Sexual Harassment in the US Army Spreads Like COVID-19

The Pentagon remotely supports victims of sexual violence.

American quarantine fatigue, the presidential race that will not end until November, and, like a lit fuse, the counterfeit $10 bill that led to African American George Floyd’s arrest and murder have all sparked a wave of protest throughout America.* The protest have been held under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Those being held responsible for Floyd’s death have been charged and face up to 40 years in prison. Americans who sympathize with the family of the late Floyd raised approximately $10 million. But the demonstrations have not stopped, and have escalated into chaos, staying practically out of the authorities’ control. More than 2 million Americans have bought weapons for the first time, believing only they can defend themselves. In Utah, white citizens have armed themselves with machine guns, while New York City has seen the use of firearms skyrocket. The Black Lives Matter movement has transcended American borders and become international. Protests have begun in Paris and London. In Germany, “silent demonstrations,” held in a calm atmosphere and with social distancing due to the coronavirus, have sprung up in Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Hamburg and Bonn.

Protesters under different slogans, including those of “Antifa,”** have joined the general wave of protest against racism. On July 30, a march organized by the relatives of American soldier Vanessa Guillen was held in protest of sexual violence in the U.S. Army. Her murder at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas, sparked outrage among Americans, yet another case of sexual violence, which confirmed how ineffective recent reforms to combat it have been within the U.S. military.

President Donald Trump met with Guillen’s relatives at the White House, and they asked him to pass a bill to protect military personnel who have fallen victim to harassment and violence. Trump has promised to involve the Department of Justice and the FBI in seeking justice for Guillen.

The Pentagon does not hide this problem in the U.S. Army, as the department’s own annual reports indicate an increase in the number of victims. Over the past two decades, the number of rape victims has exceeded 100,000. The Guardian reports that about one-third of American service members complain of harassment. During the state of emergency declared in the country in relation to COVID-19, the Pentagon confirmed its readiness to provide assistance in the case of increasing cases of sexual violence among military personnel. The travel restrictions and isolation required to limit the spread of the pandemic have exacerbated stress on the entire population, including those in the military.

The State Department has issued an appeal on its website to service members who are sexually harassed, threatened or facing pressure, potentially from leadership. The State Department has introduced mandatory measures to help preserve the health of military personnel. Due to the transition to a remote mode of communication during the pandemic, defense specialists are trying to provide support to all victims by providing continuous professional assistance by phone.

Dr. Nate Galbreath, Deputy Director for the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said that even in the current situation, he is ready to assure the Department of Defense provide support and assistance to soldiers and their families following any encounter with sexual violence. Last year, SAPRO received 6,236 reports of sexual assault, according to EADaily. In addition to responding to complaints, the department provides lawyers who can assist in bringing alleged offenders to justice. It provides support to victims at all stages of the medical examination and investigative process. The Defense Department’s website lists the telephone numbers of the Defense Department SAFE hotline, a safe telephone service for service members who have suffered from sexual violence. The hotline provides complete anonymity, confidentiality and round-the-clock support. Service members who have received an injury requiring immediate medical attention may also contact the indicated telephone numbers. Support personnel have a reliable database throughout the country and can offer victims medical assistance or provide a lawyer. New digital forms have been introduced for filing a complaint against the offender, which can be certified with an electronic signature.

On Instagram and Twitter, military personnel and veterans voluntarily share their experiences of sexual violence and harassment in the U.S. Army, according to USA Today. They call for justice in Guillen’s case and an end to what her family and lawyers call the epidemic of sexual violence in the military. Vanessa’s tragedy, which started with advances from her boss at Fort Hood, led to her disappearance, and culminated in the terrible discovery of her dismembered body near the military base, attracted attention not only within the country, but also at the international level, the publication writes. During the search for Guillen, the body of another missing soldier was found at Fort Hood.

The epidemic of violence and the new coronavirus infection share similarities: they are difficult to control and have dire consequences. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been sexually harassed and exercise their rights are usually discharged. According to statistics cited by USA Today, one-third of those who reported attacks left the service within seven months. In 2018, 64% of service members surveyed said they had been targeted for reporting an attack, The Guardian reports. Survivors of sexual assault typically leave the U.S. Armed Forces following legal proceedings. Like the victims of the “virus of violence,” the Pentagon service members infected with the coronavirus are currently being disqualified. A recent MEPCOM memo stated, “During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying.” Meanwhile, the media have reported that more than 6,500 cases of the coronavirus were recorded at 150 military bases in all American states except for Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and Montana.

The intensity of passions and the increase in violent actions of various kinds are explained not only by the pandemic and the strengthening of the regime of isolation in connection with the spread of the coronavirus. Many experts confirm that it is necessary to improve military legislation related to sexual harassment. They also suggest that the upcoming presidential election has caused a heightened public response to many preexisting problems, and that public discontent may be used for political purposes.

*Editor’s note: Police officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been arrested and charged with murder, but have not yet been found guilty.

**Editor’s note: “Antifa,”shorthand for “anti-fascists,” is an umbrella description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

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