more severe than others, but it mounts up, the stress of being constantly pressured for sex and constantly teased -- makes it very hard to do one’s job. And it’s something that the men, very few men, have to put up with. But there’s also the danger of sexual assault and rape. And all the soldiers I’ve talked to are very well aware of that. So they not only have to worry about the dangers of war, incoming fire and so on, but the danger of assault from the very people they’re supposed to trust.
AMY GOODMAN: In your survey of women, what have you found in terms of numbers? How pervasive is this?
HELEN BENEDICT: The numbers are very hard to assess, because so few people wish to come forth. There is a study of earlier veterans of war that indicates 30% of women are sexually assaulted and/or raped. There are other studies that put the numbers less and some that put them high. The military itself only counts reported rapes by women while they’re still in the military, so their numbers are much lower, because the climate’s very difficult to report in. Sexual assault is higher, because -- more -- which includes attempted rape, but not fully completed, and sexual harassment is up to 90%, is what I found in my studies.
AMY GOODMAN: Eli Painted Crow, how long have you been in the Army altogether?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: A total of twenty-two years. I retired in November of 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: You served in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you find when it came to sexual abuse, to rape?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: What I saw was a lot of inequities in terms of how female soldiers are treated. There was an actual rape case on the base that I was assigned to, and the way that they handled it was they moved the perpetrator to another site, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay on that base camp to find out what ultimately happened to the female. I know that she reported it, and it was supposed to be private, and before you knew it, everybody knew what was going on. So it wasn’t as confidential and private, in terms of investigating or protecting her as a soldier there. And so, it was shaming, you know?
AMY GOODMAN: Describe the overall climate in Iraq. What kind of tone is set, and how did you deal with it, Eli Painted Crow?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, I think that every base has its own climate, depending on what’s going on in the area. I was able to stay in a base camp for a very short time, that there were plenty of females to at least -- you know, they tell you you have to have a battle buddy, and you have to go to the latrine. You can’t go alone. And when I moved to another base camp, what I found -- it was a transitional base camp, where soldiers would come in, refuel, spend the night -- and I found companies coming in with just one female for the whole company, and she had no battle buddy, and nobody even bothered to look at that for these females that were moving in and moving out with these other, you know, male soldiers. There was no support for them, and nobody considered that.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Benedict, you write about the number of women that you surveyed, and particularly, for example, walking to the latrine.
HELEN BENEDICT: Yes, quite a few of them told me that they were ordered to not go out at night alone and not to go to the latrines or the showers without a buddy, without another woman. This was not being told to the men, and the problem was that there often weren’t other women to choose, as Eli Painted Crow just said, or it entailed waking somebody up in the middle of the night to get them to go with you. And, you know, the soldiers are working twelve hours a day, on the whole, out there. They’re getting almost no sleep. They wake up all night long for one reason or another. So having to wake somebody up because you need to go to the bathroom is not as light as it may sound. But also, they felt that -- it was a universal recognition that it was dangerous for women out there. And they weren’t talking about danger from the Iraqis, they were talking about, as I’ve said, danger from their fellow soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip of Colonel Janis Karpinski. She’s best known for her role as commander of the Abu Ghraib prison, but she has also spoken out on the treatment of female soldiers in Iraq. Last year, she testified at a mock trial known as the Bush Crimes Commission Hearings.
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Because the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portoilets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And in 120-degree heat or warmer, because there was no air conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep. And rather than make everybody aware of that, because that’s shocking -- and as a leader, if that’s not shocking to you, then you’re not much of a leader -- so what they told the surgeon to do was, “Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.”
MARJORIE COHN: Was there a commander who saw dehydration listed as a cause of death of a woman, a woman female US soldier, and after that he said "Do not list dehydration as a cause of death anymore”?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes.
MARJORIE COHN: Who was that?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: General Sanchez.
MARJORIE COHN: General Sanchez. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Colonel, formerly Brigadier General, Janis Karpinski being questioned by the law professor Marjorie Cohn. The general she’s referring to is Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who served as the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq. Professor Benedict, you write about what Janis Karpinski, what the former Brigadier General demoted after the Abu Ghraib scandal, had to say.
