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Rape and sexual violence in the ranks

NB: this topic involves disturbing material that might be triggering. If you are concerned about tackling this content, please talk to me (or email me) confidentially before class.

Over the past decade, many American commentators have described escalating numbers of rapes, along with incidents of sexual assault and harassment within the ranks, as an 'epidemic.' In this seminar, we'll investigate the variety of crimes related to sex/violence/power that commonly occur in the US military, leaving a profoundly negative imprint on the professional experience of a significant proportion of female personnel in uniform, as well as male victims of rape and assault. We'll consider why military attempts to tackle these problems seem to have done little to stamp out the behaviours in question and the attitudes that give rise to them.

Indicative seminar questions:

  • why are crimes of a sexually violent and/or harassing nature so pervasive in the US military? Why has the higher incidence of sexual violence suffered by Black women in uniform not been more thoroughly explored?
  • would you agree that rape and sexual assault in the military-- and survivors' efforts to seek justice-- have constituted an 'invisible war'? If that characterization was true in the past, do you think it remains apt today?
  • what have the US armed forces done to address issues of sexual violence? Why have these initiatives failed?
  • is institutional change/reform possible, and what would that require?

Required listening/readings:

Begin by listening to this podcast (36 mins) from Sept. 2021 by the Council on Foreign Relations on 'Sexual Assault in the US Military'

Helen Benedict, The Lonely Soldier, ch.11, 'I Wasn't Carrying the Knife for the Enemy, I was Carrying it for the Guys on My Own Side,' pp.163-75 (2009) e-book

Rachel A. Breslin, Samantha Daniel and Kimberley Hilton, 'Black Women in the Military: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates of Sexual Assault,' Public Administration Review, 82: 3 (May/June 2022): 410-19

Lorraine Bayard de Volo and Lynn K. Hall, ‘“I Wish All the Ladies Were Holes in the Road”: The US Air Force Academy and the Gendered Continuum of Violence,” Signs: Journal of Women and Culture, 40: 4 (2015): 865-89

Supplementary reading:

Military Sexual Assault Fact SheetLink opens in a new window (compiled by Protect Our Defenders)

Primary Source: The Invisible War (dir. Kirby Dick, 2012; watch on AmazonPrime or YouTube) Note: this is NOT compulsory viewing for the seminar, but you may choose to write the first assignment about this documentary.

Heather Antecol and Deborah Cobb-Clark, 'Men, Women and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military,' Gender Issues 19 (Winter 2001): 3-18

Aaron Belkin, ‘Spam Filter: Gay Rights and the Normalization of Male-Male Rape in the US Military’, Radical History Review 100 (Winter 2008): 180-85

Bridgit Burns et al, ‘Military Sexual Trauma Among US Servicewomen during Deployment: A Qualitative Study’, American Journal of Public Health, 104, 2 (Feb. 2014): 345-349

Josh Cerretti, ‘Rape as a Weapon of War(riors): The Militarisation of Sexual Violence in the United States, 1990-2000’, Gender & History 28, 3 (Nov 2016): 794-812

Department of Defense, Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies

Robert Draper, ‘The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault,’ New York Times Magazine, Nov. 26, 2014,

Elizabeth L. Hillman and Kate Walsham, ‘Rape, Reform, and Reaction: Gender and Sexual Violence in the U.S. Military, in Kara Vuic (ed), The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military (2018) e-book, pp.287-300

Darlene M. Iskra, Women in the United States Armed Forces: A Guide to the Issues (2010) e-book, ch. 5, ‘Gender, Sexuality, and Harassment’

Maj. Katherine A. Krul, ‘The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program—In Need of More Prevention,’ The Army Lawyer, 41 (Nov. 2008): 41-60

Cheryl Lawhorne-Scott et al, Sexual Assault in the Military: A Guide for Victims and Families (2014)

Andrew R Morral et al, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the US Military, 4 vols (RAND, 2016) e-book

Terri Spahr Nelson & Carson L. Jenkins, For Love of Country: Confronting Rape and Sexual Harassment in the US Military (2002) e-book

Meghan O’Malley, ‘All is Not Fair in Love and War: An Exploration of the Military Masculinity Myth,’ De Paul Journal of Women, Gender and the Law, 5: 1 (Fall 2015): 1-40

William L. O'Neill, 'Sex Scandals in the Gender-Integrated Military,' Gender Issues 16, 1-2(Winter/Spring 1998): 64-85

Dave Philipps, 'Six Men Tell Their Stories of Sexual Assault in the US Military,' New York Times, Sept. 10, 2019, 

Kristen Zaleski, Understanding and Treating Military Sexual Trauma (2018), ch.3, ‘Rape and Roll Call: How Military Culture and Military Law Affect the Immediate Aftermath of MST’, e-book