If You Were Raped in the Military, Would You Turn to a Fundamentalist Chaplain for Help?

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units—trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang-raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since underreporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report may rest with the military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the nation’s corps of chaplains leans heavily toward evangelical Christianity, failing to mirror the military it serves.” And 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1973, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” An article found on the school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

Over 1,000 students are currently enrolled in the 72-credit program to become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—a February 2011 Times Union article blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given.

Rebecca Turner, Executive Director of Faith Aloud, a St. Louis-based prochoice, pro-LGBTQ group, notes that, “There is a clear pattern within fundamentalist churches to blame the victim. For them Adam and Eve is historical fact and even today the woman is seen as the temptress and the man the fool who can’t resist her feminine wiles.” Fundamentalist chaplains, she continues, will hear a woman say that she was attacked and assume that she did something to provoke or warrant it. “The military is still a predominantly male, macho culture,” she says. “Add chaplains trained in very conservative ideology and you have the perfect storm of victim blaming for women who step forward.”

Read the rest at RH Reality Check

Photo of U.S. Navy chaplain from Wikimedia Commons


  1. Of course that’s the reason. Religion treats women like they’re nothing but wombs and servants for men. This is why we need to get rid of fundamentalist religion.

  2. Religions are evil, period. Their sole purpose is to brainwash the masses for the benefit of a small group of people. It is also huge business selling an invisible product. I’m surprised that in the 21st century people are still so easily fooled by this scam. As Mark Twain put it “religion was invented when the first con met the first fool”. Religion’s business is to promote hate, violence, war, prejudice, meanness, obedience, etc. When will people wise up a bit and stop this hating machine? And when will hating and discriminating against more than 50% of people be condemned and punished by society?

  3. Hmmm, well maybe the problem is the men. Why don’t these assholes tell the men to control themselves and be “godly” instead of blaming the women. Oh, we’ll that would make too much sense and wouldn’t benefit the men, so let’s throw out that idea. I can see it now… The preacher would say, “you stop prancing around in your camo and war boots! You are revealing too much skin! And your eyes need to look at the ground so that you don’t tempt our poor boys! In fact, just wear this body bag. That might settle you down, you tempts!”

  4. Sarah in Texas says:

    If I was one of the 30 percent of women who are raped/assaulted in the military, I’d probably wind up in prison because I would murder anyone who did that to me, along with the people in charge who allow and condone it.

  5. My issue with this article is that there is no clear link between the horrible assault of women in the military – and the military chaplains.

    I haven’t clicked the links yet but there’s no quotes in the actual article linking the two together, or quotes from soldiers complaining that the chaplains contribute to the problem.

  6. My husband is in the military no one has ever reported to him about an assult but that us neither here nor there he opening admits most of the men he works with has a blame the victim mindset part of the reason he isn’t reenlisting. It’s really sad how ugly it is behind closed doors and what’s worse is that it isn’t just the enlisted it is also the officers that hold these mindsets. Ugly. Disappointing to say the least also a huge blight to our country.

  7. I agree that the numbers are staggering and the lack of help is offensive. However, regardless of my personal belief system about religions’ inherent misogyny, I don’t see support in this article about the role of chaplains other than an inference based on their evangelical leanings. Is there more to this story to support these statements? If anything (not the say this statement isn’t accurate but there is nothing here to support it) I think the military’s record of victim blaming is pretty indisputable and that is without addressing the role of chaplains. I love this blog/magazine and I hope that in the future the writers of such articles will support their statements with facts and not an inference and a hope. This is an important issue and you diminish it with poorly written and unsupported accusations.

  8. I don’t see the link between the chaplains and sexual assault. This article says that there is an exceptionally high number of sexual assaults in the military and that chaplains are increasingly conservative. It provides no links between the two. As the daughter of a military chaplain, I can say with certainty that they are trained to counsel and help those they serve in any number of situations including sexual assault and that they take the well beings of any victims very seriously. While the military itself may not be the easiest system to navigate as a survivor, I don’t think it is fair to put the blame on chaplains, who exist to be a safe haven and counsel for all who seek it, especially when there is no evidence to show that there is an increasing number of assaults because of the conservatism of chaplains.

  9. When I was in the military I was sexually harassed daily and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You speak up, you get kicked out of the military and the perpetrators would love for you to be gone and stop “cock blocking” them when they try and rape drunk women in the command. Some of you may think “oh there’s programs” I had a female counselor tell me if I can’t take the heat of being called a “cunt” then get out of the military. The sexual assault program was run by a guy who watched me go through this daily, a female who would send naked pictures of herself to other guys in the command, and another female who had no confidentiality at all. Also going to the chaplain is not part of the reporting system, if you report to a chaplain then you skipped chain of command, took the problem out of the command and they hold you accountable for that “mistake”. Commands don’t want sexual assault on their record and will do what it takes to keep it clean. That’s the military I knew.

  10. Martha EGO says:

    I think that this article, although many of you have commented that it lacks a concrete connection between the claim and the evidence, is a good starting point for research. That there is not enough connection between the claim and the “evidence” is simply because of the space provided. Excellent starting point, I say… aside from the fact that this article can perhaps inspire survivors to come forth with their experiences.

  11. Martha EGO says:

    FYI: No one is saying that rape in the military happens because of the chaplains. The article is mostly about the biased, sexist help these survivors are receiving… not that the chaplain services actually promote rape, but more so, that they encourage silence rather than denouncement.

  12. Every Chaplain I have had has been great and as a unit victim advocate they have never blamed the victim; this is so stupid; one person does something and then the whole faith or profession is villified. I am a feminist, but this is rediculous.

  13. Felicia says:

    I have been active duty military for 7 years. During my time, the Chaplain Corps has been nothing but helpful and supportive of service members. They never take sides in disputes and refrain from editorializing. They remain prefessional and take time for all members (even those of different faith backgrounds). To even suggest that they are somehow culpable or party-to a culture of silence involving sexual assault is just wrong. A little fact checking might be in order.

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