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Military Rape and Sexual Assault Class Action Lawsuit

 

Jaclyn Ries
usmvaw.com

On February 15, 2011, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in which Susan L. Burke represented seventeen individuals as they sought justice against former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The lawsuit states that the defendants, Rumsfeld and Gates failed to investigate the plaintiffs instances of rape and sexual assault, failed to prosecute perpetrators, failed to provide an adequate justice system as required by Uniform Military Justice Act, and failed to abide by Congressional deadlines to implement reforms to stop rapes and other sexual assaults. The plaintiffs claim that “they have been directly and seriously injured by Defendants actions and omissions,” and seek justice and compensation.

This lawsuit provides vivid stories and details about how each individual dealt with military command, and how they failed to properly respond and handle the situation after the individuals reported their sexual assaults. Several times, command failed to keep the reports confidential and their assailants learned of the instance being reported, furthering the threats and escalating the violence. However, once the allegations were reported by an individual to command, often command would threaten them not to discuss the situation or how it was handled with anyone else. If they did, their career would be at risk.

Other times command would find a way to put the blame on the individual who reported it. For example individuals were accused of lying if their assailant denied the allegations and, they could be forced to sign forms stating that the sex was consensual when in fact it wasn’t, which for males has lead to them being dishonorably discharged. Other times the military would blame it on alcohol, or as in the case of Stephanie Schroeder, would tell individuals, “don’t come to me because you had sex and changed your mind.” Often times after the sexual assault was reported, assailants would be put in charge of the victims, assailants would be allowed to remain on active duty with minimal punishments for their actions, and command would fail to investigate, or even drop the cases.

For more information or to read the lawsuit text and the stories of the seventeen individuals, visit the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) website here.

If you are interested in contacting Burke PLLC about potentially participating in this lawsuit, click here.

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Tonight on Women, War and Peace

The War We Are Living:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Anja Jerkovic
usmvaw.com 

PBS recently aired the first episode from Women, War, and Peace titled “I Came to Testify”, a story about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the 16 women that helped make it happen.

“In one sense, they were victims;
but in another sense they were the strong ones,
they survived”.

On Tuesday, October 11th, PBS released the first episode to their 6-piece segment on Women, War, and Peace. The first of the series, titled: “I came to Testify” tells the story of 16 Bosnian women’s experiences during the Balkan war in 92’ and the tribunal that was created to prosecute war criminals involved in the rape, torture, and murder of thousands of innocent civilians. “I Came to Testify” focuses specifically on the stories of the 16 women who heroically stood on trial for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in hopes to bring justice for those affected by the atrocities of the war. The ICTY was the first tribunal of its kind to individually focus on sexual assault, as well as the first war crimes court, an act that has paved the way for future cases on rape during wartime. The tribunal began in 1993, and as you can see from the website linked to the ICTY homepage below, continues on today. So far, 161 criminals have been indicted through ICTY and yet thousands more have gone unreported and unnoticed. The strength of the women in Bosnia to speak about and relive their experiences of sexual enslavement and sexual assault during Bosnia’s horrific war, regardless of the humiliation the criminals sought to harvest in their souls, is expressed beautifully in “I Came to Testify”. While I wish to give individual credit to every woman involved, all chose to keep their identities private and voices changed as to protect their identity from future attacks. The episode itself was heart-wrenching, yet tells a story the world needs to hear- a story that until now, has gone unnoticed.

You can watch the first episode here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

or click the following link to view all of the episodes at the PBS web site, here.

Click the link below to search the UN’s website for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia which includes videos, court records, background information, and an ongoing, updated news section on the most recent trials within the ICTY.

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY-TPIY)

A Viewer’s Introductory Guide to Abigail Disney,
Producer of PBS’s Women, War, and Peace

 

Carly Toyer
usmvaw.com

Women, War, and Peace is a five-part documentary series to be featured on PBS, airing Tuesday nights at 11pm. The series will feature hour-long segments focusing on:

  1. Women who testified against rapist soldiers who used rape as a weapon in the 1990s war in Bosnia in I Came to Testify. October 11.
  2. Liberian women who protested and won peace during a civil war in 2003 in Pray the Devil Back to Hell. October 18.
  3. Three women in Afghanistan who organized to maintain women’s rights during peace talks with the Taliban in 2009 in Peace Unveiled. October 25.
  4. The effects of Colombia’s 40-year-old civil war on current day rural Colombia, and the women who live there in The War We Are Living. November 1.
  5. The idea that the domain of was and peace belongs to men, and extensive interviews with female figureheads, survivors, and peacemakers in War Redefined. November 8. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace. 2011).

