MILITARY RAPE: Rampant, Ignored
by Nan Levinson
When Panayiota Bertzikis tried to tell her commanding officers that she had been raped by a shipmate in May 2006 four months into her tour at the Burlington, Vt. Coast Guard Station, they discouraged her from talking to an Equal Opportunity officer, barred her from seeing a civilian therapist, ignored a written confession from her attacker, and browbeat her into silence. No wonder she thought she was the only one this had happened to.
But thanks to victims-turned-activists, such as Bertzikis, who are pulling military sexual trauma out from the shadows, it’s becoming harder for the U.S. military to ignore the problem. In February, Bertzikis, along with 14 other women and two men, filed a lawsuit (Cioca et al v Rumsfeld and Gates), charging Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, with mishandling their sexual assault cases. New plaintiffs are being added.
MST is an epidemic -- nearly a quarter of women serving in combat areas say they have been sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers – but everyone agrees that reliable statistics don’t exist. The Pentagon, which recorded 3,158 incidents of sexual assault in 2010 (a slight decrease from 2009), estimates that only about 14 percent of all incidents are reported.