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November 10, 2010

Are Female Soldiers in Iraq Dying of Dehydration and Fear?

Today we have another post from our newest guest blogger, Dinah. If you missed her debut, go and read her post about what it's like to be a "Wookie Monster" (aka a Woman Marine). Today's post is about a really disturbing situation that Dinah is hearing about from some sources in the Army. We've added a little editor's note onto the end with some of our thoughts about this, and we hope you'll read it all and let us know what you think.

I recently found out from some second-hand sources that Army bases in Iraq are facing a serious problem: female soldiers are dying of dehydration because they aren’t drinking water. They are too scared to leave their sleeping areas at night to use the restroom.


Local contractors have been forming roving groups at night that wait for a lone female to sneak off to the toilet area, and then they gang rape her.

I was infuriated when I heard this on several levels (besides the obvious rape is wrong thing):

1) If the Army knows this is going on, why hasn’t security on post been stepped up? According to my source, it has. However, the bases depend heavily on the local contractors and there are simply too many of them on base to police.

2) Not to hate on my own kind, but ladies, you joined the armed service. ARMED being the key word. Soldiers and Marines alike are taught to never go anywhere without their weapon or a buddy, as there is safety in numbers. And bullets. These standards are enforced even on base. Additionally, as a U.S. soldier, you shouldn’t be going anywhere not fully prepared to fight. If you aren’t prepared to throw down, people die.

I know some of you are probably thinking something like, “But you’ve never been in that situation!” Think again. I have faced similar situations, and each time I chose to fight. I’m still here to tell the tale, aren’t I?

When you join the armed service, they give you a weapon for a reason. We kill people. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we perform humanitarian aid; overthrow corrupt governments, blah blah blah. How do you think we accomplish these things? By asking nicely?

As Mark Bowden said, “Peace flows from the barrel of a gun.”

Worried about being raped? Pick up that M16A4 service rifle and, if you aren’t allowed to keep it loaded on base, use it to beat the ever-loving piss out of the sick, sad bastards who think they have the right to take that which only belongs to you.

Where are the fighters? I thought perhaps they were the strong and beautiful women who joined the military, but I guess maybe I was mistaken.

In our line of work, if you can’t defend yourself and those around you at all costs, people die. This story is a perfect example of people dying because they aren’t taking defensive measures. They would honestly rather die slow, agonizing deaths from dehydration than form a plan and face down their attackers. That’s depressing.

This attitude is not unique to women in the military. Why are there so many women in this world who would rather rot to death than fight back? How many women do you know who are living in an abusive situation and refusing to leave because of one reason or another? How many do you know who work in a crappy office where they get walked on every day, but refuse to quit and take a chance at a better job?

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “no other choice.” You always have another choice, another way out. But sometimes that other choice requires intestinal fortitude (that’s guts, people). Sometimes that other choice means staring down the barrel of a gun and daring the motherfucker to pull the trigger.

I wish more women wouldn’t be afraid to try. If your plan doesn’t work, is that really going to be so much worse than rotting in your current situation?

Advice from a Marine: Everything you see is a weapon. Know your exits. Make a new exit if you can’t find one. Never, ever be afraid to try to better your situation.

Editor's Note: When we first read this we felt that it could possibly be interpreted as victim blaming, so we wanted to add this note to say that we know that's not what Dinah is getting at here at all, and it's not what we're suggesting by posting this. Rape is always entirely the fault of the rapist, and the same goes for abusive relationships, and nobody is suggesting that fighting back is easy. The fact that even some women who are trained to fight back have a hard time doing it in a situation like this illustrates that pretty well. This post is about bringing awareness to the problem of rape in the military. It's about how infuriating it is that our female soldiers have to deal with this. It's about how frustrating and depressing it is that so many women feel like fighting back isn't an option...and that so many women are put in a position to have to fight back in the first place. It's about how sick it makes us to think about a woman slowly dying of dehydration because she's afraid of what might happen if she tries to go for water. And as we said in the intro, we want to know what you all think too, so comment and let us know.

Update: We sent the link to this post to Dinah last night so she could see some of the comments, and we want to share her response. We also want to say that we totally hear and get and respect all of the comments. We put the disclaimer on the original post because we feel the same way, at least to some extent. But even though we wouldn't have expressed ourselves the way that Dinah did, we still felt like her perspective was worth sharing and of course the issue of rape in the military is definitely worth addressing. If you disagree with her, or with us, that's cool too, and we hope that the conversation about what these female soldiers are going through can continue.