Women, War, and Peace will air publicly, with re-runs throughout each week and free online streaming at http://video.pbs.org

This guide will introduce you to filmmaker and Women, War, and Peace’s prominent producer Abigail Disney’s background and previous works, and provide examples of important screenings of Women, War, and Peace.

About Abigail Disney

Abigail Disney is the daughter of Roy E. Disney of the Walt Disney Company. She earned her BA from Yale, her Masters in English Literature from Stanford, and a PhD in Philosophy from Columbia. (http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/19/abigail-disney-women-war-forbes-woman-power-women-documentary-film.html )  As a filmmaker, she has focused on female activists and peacemakers, most notably in her film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, (to be featured as part of two in Women, War and Peace) which won best documentary at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (http://www.tribecafilm.com/home/18455719.html)

Abigail Disney’s Activist Affiliations

The Daphne Foundation: “The Daphne Foundation funds programs that confront the causes and consequences of poverty in the five boroughs of New York City and in Western Africa. We have a particular interest in grassroots and emerging organizations engaging their members in the creation and implementation of long-term solutions to intractable social problems.” (http://www.daphnefoundation.org/mission-philosophy.htm)

The Global Fund for Women:  “We advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups in five regions: Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Asia and Oceania and the Americas. Since its inception in 1987, the Global Fund has granted over $93 million to more than 4,400 women’s groups in 172 countries.” (http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/what-we-do)

Women and Girls Lead: “Women and Girls Lead is a multiyear public media initiative to focus, educate, and connect citizens worldwide in support of the issues facing women and girls. Combining independent documentary film, television, new media, and global outreach partnerships, Women and Girls Lead amplifies the voices of women and girls acting as leaders, expands understanding of gender equity, and engages an international network of citizens and organizations to act locally and reach out globally.” (http://www.itvs.org/women-and-girls-lead/about)

Abigail Disney’s Previous Films

Sun Come Up (producer, 2011): “…an Academy Award nominated film that shows the human face of climate change. The film follows the relocation of the Carteret Islanders, a community living on a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean, and now, some of the world’s first environmental refugees.” (http://www.suncomeup.com/film/Home.html)

Family Affair (producer, 2010): “… an uncompromising documentary by Chico Colvard, which explores the complexities of a family subjected to enormous trauma, the depths of suffering a parent can inflict on his own children and yet also the remarkable resiliency that some people can muster even in the face of all this. The film is a meditation on forgiveness, on grace, and on the capacity of the human spirit to find love and meaning under the worst of circumstances.” (http://www.forkfilms.net/watchnow.php)

Playground (producer, 2009): “Sexual exploitation of children is a problem that we tend to relegate to back-alley brothels in developing countries, the province of a particularly inhuman, and invariably foreign, criminal element. Such is the initial premise of Libby Spears’ sensitive investigation into the topic. But she quickly concludes that very little thrives on this planet without American capital, and the commercial child sex industry is certainly thriving. Spears intelligently traces the epidemic to its disparate, and decidedly domestic, roots—among them the way children are educated about sex, and the problem of raising awareness about a crime that inherently cannot be shown. Her cultural observations are couched in an ongoing mystery story: the search for Michelle, an American girl lost to the underbelly of childhood sexual exploitation who has yet to resurface a decade later.” (http://www.playgroundproject.com/film/.)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (producer, 2008): “Pray the Devil Back to Hell chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country. Thousands of women — ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim — came together to pray for peace and then staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace. Armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions, they demanded a resolution to the country’s civil war. Their actions were a critical element in bringing about a agreement during the stalled peace talks.

A story of sacrifice, unity and transcendence, Pray the Devil Back to Hell honors the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia. Inspiring, uplifting, and most of all motivating, it is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.” (http://www.praythedevilbacktohell.com/synopsis.php)

Screenings of Women, War, and Peace

Universities, community centers, and churches nationwide are holding screenings and discussions on Women, War, and Peace. To learn more about the impact that will be made by these screenings, browse through the following articles:

“Bosnian St. Louisans join discussion as PBS explores Women, War & Peace

“Enlightening Student Viewers”

“Women and Girls Lead in Community Screenings and on PBS”

To attend a screening near you, visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/screenings.

Why Wartime and Peacetime Are One in the Same

 

Penelope Howes
usmvaw.com

When discussing wartime practices and the institutionalized and/or direct violence against the people living in militarized lands, we often contrast this with peacetime – as if, the violence and damaging effects do not live on past the “event” of war. This is what Chris J. Cuomo argues in his, War Is Not Just an Event: Reflections on the Significance of Everyday Violence. Cuomo emphasizes the importance of an “omnipresence of militarism” (31) by examining the long-term physical, psychological, emotional, and ecological effects that militarism has on the environment and its people; particularly women.

