The Military's Secret Shame
Ellison, Jesse, Newsweek
Byline: Jesse Ellison
When men in the military rape other men in the ranks, no one wants to talk about it. Why the sexual assault of males in the service is finally being confronted.
Greg Jeloudov was 35 and new to America when he decided to join the Army. Like most soldiers, he was driven by both patriotism for his adopted homeland and the pragmatic notion that the military could be a first step in a career that would enable him to provide for his new family. Instead, Jeloudov arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training in May 2009, in the middle of the economic crisis and rising xenophobia. The soldiers in his unit, responding to his Russian accent and New York City address, called him a "champagne socialist" and a "commie faggot." He was, he told NEWSWEEK, "in the middle of the viper's pit." Less than two weeks after arriving on base, he was gang-raped in the barracks by men who said they were showing him who was in charge of the United States. When he reported the attack to unit commanders, he says they told him, "It must have been your fault. You must have provoked them."
What happened to Jeloudov is a part of life in the armed forces that hardly anyone talks about: male-on-male sexual assault. In the staunchly traditional military culture, it's an ugly secret, kept hidden by layers of personal shame and official denial. Last year nearly 50,000 male veterans screened positive for "military sexual trauma" at the Department of Veterans Affairs, up from just over 30,000 in 2003. For the victims, the experience is a special kind of hell--a soldier can't just quit his job to get away from his abusers. But now, as the Pentagon has begun to acknowledge the rampant problem of sexual violence for both genders, men are coming forward in unprecedented numbers, telling their stories and hoping that speaking up will help them, and others, put their lives back together. "We don't like to think that our men can be victims," says Kathleen Chard, chief of the posttraumatic-stress unit at the Cincinnati VA. "We don't want to think that it could happen to us. If a man standing in front of me who is my size, my skill level, who has been raped--what does that mean about me? I can be raped, too."
In fact, it is the high victimization rate of female soldiers--women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat--that has helped cast light on men assaulting other men. For most of military history, there was neither a system nor language in place to deal with incidents of soldier-on-soldier sexual assault. It wasn't until 1992 that the Defense Department even acknowledged such incidents as an offense, and initially only female victims were recognized. But last year more than 110 men made confidential reports of sexual assault by other men, nearly three times as many as in 2007. The real number of victims is surely much higher. Even among civilians, sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime. In the military the silence is nearly complete. By the Pentagon's own estimate, figures for assaults on women likely represent less than 20 percent of actual incidents. Another study released in March found that just one in 15 men in the Air Force would report being sexually assaulted, compared with one in five women.
While many might assume the perpetrators of such assaults are closeted gay soldiers, military experts and outside researchers say assailants usually are heterosexual. Like in prisons and other predominantly male environments, male-on-male assault in the military, experts say, is motivated not by homosexuality, but power, intimidation, and domination. Assault victims, both male and female, are typically young and low-ranking; they are targeted for their vulnerability. Often, in male-on-male cases, assailants go after those they assume are gay, even if they are not. "One of the reasons people commit sexual assault is to put people in their place, to drive them out," says Mic Hunter, author of Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America's Military. …