Dinah's response is below. We understand how it may come off as though she's suggesting that fighting back is easy, and we all know that's not the case. Maybe in the face of a problem as infuriating and upsetting as this, it's easier to focus on what each woman can do to protect herself than to confront the full scope of the real problem. But that in itself is part of the problem, so stay tuned for more about this issue from us in the future.

I've definitely thought about that since I wrote that blog, how easy it would be to misinterpret.

Believe it or not, I am the victim of sexual assault, physical assault, and I have suffered from heat exhaustion due to dehydration, so I know what that feels like, too. It's not like I have never been in those victim's shoes. That blog came from my frustration as I see so many women in my life who simply refuse to make bad situations better, even when they have all the resources at hand to do so. When I started looking into this issue (which was first reported in 2006) it seemed to typify everything that breaks my heart.

Rape is ALWAYS the attackers fault, and this shows that something is deeply, deeply wrong over there. That being said, I think the refusal to be victimized is the ultimate act of strong feminism. It doesn't have to be physically defending yourself, but, as I said in the blog, knowing what all of your options are and being willing to try them can keep you from being victimized.

There seems to be a disconnect between victim-blaming, and asking women everywhere to be their own heroes.

Of course it's not these soldiers' faults. Maybe somewhere along the way they didn't get enough training or confidence-building. Maybe their commands didn't thoroughly explain all the avenues they had (uniformed victim's advocates, requesting mast directly to their commanders and requesting change, mandating a buddy system for night restroom calls, etc).

The ultimate act of female strength is to depend on yourself to make your situation better.

I am actually impressed by the angry response, that means there are more women out there who refuse to sit back and take something they don't like. I pissed you off, and you refuse to quietly take it. I hope you ladies keep that attitude and never give it up

Be your own heroes, ladies.


Tiger said...

It's a good thing you included the disclaimer, because everything above it desperately needs to be rewritten to make the disclaimer unnecessary. "Fight back" is a good sentiment, but the fact that our women in uniform even need to shows a tremendous failure on so many other levels. Isn't that what we should really be addressing?

And just my personal opinion, but if I have to choose between fighting for my life and going thirsty/holding it in until dawn, I'm picking the latter. Then again, I'm not a marine.

Leanne said...

I get that you didn't want it to be victim-blaming, but it is. I understand the topic and the idea behind the post. Maybe if it were written in a different tone or something it would have come across the way you wanted it to.

Marine does not equal Cyborg. Just because the author got out of the situations she was in when she had to fight for her safety, doesn't mean other women are CHOOSING to just take it or "rot away" or whatever she said. What the fuck?

Rebecca said...

I'm reading this whole thing as victim blaming also. "Why aren't they fighting back/being armed/be ready to cause harm" instead of, "why isn't the military actually doing something about this" and railing against that.

Heather said...

Wow. So many problems with this that the disclaimer really doesn't cover it.

How are people getting so dehydrated they are dying if it's only a nighttime problem? At the very least, these women should have access to canteens and water bottles that they can fill during the day and keep in their bunks. Also, even in the desert, it's pretty hard to get dehydrated in 12-14 hours if you're getting enough water during the daytime. Finally, before these women got to the point that their lives were in danger, they would have been too weak to fulfill their duties for at least a day or two, which would have been noticed and there would have been medical intervention. So I think there's more to this story than we're hearing.

Second, the rant about fighting back is so irresponsible and angrymaking it makes me want to cry. Sure, these women have guns and training, but so do their attackers. Who outnumber them. And who possibly outrank them. And who have the tacit support of the military leadership, evidenced by the fact that these attacks are not being cracked down on.

And assuming such a superwoman as Dinah was able to shoot or fight off four or five fellow servicemen in the middle of the night, in military culture, who do you think gets punished the next day, especially if she fired on someone? And assuming she's not court martialed or moved to another base immediately, what do you think happens to that woman the next night?

I agree with the underlying sentiment that people need to have faith in themselves take responsibility for their lives, and recognize that there is always some choice, even if there are no good ones. But fuck me, are there ever better ways to communicate it.

Jezebel said...

Heather - Here are a few more links to coverage of the dehydration/rape story:

(This one is linked in the post.)



(Not criticizing you for being skeptical or raising questions, just pointing you to some more sources you can check out.)

Heather said...

Thanks for the extra links, the situation makes a little more sense, as much as something like this could ever really make sense.

