Military Rape: Assailants Promoted or Wrist-Slapped. Why?

Captain Jennifer Machmer was discharged from the army for being raped. But her rapist got promoted.


Most often offenders receive only a reduction in rank or pay. Eighty percent of convicted rapists are honorably discharged.

No wonder sexual assault is rampant in the armed services. As Nancy Gibbs of Time described the risk

          What does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water
          after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom
          at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette
          was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted — for having gone out without
          her weapon?

Representative Jane Harman reports, “A female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”

One woman expressed the dilemma, “I’m willing to give my life for this guy next to me but how do I know that he’s not going to hurt me?”

Military women who serve our country are more likely to be sexually assaulted than the average American woman. Twice as likely, in fact.

The Pentagon refuses to release documents that could shed light on the problem. (The ACLU and others have filed suit to access these records.)  

Why is the rate of sexual assault so high? And why does the military keep mum?

Surprisingly, social psychologist Elliot Aronson sees nonconformity at the root: Women can’t conform to being male.

Why is that a problem?

A little thing called gender ranking is rampant in our culture. That is to say, we rank males as having higher value than females. (That’s why men constantly have to prove their manhood – showing they deserve that exalted status.) Fields that strongly associate with manhood put gender ranking on steroids, as when firefighters plastered a firehouse with spread-eagled centerfolds to harass a female hire.

When Shannon Faulkner braved the Citadel as its first female cadet she was harassed and ostracized for threatening soldierly manhood. So were the women who followed her.

Trying to conform, one military woman explained her strategy of rape avoidance, “You figure out how to turn the guy off, and become one of the guys,” she said. “That’s your safety mechanism.”

Unfortunately it didn’t work. She couldn’t manage to be male enough, and her squad leader attempted sexual assault. Another soldier raped her.

The Pentagon believes 80% to 90% of sexual assaults are not reported. Most victims feel nothing will be done, and more than half worry about being labeled troublemakers – more nonconformity!

Why is the rate of rape so high?

It appears that military culture resents women’s presence and lets boys be boys in order to punish women soldiers.

Georgia Platts

Source: Elliot Aronson, et. al. Social Psychology, 5th ed. Prentice Hall. 2005

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 15, 2010, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Aldo Sanchez Perez

    is cadet faulkner, the basis of the movie g.i. jane?

    The opening sentence of this post is mind boggling. i had heard of how bad the situation is with service women being sexully assualted but never heard much on the subject. How can the public not be informed of this? It’s one thing if it was emeny combatants but its their fellow soldiers, they’re supossed to be a team, right? This reminds me of that movie casualties of war. Do recruiters tell girls that this happens?

  2. I am not diminishing or questioning the information in this article, but want to add that when I worked in the Areospace industry, I was suprised to find there were more women and other minority officers within military ranks than there were women and other minority supervisors and executives within my own civilian company. My company’s chief clients were the Air Force and Navy, and I often heard some of my supervisors making derogatory comments and questioning the competence of military women and other minority project managers. At the time, it suprised me that women and other minority members appeared to have a greater chance of promotion in the military than in civilian life.

    • Thank you for your perspective.

      Of course, the fact that there are many women in the military, and that they can be promoted, does not take away from the fact of high rates of rape and how they are to often handled.

  3. Well unfortunately the military world is a mans world. Mainly because women are so out numbered. I’m not sure about the army but in the Marine Corps women make up about 6 percent of Marines. Theres definitely going to be tension between men and women despite a conscious effort. Not only do women put up with job discrimination on a daily basis but they face many risk that being the minority. Sexual harassment and rape is a serious subject and unfortunately, who ever is in charge of that particular unit is not dealing with the issues correctly. Women should take extra precautions when out by themselves. That usually is what the buddy system is there for in the military today. Never go somewhere alone. Women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men in the military.

  4. In the military the charge of rape can carry a sentence of up to death under article 120 of the UCMJ( ART. 120. RAPE AND CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) and a rapist would be lucky to make it to the hearing if many of the marines she served with heard about it.

    The reason I may see this diffrently is because I spent 8yrs in the Marine Corps and did EO work in addition to most of my other duties, where as all the instances I keep hearing about are from other services including the ones listed above.

    As far as the gender ranking and w hypermasculine conformist culture I can see elements of that but inm reality most commanders & NCO look for who can performe the job best based on the mission criteria.

    If you would like to finish this discussion off of a public forum just let me know.

    SGT. Ruffolo USMC

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