Cuomo argues that feminists should adopt the issues of “everyday effects of militarism on women, on people living in occupied territories, on members of military institutions, and on the environment” (31). This is where ecofeminism plays a very important role in the deconstruction of military violence against women. The on-going institutionalized violence that women in these occupied terror-tories endure on a daily basis, limits their ability to properly function in their society and provide for their families. Because women are largely responsible for cultivating the land and providing food for their family – and sometimes the larger community – the destruction of their surrounding environment can lead to the ultimate genocide of their people.

This on-going destruction of an ecology system provides proof against a long-standing theory of war, called “just-war theory”… “developed by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Hugo Grotius” (Cuomo 33) in which the assumption is that, “wars are isolated from everyday life and ethics” (Cuomo 33). Cuomo critiques this theory for its lack of acknowledgement of the continuous omnipresence of militarism. Cuomo argues that “Just-war theory assumes that war is a separate sphere of human activity having its own ethical constraints and criteria” (33). With the help of feminist perspectives, Cuomo believes that we will be able to break-down the “just-war theory” and provide much needed attention to the women who are suffering even in times of “peace”. Feminist theory values the experiences of the individual as an epistemological advantage in examining and understanding the greater scope of gendered violence. So, by adopting these values when analyzing various forms of violence through militarism, we will be able to create a more complete picture.

Cuomo goes on to explain the over-arching commonalities that bring together women and the environment by acknowledging that, “cultural constructions associate women with nature and help justify the mistreatment of both” (38). The author emphasizes the importance of dividing our attention when looking at “military ecological destruction” into both wartime and peacetime. The problem with only focusing on wartime destruction is that it takes away the ecological and social violence that takes place long after the “event” of war. To illustrate just how much militarism negatively impacts the environment, here are some facts compiled by Cuomo:

• “The military is the largest generator of hazardous waste in the United States, creating nearly a ton of toxic pollution every minute…” (41).

• “…nine percent of all the iron and steel used by humans is consumed by the global military” (41).

• “Virtually all of the world’s thirty-five nuclear bomb test sites, as well as most radioactive dumps and uranium mines, occupy Native lands” (41).

The disconnection that arises when evaluating militarism through strictly environmental effects creates an invisibility of the people who are dealing with this destruction daily. Cuomo offers that, “Military practices…are often a result of cost-benefit analyses that pretend to weigh all likely outcomes yet do not consider nonhuman entities except in terms of their use value for humans” (42).

What the author concludes in this article is that, “…war is a presence, a constant undertone, white noise in the background of social existence…” (Cuomo 42) and in order to understand this complex system, we must expand our analysis to focusing on the human injustice that is ultimately present in occupied territories. The author suggests that we should continue to keep militarism and “state-sponsored violence” separate in our attempts of deconstructing and understanding each of their complexities. It will only be in practicing this separation that we will be able to construct a more complete analysis of deeply-rooted violence that women endure over long periods of time due to militarism environmental damage.

Works Cited

Cuomo, Chris J. “War Is Not Just an Event: Reflections on the Significance of Everyday Violence.” Hypatia 11.4 (1996): 30-45.

Chris J. Cuomo Selected Bibliography:

Feminism and Ecological Communities : An Ethic of Flourishing

The Philosopher Queen : Feminist Essays on War, Love, and Knowledge

A Summary of Ecofeminism According to:

Engendering a Peaceful Planet:
Ecology, Economy, and Ecofeminism in Contemporary Context

by Ynestra King

Penelope Howes
usmvaw.com

According to King, ecofeminism links peace and ecology that strives for “societies free of violence, with nature-friendly technologies and sustainable economies that are respectful of place and culture” (p.15). The author directly links militarism and its effects on the environment surrounding it, including: “its production of weapons and waste in the ecological devastation of war” (p.16). There is a movement in the ecofeminst realm to bring visibility to these issues along with assessing the long-term effects that war has on people and nature.

King refers to this movement as the “ecofeminst theoretical project”, which is divided into four different focuses that all interrelate to one another to gain a comprehensive view of what ecofeminism seeks to uncover and make sense of. The first is, a “critique of modernity as well as capitalism and of the relationship between the two” (p.17). In this element, there is a strong resistance to “sameness”, being the poisoning factor to the evolution of humanity and the environment. The second focus is, to “critique and redefine ‘reason’ and ‘science’ to include ways of knowing other than those of modern Western science” (p.18). This calls attention to the ways in which a “decentralized science” would benefit our understanding of the world around us and shine the light on the important and ever present impacts that militarism has on our “peaceful planet”.