HELEN BENEDICT: Yes. We talked about it, actually, because I wanted to check with her, because the Army has said that her claims were unsubstantiated. And she described sitting there with the doctor while he explained why these women had died of dehydration.
AMY GOODMAN: They died of dehydration.
HELEN BENEDICT: They died of dehydration, which -- I mean, it’s quite common for soldiers out there to have serious health problems because of the heat and dehydration. You have to drink liters of water every day to be alright. It’s so hot.
AMY GOODMAN: And they were simply afraid to go out alone to get the water, being harassed?
HELEN BENEDICT: Yeah. And she told me -- and this is something more detailed than came out in what you just showed -- that there were men who were waiting out there, and they were pulling women into the latrines and abusing them and raping them there. And that’s -- word had spread about this, and that’s why the women were afraid to go out. And I went to the site, the Iraq casualty site, which lists all the deaths, and I did indeed find three deaths of women in the year she was talking about attributed to non-hostile causes, which the Army never seems to really explain, so I think it’s very possible those are three she was talking about.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Professor Helen Benedict, also to Sergeant Eli Painted Crow. And we’re also joined on the phone by Specialist Mickiela Montoya, deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2005. Thanks very much for joining us.
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own experience in Iraq?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Well, it sounded really familiar to, similar to the experiences that you explained. I didn’t know that it was that climate at the time. I kind of just got used to it and dealt with it and tried to figure out a way around the restroom issue.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you figure out your way around going to the bathroom?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I would still drink the three liters of water usually every day, but I would -- a lot of the females were, like, cutting off the tops of the bottles and in the middle of the night peeing in that and waiting ’til the morning to dump it out, so that we would prevent having to wake up in the middle of the night and go out in the dark, because it’s so dark at night.
AMY GOODMAN: You carried a knife with you?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah, and I would carry a knife with me later on.
AMY GOODMAN: For what purpose?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Just to feel safe, because, I mean, you can’t -- I don’t know. I don’t know, I just felt safer that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Safe from the Iraqis?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: No, safe from the other soldiers. I never intended on using the knife for an Iraqi. I had my M-16 for that. But my knife, I always just kept it for another soldier, because any time I would have any type of strong sexual harassment words spoken, I just mainly felt a little bit more secure, and it was visible, too, to the other soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: Did anything specifically happen to you?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah. That’s why I would carry the knife. I remember it was really late, and over there they don’t have electricity, so we run off generators, and if you scream or if you were to yell for help or anything like that, nobody could hear you, because you’re not going to shoot a comrade, because these are your supposed battle buddies. So I would just use the knife as, I guess, a scare tactic, and it worked for me, because after that I never really had a problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Eli Painted Crow, who could determine the environment for the women? What could ultimately affect it, change it, for a woman soldier?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I think it would be -- I think the -- being able to report something anonymously would help --
AMY GOODMAN: Mickiela Montoya.
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Oh, I think that being able to help -- I mean, being able to report things anonymously would help, because it would make you feel a little bit more secure on reporting things. But I don’t really know. I can’t think of a good solution.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Then I’m going to put that question to Sergeant Eli Painted Crow, and also to Dr. Helen Benedict: what can make the difference and what kind of climate is set at the top, at the Pentagon. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, on this International Women’s Day. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we talk today on this International Women's Day about women at war -- in fact, that’s the title of the forthcoming book of Professor Helen Benedict, professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, who has written three other books on sexual assault and abuse. We’re also joined on the telephone from Los Angeles by Specialist Mickiela Montoya, who was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2005. Sergeant Eli Painted Crow joins us in San Francisco. She served twenty-two years in the Army, has served in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004.
The setting of the climate, Sergeant Painted Crow, who could determine how a unit, an atmosphere, for women would be?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Who could determine -- the women themselves. It’s very difficult to even -- for me to address that question. You just go in. There’s so much disorganizing, that’s probably the last thing on anybody's mind, any commander’s mind, in terms of the women and how they’re going to be treated. There’s such a lack of education on sexual assault by the commanders, by the soldiers, and even a lot of the times by the female, as to why that happens.
