Commentary: Military Women Fear ‘Collateral Damage’ From Reporting Sexual Assault

Posted August 6, 2013 at 9:44am

Rachel Natelson offers a commentary in Roll Call: A woman traveling abroad on business goes out for a night on the town with her colleagues. Feeling unsteady after several drinks, she asks a co-worker to help her back to her room and awakes the next morning to find that she has been raped. After being warned against reporting the incident, she notifies the authorities only to become the subject of an investigation herself. After days of interrogation, she is sentenced with unauthorized alcohol consumption and adultery.

Sound familiar? The story of Marte Dalelv, a young Norwegian woman betrayed by the justice system from which she sought protection during a stay in Dubai, was understandably received with outrage throughout the world, so much so that public intervention ultimately resulted in her release. The same path from accuser to accused, however, routinely confronts a group of victims closer to home: those serving in the military.

According to the Pentagon, one of the most significant barriers to reporting sexual assault within the military is fear of punishment for “collateral misconduct” on the part of victims. Like the offenses attributed to Dalelv, the charges most often encountered by military victims — adultery, fraternization, alcohol consumption — bring no criminal penalties in civilian society but can yield grave consequences under a separate, culturally specific legal system.