In case you missed it, last Saturday was the "National Day of Action to Demand An Honorable Discharge for Spec. Suzanne Swift," which, as Maxwell Smart might have said, is the second-longest national day I've ever heard. Rallies and protests, sponsored by the usual gang of anti-war misfits, were held throughout the blue states. But Red State Americans likely are not familiar with the case.
Spc. Swift is the anti-war movement's latest poster child. Only this time, instead of taking advantage of a grieving mother, the anti-war left is exploiting an alleged rape victim to score political points. The facts are these: Spec. Swift, a military police officer, was arrested at her mother's home in Eugene, Oregon, after being AWOL for nearly six months. She had completed one year of a five-year tour of duty. The rest of the story, thus far, is speculation, hearsay and conjecture. Swift, however, claims she was harassed, and sexually assaulted by her male sergeant, before, during, and after her deployment to Iraq. So when it was time to go back for her second tour of duty she opted to go AWOL.
Meanwhile, as the military investigates her claims, Swift's attorney has filed charges against three servicemen, all sergeants -- two are accused of asking for sex, and her immediate superior is accused of "command rape," i.e., coercing her to have sex. Swift is also demanding she be given an honorable discharge with full medical and veterans benefits, which would make her one of the few soldiers to receive an honorable discharge after deserting her unit.
According to her lawyer Spec. Swift suffers from something called "military sexual trauma," defined as sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurs in military settings. She is also said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which soldiers used to get after watching thousands of their comrades get mowed down by machine gun fire. Now you can get it from a pick-up line.
SWIFT'S CASE ISN'T as cut and dried as her supporters think. The police officer didn't report the alleged rape and harassment until she was about to leave for her second deployment to Iraq, claiming, first, that she feared her superior would "retaliate against her by singling her out for dangerous duty," and later that she had wanted to "put it all behind her." Even more curious are the unrelated stories she's been telling the press. Swift apparently told her mother that when her bus arrived at boot camp she was confronted by a bellicose sergeant who screamed: "You blankety-blank, blank...Your recruiter lied! You're all going to Iraq and you're all going to die!" Maybe, but I doubt it. More to the point, Spec. Swift was apparently angry that she was deployed to Iraq. She says a recruiter "seduced" her away from her "dead-end job" by taking her to lunch week after week and promising she would never be sent to a "war zone." Supporters say Swift was seduced twice, first by the suave recruiter who promised her a cushy job, and second by her bullying sergeant.
Now, Swift's lawyer claims his client did report the harassment to the Army's equal opportunity officer, but that her complaints were ignored. Not likely. Equal opportunity officers are among the most highly skilled professionals in the military, trained not only to spot sexual harassment and assault, but to deliver seminars and training sessions on the subject. Besides, soldiers -- especially female soldiers -- are taught that they can report sexual harassment through many different channels besides the equal opportunity advisor and the chain of command; they can go to a lawyer, chaplain, medical clinic or simply call an anonymous hotline.
For decades the anti-war crowd has been accusing the military of sweeping sexual harassment charges under the rug. But does anyone really believe that after ten years of high profile scandals, congressional investigations, new legislation and sweeping reform packages for addressing sexual assault, that the military chain of command would ignore a military policewoman's claim of rape?
Far from being dismissive of complaints of sexual assault, the military has been, if anything, overcompensating. Author David Horowitz has written how "military investigators, eager to show that the Army knows how to deal with sexual harassers, intimidate women 'victims' into transforming consensual sex (which would have brought punishments on their heads) to serious criminal charges."
SO HOW BAD IS IT? Well, in 2004 the Pentagon reported 880 alleged sexual assaults committed by service members against service members. Hundreds of allegations were unsubstantiated, unfounded or dismissed for lack of evidence. The official rate of reported sexual harassment (not sexual assault) is about 70 per 100,000 service men and women. Meanwhile Swift's lawyer is going around telling gullible reporters that there is an "epidemic" of sexual abuse in the military, echoing Christine Hanson, director of the Miles Foundation, an agency for military victims of sexual and domestic violence, who says, "It's all the services and it's a pervasive part of the culture." Seventy per 100,000 is troubling and too high, but an epidemic?
Equally troubling are reports that there are currently some 4,400 troops absent without leave. Possibly the number is much higher. Anyone one of them can now claim sexual harassment or military sexual trauma, and it becomes a case of "he said/she said" or "he said/he said." As for the Swift case, an outside investigator has been called in and no charges will be filed until the investigation is complete.
It goes without saying that sexual harassment charges must be treated with all seriousness, whether they occur in the business world or in a war zone. If Spec. Swift were sexually assaulted her assailants deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But it is reprehensible that anti-war groups would exaggerate an "epidemic" of sex crimes in the military, would attempt to create absurd new categories of disorders, and would paint the U.S. Armed Forces -- not as the heroic men and women they are -- but as a sordid sexual playground for perverts as a way of boosting their left-wing, anti-military political agenda. Let's hope truth and justice prevail.
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