Sexual assault in the U.S. military has garnered a lot of media attention in the past years, and rightfully so. Sexual harassment and assault within a military bureaucracy can make it more difficult and tedious for victims to come forward — a DOD survey found that 52% of those who came forward were retaliated against by their own chain of command. Various studies have been conducted, all coming back with various numbers and statistics as what constitutes “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault” might vary from survey to survey. Still, either way it is described, it remains a problem that permeates the United States military on a daily basis.
Militaries around the world have problems with sexual assault, and they all handle it differently.
In recently days, the French military has found its way into the spotlight, examining its own policies toward sexual harassment. A report by a newspaper called Libération outlined several problems their military has with the issue. The Special Military School of Saint-Cyr, a military academy preparing young students for the upper echelons of the French military, was accused by several former female students of a pervasive culture of misogyny and sexism, prompting many of them to give up on their military dreams. Their complaints ultimately come to a head when the chain of command seems to remain apathetic toward the matter.
The newspaper itself is a very left-leaning one, but the story has made waves throughout the country. Florence Parly, the Minister of the Armed Forces in France, told RTL Radio that, “It is unacceptable in the 21st century that young women should be subjected to such discrimination.”
An in-depth study on the Peruvian military titled “Structural Sexual Violence in the Peruvian Military” shed light on countries where military women may not have as many opportunities to go to the media, unlike the U.S. or France. The report opens by stating that, “Sexual violence within the Military is not an open issue for discussion in Peru. We know that it exists because of the very limited number of incidents that reach the media and are publicly examined.” The study goes on to explain that the Peruvian military doesn’t even have a register of cases of sexual violence of any kind. Military members who seek to change this system to protect the victims of sexual assault, are often doing it through a “civil and political rights approach,” instead of taking it up the chain of command as they would other issues.
The study also discussed the difficulties in interviewing victims when the word “victim” isn’t even something they recognize themselves as, and many of those simply shut out certain questions. The other primary problem was a fear of retaliation, which would likely be a harsher retaliation than you would find in the U.S. or French militaries.
Then you have a military like Russia‘s. Full on rape and forced prostitution runs rampant within their ranks, newer service members often having to perform sexual favors to those senior to them. The reports of forced male prostitution have especially caught the attention of the media in recent years. The epitome of such cases (though perhaps less sexually motivated) came in the form of Andrei Sychev, a teenager conscript who was brutally beaten in a hazing incident, and would eventually have to have his legs and genitals amputated. The problem is so deeply rooted in the military that though all Russian men have to serve in the military, many find any possible way to defer their obligation until they are too old — this results in huge swaths of Russian men not serving at all.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is a separate case from many countries, as women are required to serve in the military just as men, even in combat roles. However, the Israeli authorities have made concerted efforts (at least publicly) to instate a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment of any kind. Since 2016, there has been a 20% increase of sexual assault complaints within the IDF — this could mean that the problem is becoming worse, but it could also mean that the system of reporting is becoming more effective, and more women are feeling comfortable in coming forward. The increase also paralleled an increase in civilian complaints of the same nature.
While one in six women in the IDF are reported to have experienced some level of sexual harassment, only 15.6% have actually come forward and reported it. IDF has admitted that the staggering majority of women in their ranks will deny any reports of sexual misconduct if asked directly, but those numbers start to drastically change when surveying the same people, under the blanket of anonymity.
Reports have escaped from women serving in the North Korean military, though much of the nation’s internal affairs remains shrouded in mystery. Some women have said that service there is so agonizing that many women stop menstruating and that rape is commonplace, according to a report from BBC.
Women are obligated to serve in the military for six years, and they suffer the regular North Korean hardships (lack of food and nutrition) on top of constant sexual assault. Attempts at defending ones self in the midst of an attempted rape by a superior is often treated like the victim was the one who assaulted the hapless official.
Sexual harassment, assault and outright violence is a problem that permeates every military around the globe, and each country has a different way of dealing with it — or not dealing with it at all.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.