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The Scandal of Military Rape

Ms. reports on the shocking statistics of sexual assault on military women, and the ineffective response of the Defense Department. . Accused rapist/murderer of woman soldier fights extradition.

The Fall issue of Ms. magazine-on newsstands 10/28/08-features a stunning look at sexual assaults on women soldiers and support workers, reported by Helen Benedict, author of the forthcoming The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009). The story is particularly timely, as the case of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach is once again making news.

Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant, was murdered sometime in late December, 2007-after having reported being raped by fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean. When her charred body was found in Laurean's backyard, he was indicted for murder, but fled to Mexico . In September, a Mexican court approved his extradition to the U.S. However, in this past week, Laurean's lawyer announced that his client has appealed the extradition order.

Of the sexual assaults reported by the Defense Department in FY 2007, half were met with no official action, a third were dismissed, and only 8 percent of those investigated were referred to courts-martial. In comparison, 40 percent of those arrested for sex crimes in civilian life are prosecuted.

Although up to one-third of all military women are raped or sexually assaulted while serving, 80 percent of the rapes go unreported because women (and men as well) fear ostracism, punishment and loss of careers. Nonetheless, the Defense Department claims that since 2005 its updated rape reporting options have created a "climate of confidentiality."

The author, a Columbia University journalism professor, has been writing about rape for over 20 years, during which time she interviewed hundreds of survivors, and in recent years has interviewed numerous women soldiers for her book on the Iraq war.

Note to editors: Author Helen Benedict is available for interviews.