Sexual Assault and the Military: An Interview with Staff Sergeant Lisa Rose

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Reports of sexual abuse in the military are now higher than that of the civilian population. An annual report released in 2009 by the Department of Defense showed an 11 percent increase in sexual assault cases among service members over the past year. According to the report, one in three female soldiers will be sexually assaulted or raped during their enlistment.

Last week, Jen Percy spoke with Staff Sergeant Lisa Rose* of the Texas Army National Guard. Rose has served in the National Guard for 21 years and, in 2008, was raped by her Commanding Officer.

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The Rumpus: How did this happen?

Staff Sergeant Lisa Rose: I’d known this man for two years – he was a friend, a confidant. We were on a business trip in Atlanta, along with some other people from work. One night we had a big dinner, and afterward a lot of the guys were going to smoke cigars and hit up the bars. I was invited, but I decided I was tired and I wanted to go back to the hotel.

The officer told the guys that he’d be back, that he was going to walk me up to my room.  When we got up there, he asked if he could use my bathroom. When he finished, he started making the moves on me and stuff.

I said: “You need to go. The guys are waiting for you.” Then something clicked. I saw something in him I had never seen before. He began to rape me. He was hitting me, biting at my neck. I said his name. I said: “Do you realize what you are doing? Do you realize that you are hurting me?” I was screaming. He put his hand over my mouth.

When he was done, he got up, put his clothes back on, walked nonchalantly into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. Then he walked out of the room.

Rumpus: How did the military handle this?

Rose: The way the military functions is not the same as the civilian world. They don’t send in a rape crisis expert to talk to the female. It was my word against his. I had bruises and abrasions and marks on my neck. They said it was just drunkenness. The investigation went on for about nine months.

Then they let him retire. He walked away with an honorable discharge. So now he looks like this stellar career officer that has this great record – because there’s nothing in his record! They wanted to put me out of the army, they wanted to discharge me. They said it was in my best interest because the base was “dangerous” now. At work they called me “the woman who cried rape.”

Then the attorney found out that this man had been accused of rape before. On his last assignment he had raped a civilian. But they swept it under the rug too. It wasn’t in any military files. He had to find out through a police report.

Rumpus: Is this a common occurrence? Have you talked to other women in the military about this?

Rose: I help soldiers acclimatize before and after they deploy, so I get to hear a lot of stories about Iraq. The story I hear over and over again from female soldiers is that they are being assaulted, they are being harassed and they are being raped – continually. And nobody does anything about it.

Rumpus: I’ve heard from a few soldiers that because there are no brothels in Iraq – like they had in Vietnam – that they use women soldiers instead. Is the number of sexual assault cases unique to the war in Iraq?

Rose: Absolutely.

This is the flip side of the story. Some of the female soldiers don’t help our cause at all. These girls know they are a valuable commodity. They figure it out. It’s usually a girl that’s prettier than the other girls. They know they’re going to have to give it up and so they think: why not make some money off it? The guys are more than willing to pay for sex. Girls over there are being prosecuted all the time for prostitution. These guys are in the middle of butt fuck nowhere Iraq, ninety percent of them are guys, and they know they aren’t going to see their wives for six months.

It’s common knowledge among soldiers overseas that the military will provide women for them on leave. I’ve heard stories about guys being flown out to ships in the Gulf – aircraft carriers full of prostitutes and female soldiers. They’ll go spend the weekend out there. They can gamble and they can drink and they can be with the women. And the military provides all that. The women are military and they knew what they were there for. The men can have sex whenever they want.

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Editor’s Note:

We at The Rumpus think this is an important issue, so we want to give you a few more places to read about it.

In 2004, Donald Rumsfeld ordered a review of how the Department of Defense responds to sexual assault cases. In response, the Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Task Force was created; and, in 2005, this task force became an official DoD department. Their most recent report can be read in full here.

Helen Benedict, a journalist, novelist and professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School, has also written extensively on the issue, including a book called The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq. Some of Benedict’s findings were summarized in articles in Salon.com, NPR, and the BBC.

Even with all that’s been written and done, it’s likely that only a very small piece of the problem is understood and being addressed – the 2009 Department of Defense report itself says that some 90% of military sexual assaults are never reported. We hope this changes – if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted while in the military, here are some tips on how to respond to and report the assault.

* Not her real name.


Jen Percy is an MFA student at the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program where she received an Iowa Arts Fellowship. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, ReDivider, The Indiana Review, The Literary Review, Brevity, PANK, Best Travel Writing 2010, and elsewhere. She has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Stanley Foundation, and was a 2009 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Iowa Museum of Art. More from this author →