There's a new book coming out about Captain Nichola Goddard, the first woman in the Canadian Forces in a combat role to die in action. For the book, Capt. Goddard's husband shared some letters she had written him, and they carry some pretty disturbing information.
"There were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night."
Goddard, who had arrived in Afghanistan one month prior, said in that letter that she was "pissed" because all the troops had been told about the rapes, yet because one of her peers forgot to tell her, she walked the 300 metres to and from the showers unaccompanied on her first night at camp.
"You know how freaked out I get about that kind of stuff," she wrote. "At least I had my pistol."
Six rapes. In one week. That's practically one a day.
And while Goddard's words don't indicate that she ever felt physically threatened by her fellow soldiers, she did tell her husband that she suffered sexual harassment in the form of constant rumours that she was sleeping with men on the base.
This is disgusting and infuriating. Well, sexual harassment and sexual assault are disgusting and infuriating at the best of times, so perhaps that's not strong enough of an epithet.
This is horribly, intensely WRONG.
These women are putting their lives on the line just as much as the men who are harassing and assaulting them--they're doing their duty to their country, they're doing their jobs, they're fighting, they're in a fricking combat zone. The same sacrifices and demands are being made of them. And they're prepared to offer it--Captain Goddard did eventually pay the ultimate sacrifice to her country, as did Trooper Karine Blais a few years later.
And yet they and their female comrades-in-arms were subjected to this horribly demeaning, violating environment every day. Goddard spent the last few months of her life and Blais the last few weeks of hers in a base camp where, with the usual support for sexual assault and harassment missing, it ran all too rampant.
I am fortunate enough to have never been sexually assaulted, but I have been sexually harassed, and I can assure you that it is a humiliating, demeaning experience. It makes you feel angry, and worthless, and powerless; it reminds you that to some people all you'll ever be is a living, breathing sex toy, and those people will judge you only on your usefulness in that area; and because of this it plants little seeds of self-doubt in your mind--and your self-confidence, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth suffer. You can't stop the words that have been said to you from repeating on a loop in your mind, taunting you, and the images evoked by their lewd suggestions play out endlessly, horrifyingly in your mind's eye, seemingly beyond your control. Maybe your body hasn't been violated, but your thoughts certainly have.
And that's the thanks our female combat soldiers get for putting their lives on the line.
No wonder so few women are in the Canadian Forces. Once when I was talking to a (male) friend in the Forces about the fact that in the US women are still not allowed in combat roles, and he said, "Well, most of the women in combat units are practically men anyway." In fact, he classified the majority of young women in the military as either "practically men anyway" or "huge sluts to make up for it [the relative lack of women, particularly at the Royal Military College]." Take your pick, military ladies--dyke or whore. Make sure you stick with it now.
Living/working in an environment of such constant harassment has to take an emotional and psychological toll on female soldiers, especially since they're already experiencing the anxieties associated with deployment to a combat zone.
The author said she was astounded when she read Goddard's accounts. "To read this in her letters, from this woman who was stronger than most people I've ever come across in my life, to see her get really freaked out and intimidated by all the male attention, was shocking."
I wouldn't exactly call it "male attention" which might be why I'm not as surprised as this author.
Goddard was 26 when she was killed. Blais was 21. They paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country and there is no doubt that it was a tragedy for their young, promising lives to be cut short. There's nothing we can do now about their experiences with sexual harassment and/or assault. But hopefully some good will come from this new book. I have enough faith in Canadians to believe that they will by and large be shocked and outraged at what our most brave and patriotic women have to endure while serving our country. And maybe--just maybe--we can make it better for future generations.
~*~In Memory of Captain Nichola Goddard, Trooper Karine Blais, Master Corporal Kristal Giesebrecht, Major Michelle Mendes, and the 148 other Canadian Forces casualties in Afghanistan~*~
Betcha didn't know that the Trews were inspired by Nichola Goddard to write this song.
UPDATE Oct 8: As a follow-up to that story, the Ottawa Citizen has published some stats about rape in the Canadian Forces. And it's not particularly cool.
The Canadian military has investigated just five reports of sexual assault in Afghanistan since 2004, with only one investigation leading to a guilty verdict — a number that contrasts sharply with the picture painted in a new book about a female soldier.
According to the Citizen, the case that ended up with the guilty verdict occurred in 2006, and the rapist was an Afghan man. Another case involving an Afghan man didn't end up getting off the ground because the rape occurred in 2006 but wasn't reported until 2009, and the victim couldn't provide an adequate physical description of her attacker.
The other three reports of sexual assault were dismissed by the Canadian Forces as unfounded.
Now I have no idea who the accused were in these allegations. But in a climate where, according to Capt. Goddard, so many female Forces members were being raped, isn't it odd that (a) only 5 sexual assaults were reported since 2004, (b) 3 of those 5 were dismissed as unfounded, and (c) the accused in both reports that weren't dismissed as unfounded were Afghan men?
People tend to excuse or apologize for the sexual behaviour of male soldiers, even when it becomes violent. (There are exceptions, of course, particularly high profile cases (Daniel Menard) or really inexcusably violent ones (Russ Williams).) I can also tell you right now that there's a culture of sexual harassment in the Forces (see my friend's comment, above--the same friend also told me about the extreme harassment young women face on their "walks of shame" home from the Royal Military College campus, and advised me to never sleep with anyone from RMC for that very reason). I think that the rationale usually given for this tolerance is the idea that we (as in the people in general but young women in particular) owe these men something for being so brave and sacrificing and defending our country, and gawd, they deserve to have a little fun when they're not out there putting their lives on the line, don't they?
The problem here is even if you abide by this flawed and super-problematic logic, you still run into issues when it comes to female soldiers (especially female combat soldiers). Do they still "owe" their male comrades-in-arms "something" for being brave and sacrificing and defending the country when they're doing the same thing?
In exchange for their patriotism, bravery, and self-sacrifice, men get a blind eye turned to their sexual violence. Women get slut-shamed, victim-blamed, ignored, and dispossessed.