The third is, the “argument for why women worldwide are (often) the source of the knowledge on which the future depends and are therefore subjects of this revolution because of the socially assigned work…” (p.18). This “source of knowledge” is referred to by the author as the “science of the people”, because it is in fact the individual beliefs, experiences, and customs of women that create this greater knowledge that no form of science can embody. This third point is a great example of how feminism and ecology have a direct link to one another. The last focus of the “ecofeminst theoretical project” is by acknowledging “non-violence as a theory and practice of social change” and therefore linking “peace and ecology” (p.18). It is because of this acknowledgement that ecofeminism is able to critique and mobilize at the same time within this social movement.

King also disassociates ecofeminism from “feminist spirituality”, because ecofeminism directs its focus towards politics and does not seclude itself from a wide collective of knowing that feminist spirituality and religion can often do. The author also accounts for the fact that ecofeminism is actively critiquing and challenging the male-dominated ideologies of religion that play out in “social and political arrangements” (p.20). Overall, King offers that social justice, ecology, democracy, and peace are the interlinking qualities that ecofeminism offers in creating change within politics and theory.

King, Y. (1995). Engendering a Peaceful Planet: Ecology, Economy, and Ecofeminism in Contemporary Context. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 23(3/4), 15-21.

Ynestra King — Selected Bibliography:

Dangerous Intersections : Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development : A Project of the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment

What is Ecofeminism?

Rocking the Ship of State : Toward a Feminist Peace Politics 

Understanding Militarism’ Environmental Damage as Violence Against Women

 

Penelope Howes
usmvaw.com

U.S. military violence against women can be found in many different forms. The most talked about forms of violence against women are physical and sexual violence. So, what happens when the “violence” is indirect, but still inflicts harm? Is it still considered a form of “violence”? I would argue that, indeed, it is. Through the lens of an ecofeminist perspective, one could say that a military’s presence on foreign soil (or domestic, for that matter) is harmful to its inhabitants. I would go further to say that women, in particular, are indirectly affected by militarism. In societies outside of the Western culture, women in rural areas rely on the land for survival. These rural areas are overwhelmingly the unsuspecting victims of military presence.

According to the article, “Women’s Relationship with the Environment”, Joan Davidson asserts that, “Women are the centre of subsistence food production” (p. 5), and “…women are ‘invisible’ water managers, responsible for supplying the water needs of the family, domestic animals, and sometimes agriculture” (p.6). These facts support my earlier claim of women’s indirect link to their surrounding environments via domesticity. It is clear that women’s responsibility in many rural areas is to the private sector, which includes cultivating the land and supplying water. When a rural area such as this is inflicted by war or military presence, in general, the natural and sometimes traditional practices, of caring for the land and surrounding environment, are destroyed. When the environment is altered or destroyed by militarism through buildings, infrastructure, and/or bombs, this disallows or hinders the safe and proper land cultivation. Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg writes in “Health, Peace and the Environment: Intagrating Relationships in Women’s Health Movement”, that “The military is the single largest polluter and waster of resources in the world” (p.26). This statement is not hers alone; it is a well-known, but sometimes not well-accepted fact in our global community. Rosenberg also notes that, “According to The Research Institute for Peace Policy…it is estimated that 10 to 30% of all global environmental degradation is due to military related activity” (p.26). These statistics go to show what a profound impact militarism has on the local and global environment, and furthermore, the “violence” that indirectly affects women in this way. If not victims of war-related sexual assault, rape, or prostitution – the women who rely on the land to feed and support their families are violated in a more subtle ways. This phenomenon has overwhelmingly long-term effects on women’s lives, their families’ and their own well-being.

The first steps in protecting women and their families from this type of violence, is to recognize how an effect the damaging of environments by militarism can have on women. Once this is acknowledged, we will be able to move toward more environmentally conscious and peaceful practices. Also, in acknowledging women’s, we must advocate for women’s voices to be heard in these communities when the time comes for restoration, if such is possible. Only then will environmental practices represent women’s best interests and the overall well-being of the ecological system. Joan Davidson supports this notion that, “Women’s efforts to resist environmentally damaging policies and to restore and protect the status of women will be decisive for the protection of the environment and natural resources” (Women’s Relationship with the Environment, p. 10).

Works Cited

Davidson, Joan. “Women’s Relationship with the Environment.” Focus on Gender 1.1 Feb. (1993): 5-10. Women’s Studies International.

Rosenberg, Dorothy G. “Health, Peace and the Environment: Integrating Relationships in Women’s Health Movement.” Women and Environments International Magazine 2003: 25-27. Women’s Studies International.