There has been a rash of men throwing out endearing terms of “slut”, “prostitute” and “whore” lately. While America’s worst radio personality has been receiving the spotlight, there is another story currently unfolding:
On Tuesday, eight women (current and former members of the military) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. military as a result of its “high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks” and for “discouraging victims of sexual assault from coming forward.”
One of the women, Arianna Klay, has been at the forefront of the lawsuit against current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, as well as the former SoDs Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. While her experience is particularly upsetting, the courage she has in standing up against a protected culture of misogyny is inspiring.
Within just a few days of being assigned to the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., junior Marines began calling Klay a “slut” and a “whore”. Then, “in December 2009, four months after her arrival, Klay formally requested deployment to Afghanistan. The request was denied—as were three subsequent ones. Seven months later, she says, a senior Marine officer and his friend came into her home, a block from the base, and gang-raped her.”
When people think it’s okay to call women whores and sluts as a way of taking them down a peg or two, they unknowingly participate in the acceptance of sexual violence against women. How an institution or individual handles derogatory comments or hate speech might serve as an strong indicator for how they will handle claims of rape and sexual assault, as this case involving the Department of Defense reveals.
Among some of the court papers, the Marine Corps investigation of Klay’s case stated that “the behavior she called ‘harassment’ was sexual attention she’d encouraged by wearing makeup and exercising in running shorts and a tank top.” They also stated that her claim of gang-rape was actually just “consensual group sex”.
As Jesse Ellison of the Daily Beast/Newsweek reports:
“According to its [Department of Defense] annual reports, just 2 percent of reported sexual assaults result in a conviction. Ninety percent of those who report an assault, meanwhile, are involuntarily discharged, often after receiving dubious diagnoses of “personality disorders.”
Arianna Klay has also commented regarding her former military base: “it’s a base that was founded in the 19th century, and that’s where their attitudes toward women have remained.” Pair the above statistics and these women’s experiences with the Defense Department denial of responsibility: “the military doesn’t tolerate sexual assault” and it becomes impossible not to question the mixed messages we continue to tolerate concerning sexual harassment, assault and rape.