Fort Bragg soldier Spc. Aaron Pernell, 22, an indirect fire infantryman who has served two tours in Iraq, was charged with sexual assault in February. Pernell appeared in court Tuesday on 13 charges including rape and attempted rape. What’s unique about these charges are that they were made at all: thousands of other military rapists have escaped punishment in the past fifteen years, according to the Denver Post in its excellent investigative series.
As the Ms. Blog recently reported, a new Pentagon study confirms that militarized sexual violence (MSV) is on the rise. Yet, while crimes such as those Pernell is charged with are all too common, perpetrators regularly escape punishment and often re-enter the civilian world with no criminal record.
Since one-third of women who join the military are raped or sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers, we must recognize that the soldier as rapist is all too common. Given that rape and sexual assault rates rise in the civilian world during wartime, we must also recognize that militarized sexual violence is trickling down into our communities. As more soldiers return home, we can expect more crimes like those Pernell is charged with.
In fact, areas surrounding military bases have already seen increasing numbers of sexual assault. Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, calls this “collateral damage,” writing:
In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.
The practice of granting moral waivers–which allow people to enlist who have records of domestic violence, sex crimes, and manslaughter–may also exacerbate rates of MSV. Further, as Professor Carol Burke documents, many soldiers enlist as teenagers to escape troubled or violent homes. Since such abuse (if not addressed) tends to be cyclical, filling our military ranks with abuse survivors without addressing childhood trauma, offering psychological counseling, or implementing anti-abuse training, is a recipe for continued violence. These factors, in conjunction with the prevalence of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) in returning soldiers, which has been linked to enacting violence, likely means that rates of MSV will not be going down anytime soon.
Though Pernell’s case is a horrific one, sadly it is far from unique. To read more on this subject, watch for my feature article in the upcoming Spring issue of Ms. magazine.
Follow Ms. coverage of domestic violence issues.