And we’re in a hostile environment, so to imagine that when you teach a soldier to hate and to be violent, that you can control that on any level is very difficult. You have to remember that we’re going over there to kill. We lose a lot of values, when you’re out there, and so you become this predator, this aggressor, this whole thing that just doesn’t work out, what you consider the enemy. It just becomes who you are. So what can you expect? I mean, there are no measures there that speak about women having to -- I mean, nobody thinks about you have to protect yourself from your peers, but nobody thinks about that. But you really end up -- they end up being a lot of the times, you know, what you have to take care of yourself from the most, more than what you’re dealing with outside the base camp.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Helen Benedict, what is the Pentagon doing about this?
HELEN BENEDICT: They have set up a sexual assault website, which gives directions to soldiers on how to report a sexual assault either anonymously or not anonymously, and it defines it. And they also are now holding classes on what sexual harassment is. Very often if there is a report of an assault, the first response is to hold one of these classes.
The trouble is, all the soldiers I’ve talked to say, that this is just a kind of cosmetic. The reality is you can’t report it anonymously. These are closed societies full of gossip. Everybody knows what’s going on, as you’ve already heard. And also, the leadership don’t really want to hear about this, because it disrupts the chain of command, it undermines morale. So the result is that most soldiers don’t say anything, and when they do, they’re shut up.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the tone being set in Iraq and what a difference it makes when a commanding officer says no in his entire unit.
HELEN BENEDICT: Yes, I’ve talked to quite a lot of soldiers who did feel perfectly alright. I mean, I don’t want to suggest that everybody’s being assaulted. I think almost everybody is being harassed, but not every woman is assaulted. The majority aren’t. And there are a lot of soldiers out there who -- male soldiers -- who treat the women as their sisters, just as they treat the other men as their brothers, and who are wonderful and reliable people. And the majority of them are like that.
But the tone of that is really affected very strongly by the tone of the commanders. I mean, it does come from the top down a lot. And if the commanders and women are just as bad at this as men, turn a blind eye to it or refuse to take it seriously, or even indulge in it themselves -- “it” being assault and harassment -- then the message gets spread pretty fast that it’s OK. And vice versa, if there’s no toleration of that -- “I want my women in my platoon treated with the same respect and equality as the men, and I won’t put up with anything else” -- that can help a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to what you describe as the most shocking case of military sexual assault, that of Army Specialist Suzanne Swift. She was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL in 2006, after charges of sexual harassment and assault went unaddressed by the military. She says she was sexually harassed and abused by her commanders in Iraq and here at home. We interviewed Suzanne Swift in September. She spoke about what happened to her.
SPC. SUZANNE SWIFT: There's an equal opportunity representative for every company in the Army. They all have one. And they are supposed to report it. And everything that you tell them that has to do with equal opportunity, they are supposed to report it, no matter what. No matter what happens, even if there's no action taken, they have to report it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they report it in your case?
SPC. SUZANNE SWIFT: No.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do?
SPC. SUZANNE SWIFT: Nothing. I didn't know. I was brand new to the Army and just basically got thrown into the mix of this company and then sent to Iraq. I had no idea what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there more than one officer involved?
SPC. SUZANNE SWIFT: Right. Well, the one that I tried to report was my platoon sergeant. And, you know, looking back now, I had a squad leader who literally singled me out to be the person that he was going to have sex with during the deployment. And, you know, I did. I was nineteen. I fell for it, and for months I was like his little sex slave, I guess. It was disgusting and it was horrible, and I didn't know what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, ultimately, what happened?
SPC. SUZANNE SWIFT: Ultimately, I stopped it. I told him that I didn't want to continue this relationship. And he made my life hell. I mean, a squad leader in the Army is basically -- that's your boss. Everything that you do -- eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, when you go to work, everything -- they can tell you when to do it and how to do it. And he made my life miserable, because I wouldn't have sex with him anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Specialist Suzanne Swift. When she came back from Iraq, she was then going to be redeployed, and she was getting ready to go, but then, as she was making her way to the car, she said to her mother she just couldn’t do it, and she went AWOL. The Eugene police came to her house, to her mother's house, and they arrested her. They handcuffed her, and then she was put back on the base in Fort Lewis. She called her mother, and she said she was put under the supervision of one of the officers who had abused her.
Professor Helen Benedict, the latest in Suzanne Swift’s case, she was court-martialed.
