In it's present state, Article 120 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (which pertains to rape, carnal knowledge, and other forms of sexual misconduct) leaves room for total miscarriages of justice and victims who are left with no voice. Below is the story of myself and three of my fellow shipmates. I hope that our journey will help you understand the importance of this cause.
In the spring of 2009, I enlisted into the United States Coast Guard and left for boot camp that May. During my time at Training Center Cape May, I suffered several weeks of sexual harassment and verbal abuse from my lead company commander. I eventually ended up getting out of the Coast Guard (my decision was largely based on my initial experience at Cape May) and reporting the incident to Coast Guard Investigative Services, where I learned I was one of several victims of this company commander.
This Wednesday, September 26, the accused pled guilty and was convicted of several charges, including cruelty and maltreatment. While we were thrilled with the conviction and the fact that military judge issued maximum confinement and a Bad Conduct Discharge, we were bitterly disappointed to see that rape was not included on his charge sheet. It was omitted due to the guidelines currently stated in Article 120.
As it currently reads, Article 120 states that in order for sexual contact to qualify as rape, the victim must meet one of the following criteria: by using force, by imposing fear of death of grievous bodily harm or kidnapping, by administration of drug, intoxicant, or similar substance, or by rendering the victim unconscious. While this does cover a wide array of circumstances, it still leaves room for some military members not to get the justice due them and leaves the hands of prosecutors tied.
In our particular case, the victim of the assault did not qualify as being raped because she did not fall into any of the above listed categories. In her experience, like mine, the harassment began after taps when she was required to clean the company commander’s quarters, often leaving her alone with him in a small office while everyone else was sleeping. Her harassment escalated and she was eventually ordered to engage in sexual activity. Being a recruit and fearful of what would happen if she resisted, she complied with the order and was raped on that occasion and on several occasions after. Because of the present state of Article 120, this case was unable to be pursued as a rape charge and the assailant was convicted on the lesser crime of cruelty and maltreatment.
I know that we can do better than this for the servicemen and women of this country. Anyone that has been to boot camp will tell you that you are conditioned from day 1 to be blindly obedient to any orders given to you by senior personnel.
You are completely dependent on them for not only your professional needs, but your personal and physical needs as well. You do not do anything whatsoever without their knowledge and permission. You don’t question orders for any reason. Frankly, you just aren’t in the mental condition to. A recruit is among the most vulnerable members of the military and they deserve to have that be understood. You are by no means in the condition to defend yourself from a psychological attack. Especially from those you should be able to trust above all else – your company commanders.
All of that being said, Article 120 must be revised. It must have the inclusion that any sexual activity that occurs under direct order or that occurs with a subordinate in a boot camp or similar training setting shall also be considered as rape. Again, I feel it needs to be emphasized that fear and intimidation are a constant in the daily lives of a recruit. There is no such thing as “consent” in that world. In our case, the victim was simply terrified of what would happen if she said “no”. There was no gun held to her head, no alcohol, nothing to render her unconscious, but there was an abundance of the one thing that forced her to comply – fear. Fear to say no to a situation she never wanted to and never should have been put in. The hopelessness or what would happen if she resisted. We cannot continue to expect those who have given up their voices to the United States government the day they took the oath of enlistment to be able to say “no”. It is instead the duty of our elected officials, those that we the people put in charge, to be the voice of our military personnel.
I hope that our story will inspire you to realize the importance of making this change. Please, boldly send the message that sexual assault in our military will not be tolerated and that we will no longer allow offenders to walk away without the punishment that they deserve.