Greek pottery, c. 480 BCE
Gallego is the New York correspondent for the Spanish daily El Correo, great journalist and a good friend of mine. She was embedded with the American troops during the Iraq invasion in 2003 and she witnessed how the female soldiers feared going alone to the toilet at night. All of them knew that chances of being sexually assaulted were too many. All of them knew that being raped in the army it was too common. All of them knew that perpetrators were left unpunished and all of them knew that the victims were usually advised by their superiors to shut up and let it go. She wrote about it in her newspaper and also in her book Más allá de la batalla (Beyond the battle). She was astonished by the lack of information related to the problem in the American media and six years later nothing seems to have changed.
Bourgaux, who also spent sometime covering the Iraq war, partnered with Gallego to research the subject and this week their 29 minutes documentary finally premiered in American soil -so far only the French tv has screened it-. The film explores the issues through the testimonies of some of those women. It's very disturbing to listen to somebody like Jessica Kenyon, raped twice, once in the US and once in Korea. She quit the army because "it was the only way to escape", in her own words. Her rapists are free and have never being punished. Now she is a counselour for other veterans who have been raped, has a help line (1888 483 8725) and receives about 30 calls a week. It's equally disturbing to listen to a mother whose daughter died in Iraq in her sleep. The army says Tina Priest killed herself with her own gun. Her family doesn't believe it: weeks earlier the 21 years old girl came forward with a rape accusation and she feared for her life. The rapist is still free. In this clip from Democracy Now you can watch some of the film footage:
The statistics speak for themselves: A Pentagon report earlier this year found one in three female service members are sexually assaulted at least once during their enlistment. 63% percent of nearly 3,000 cases reported last year were rapes or aggravated assaults. It's anybody going to do anything about it? At least Pascale and Mercedes did but women in the army need much more than foreign press attention, they need big American headlines and real action. (a note to Spanish readers: Pascale was the only reporter who interviewed the soldiers in the tank that killed Spanish reporter José Couso at the Palestine Hotel). Beyond the crisis of the press, journalists that are still willing to do real reporting are doing it, even without money.
Here a series of links related to the subject:
Study of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine about the estimate of sexual abuse in the US Army (pdf)
U.S. Military Violence Against Women
Helen Benedict, “The Private War of Women Soldiers", Salon.com