HELEN BENEDICT: She was court-martialed. She was offered a deal initially. If she would sign a statement saying that she had never been raped in the Army, they would just give her a summary court-martial, which means a reprimanding letter in the file. She refused to sign that, saying she wouldn’t let them make her lie. And so, she was court-martialed. She served a month in prison, December, and she was told she had to stay in the Army for another two years. She was moved to Fort Irwin, I believe, which is very far away from her family, and she may be redeployed.
AMY GOODMAN: This is International Women's Day. Sergeant Eli Painted Crow, I wanted to take this a little broader. Why did you join the military twenty-two years ago? And not only as a woman, as a Native American woman, your experiences?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, economic reasons was a very big factor for me in joining the military, and it’s also something that Native people find great honor and great pride in. And it’s very hard to find things that, you know, bring honor to your family and things like that, and so when you join the military, it’s a very -- it feels very good for the family. And it was also a way for me to raise my children and to provide for them.
AMY GOODMAN: How high a percentage of Native Americans join the military? Is it a big number?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, as far as indigenous people go, it’s a very big number, proportionate, you know, as far as Natives go. That’s like what all of us do. That’s our entryway to take care of our families. That’s our way to -- our last resort of holding onto that idea of being a warrior, being a provider, being a protector, and so that is a really big deal for Native. I mean, you go to any ceremony, as far as pow-wows go, things like that, the first thing they do is they call a veterans group to come in and post the colors as a way to honor Native soldiers who are serving and have served.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you feel it was important to join the military?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, at the time, it was very, very difficult for me to realize how I was going to raise my children, and I always felt like I needed to be in a place that I could learn some discipline and, you know, really finish something that I had started. And so, I decided to do that.
And, actually, it was very encouraged. When I went to see my recruiter, I was divorced at the time, and my recruiter suggested very strongly, he said, "You need to be married or you need to give your children up." Well, I couldn’t give my children up. He goes, “Well, if you have a piece of paper that says you’re married, then you can join.” And so, I looked for my ex-husband, and we remarried so that I could do this, so that I could become part of this military thing.
And the illusion around that, as far as what I thought I was getting -- I joined the military to get off of welfare. And after twenty-two years of service and coming home from Iraq and not being supported by the VA or by any of the things that they said I was going to have as a retired soldier, I ended up on welfare. So I went full circle here. I ended up on general assistance coming home, on $258 a month, is what I had to live on. And I had to literally write letters to, like, so many places just to get any kind of help, just to get some doors opened. And I can tell you that most people give up. Most people give up, because it’s so hard to get help.
And what I had going for me was that I just had skills in terms of knowing systems. And after twenty-two years, you learn a thing or two about systems, and you really look at language. So that is what helped me. And I developed a support system of women who also encourage me to work on this. But I was ready to lose my house. I lost all my friends initially, when I first came back, because nobody could understand what was wrong with me, and nobody could hear me, and I couldn’t speak it, and I couldn’t participate in the world. So it was really difficult.
This whole joining of the Army for me, the military, I thought was going to be this -- I mean, so great. I mean, I had my sons sign up for it. That was like -- my youngest son did eleven years, and my oldest son did two years. And in the end, we’re all broken. My son is broken behind that. He was in an accident and almost died, and in a wheelchair. And I have had to fight for services for him at our VA office, because they refused to help him in so many ways. He doesn’t fit the criteria that the VA designs for certain types of help.
They have all this criteria, and then they make memos to budget the money for that VA based on that regulation. But they just redesign it to help themselves, and unless you know that and challenge that, they just say, “Oh, well, you can’t get this help.” And soldiers, who are so used to taking orders and accepting, you know, you’re used to that. They tell you, do this, do that, you do it. And if they tell you you can’t do it, you can’t have it, you don’t argue it. And so, even when you get out, you’re in that frame of mind. And so, many soldiers, young soldiers who don’t know the rules, who don’t know the laws, who don’t know what their rights are, accept what is given to them, as far as, “Oh, you don’t qualify for this.” So there’s just so much.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up becoming a peace activist, Sergeant Painted Crow?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, this is very important for me, because being Native, I don’t see this as a war, number one. I see this as an invasion that’s committing a genocide to a nation, to a people. I see that we are over there and we are doing the same thing that we did here with the indigenous people of this land, calling it democracy, calling it freedom. Well, it isn't freedom if it’s imposed.