Emily Jane said...

I agree with Heather and everyone else in this thread: this post is indeed victim-blaming, for the reasons Heather mentioned. The disclaimer does not make it any less so. Ugh.

Katy said...

I was in the army for six months in 2000. After basic training, my security clearance paperwork was held up for several days, and I was kind of in limbo at my basic training company at Fort Jackson. The First Sergeant of my basic training company took that opportunity to make me trust him and to trick me into going off-post with him one day where he raped me.

I pressed charges about a month later when I was in DLI in Monterey when one of the female drill sergeants found out about it and literally forced me to report it. I am SO glad that she did. CID took it very seriously and it turned out that there was a "ring" of men at Fort Jackson who would take female soldiers to this particular hotel to rape them, and there was a guy who worked the front desk who made all the arrangements for them. Because I pressed charges, that came to an end, thank god.

And what did I get? A LOT of victim blaming (like being asked whether I was doing anything sexy WHILE IN BASIC TRAINING - yeah, I was just so irresistible). I really lost it emotionally and finally was given a general discharge, with a psychological code on my DD214. Wow, thanks. However, I'm still really really glad that he and his cronies aren't raping anyone else in that position of trust / army family / etc.

Katy said...

And why did I not fight back? I didn't know where I was or how to get back on post, I thought it was a trick related to my security clearance, I was seriously intimidated by/scared of him, the military has all your information, and I was scared to death even to press charges because I thought he would track me or my family down and hurt us. He did get a field grade article 15, and had to retire in order to pay the fees, but I don't think he was dishonorably discharged. He was able to retire.

Melissa said...

I don't know...am I the only one who doesn't find this completely victim-blaming? I definitly see how it could read that way, I do, but reading the editor's note and the update I get what she's saying. I think she's trying to empower women and remind them that they have power and strength. That doesn't mean what happened/happens/willhappen is their fault. Just that even women who are trained to fight are hestitant to fight back out of fear. And that this is a problem that people need to know about!

leann said...

I would just like to say that I don't think the dehydration comes from lack of access to water. They are not having problems finding water. They are drinking less water so that they do not have to get up to pee in the middle of the night. It's true you don't get dehydrated from not drinking at night, but they're not drinking during part of the day, too, so they can avoid the night-time bathroom runs.

I agree that the tone is that of victim-blaming. But at the same time, I can understand where the author is coming from. I think that if more female soldiers realized the kind of power they carry collectively, and that if they all stood up against the men that would victimize them, a lot of this shit would stop.

Katy said...

I hate to say it, but unless you've been in the military, I don't think you understand the hierarchy and the psychological issues that come with it. I agree that more women MUST press charges and make it an issue, but you have to understand what they're up against. It's terrifying.

Melissa said...

I think there are 2 different meanings to "fight back" and "stand up" and "be your own heroe"

One is about pressing charges, pushing for changes.

The other is about literally fighting back, with your fists, with your weapons, etc.

Women take selfdefense classes all the time to protect themselves from potential attackers. Do we consider these classes to be "victimblaming" these women? No. It's not their responsibility to prevent rape. (Rape is always going to be the responsibility and fault of the rapist. Period) But we take these classes or encourage others to take them because it helps to be strong, to be prepared, to empower ourselves and learn to protect ourselves.

I'm not saying its ever going to be easy for women (even women in the military who are trained to fight and kill) to fight back or stand up to rapists. But its something we all need to remember that we're maybe hopefully capable of

Anonymous said...

I'll probably be grouped with the author here, but I just got back from the desert, and I have to agree with her. Yes, there were some uncomfortable situations during my deployment, but no more so than you would expect to find in an environment where women make up only about 5% of the total population, and where sexual activity is forbidden. And while I never doubted that local leadership would be all over any accusations of sexual impropriety or rape, I also had no problem keeping my hand on my loaded 9mm whenever I walked outside alone.

On my FOB, we had institutions like the buddy system, and I often got a ride from security forces if I had to walk outside at night, but I would never leave my safety entirely in their hands.

I am a woman, but I'm also a military member, and if I'm strong enough to deploy, then I strong enough to make sure men know that "no" means "no." In the end, we are all responsible for own safety, and I took mine very seriously.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Dehydration is ridiculous. If you're drinking even a few water bottles during the day, you'll be fine. I don't understand how a woman could be dehydrated to the point of death because she didn't want to drink water at night. This makes no sense.