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Fri Jan 25, 2013, 09:04 AM

Women in a war zone: combating the military's epidemic of sexual violence


Women serving in the US military face double the chance of being sexually assaulted than their civilian counterparts. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images


The removal of this glass ceiling is a long overdue development. Yet, the task of formally integrating women into the all-male world of grunts and tanks will be long and difficult. The department has a more immediate and serious problem on its hands, however, than a lack of women generals.

The US military has an epidemic of sexual violence and assault within the ranks, which continues unabated. The statistics shock the conscience.

In fiscal year 2011, the military had 3,192 reported cases of sexual assault; the real incidence is estimated to be much higher because so many cases are not reported. Last January, Secretary Panetta admitted he believes the real number of sexual assaults to be closer to 19,000. One in three military women will experience sexual assault, compared with one in six civilian women.

The problem goes well beyond sexual harassment as the byproduct of a chauvinistic work environment. The majority of investigated sexual assault offenses fell into three categories: wrongful sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault, and rape. Aggravated sexual assault and rape accounted for 61% of all alleged offenses.

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