And what I learned about the Iraqi people, while I was there, was they're very much like the indigenous people here. They have clans, they have circles, they have their ceremonies, they have their drum. There are so many similarities, and it just really hurt me to realize that here I’m a survivor of this attempted genocide on my people -- and I say “attempted,” because we're still here, even though they want to say we're not, we're erased, we’re not even in the history books -- and here I am over there doing the same thing that was done to me, and so I --
AMY GOODMAN: You said that in the military they refer to Iraq as “Indian country”?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, they referred to -- what they said in the briefing, they called enemy territory “Indian country.” And I’m standing there, just listening to this briefing, and I’m just in shock that after all this time, after so many Natives have served and are serving and are dying, that we are still the enemy, even if we're wearing the same uniform. That was very shocking for me to hear.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask, Specialist Mickiela Montoya, why you joined the military.
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I joined when I was seventeen. They had a lot of recruiters at my school, and I wasn’t doing too great in school, and I needed some type of guidance and I needed a way to pay for college. And I decided to join. I was pretty satisfied in the beginning, until later. I joined the National Guard to get the feel of the military, because I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be active-duty. And now I find myself -- I’ve been in four years, and I’ve been active-duty more than half of the time that I’ve been in. And it’s not what I signed up for. But I just pretty much joined for the, I guess, direction.
AMY GOODMAN: You are seven-and-a-half months pregnant now?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How much longer will you be in the military?
SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I put my paperwork in to get out of the military when I was four months, and I’m still waiting on the paperwork.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Helen Benedict, you have some remarkable statistics in the article you did for salon.com, “The Private War of Women Soldiers.” Can you talk about the statistics from Vietnam to now of sexual assault?
HELEN BENEDICT: Yes, most of the statistics have been gathered through studies with veterans, who feel freer to talk than when they’re still in the military. And a lot of the studies gathered women who have come to the VA for help for various things, who are veterans of the Vietnam War and all the wars up through now. And that’s where I found the 30% said they were raped. I found a 71% --
AMY GOODMAN: From Vietnam through the first Gulf War, 30% said they had been raped in the military?
HELEN BENEDICT: Yes, so that includes Bosnia and the other places.
AMY GOODMAN: 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, found 71%?
HELEN BENEDICT: Said they were sexually assaulted, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. And a third study conducted ’92, ’93, with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, 90% said they had been sexually harassed?
HELEN BENEDICT: Harassed, yes. There are no statistics on Iraq alone at the moment. Those are still being studied, but that’s from previous wars and combinations of wars.
AMY GOODMAN: What protection does the military provide?
HELEN BENEDICT: There is no protection. I can’t think of a single thing that I would call protection, realistically.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you decide to write this book? You have written books on sexual assault before. How did you come to this?
HELEN BENEDICT: Through Mickiela, who we’ve just been talking to. Originally, I met her and another young soldier, and the first thing they said to me was, there are only three things the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke. And then they immediately started talking about how they were harassed and how they were treated by men and how the world in general doesn’t recognize them or respect them for what they’ve done as soldiers. And that’s what ignited my interest.
My book isn’t just about sexual assault. It’s going to be about the whole arc of experience, including why people sign up in the first place and their consciences, which is a very important part of it. But this element is making it so horrendously unfair and so much harder on women, in a situation that’s already horrible, that something has to be done about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Helen Benedict, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Specialist Mickiela Montoya, thank you. Sergeant Eli Painted Crow, I wanted to ask where your son is seeking help, at which VA?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Fresno VA.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, as you watch these hearings and listen to the news coming out around them, have you been able to contact them to let people know what your own son is going through?
SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, I have written many letters. I have written letters to Capitol Hill. I have written letters to -- I’ve contacted my congressman. I’ve even written letters to the governor. I’ve had meetings with the director of the Fresno VA. I mean, my son is finally getting the help that he needs, the mental health help, the medication, because he has a closed-brain injury, the transportation. But it took me months to do it. And it’s in between the time that I need for healing myself. So, I mean, Fresno is just a very small, minute, you know, VA in comparison to the Fort Bliss medical hold, Walter Reed --
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Eli Painted Crow, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we will definitely continue to follow your story, as well as the story of your son. Thank you all for joining us.
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