Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sexual abuse in the military is a problem for rural women

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: The subject of sexual assault in the military is a little out of my usual writing realm of food and agriculture, but as a rural woman I am thrilled it has come out. My rural neighbors make up a disproportionate number of military entrants and for years we’ve heard from our girls that, although they begin with the best of intentions, the highest of hopes, they end up in what one told me was a “meat market.” Rural kids make up about 44% of military recruits even though we are only 20% of the general population. Our kids are, in fact, targeted by recruiters. Sharply dressed fellows with successful track records and snazzy videos come to our schools. The army’s rodeo team performs at public sales. In just a few days the “Blue Angels,” a Navy and Air Force demonstration team, will fly over my Missouri neighborhood in a Memorial Day salute that’s free to the public and widely promoted on all the radio and TV stations. Here’s what the National Priorities Project found out: “Rural counties dominated a list of the top 100 counties with the highest military recruitment rates in 2004 and 2008 . . . Their analysis looked at the Army's recruitment rate per 1,000 people aged 18-24 in each county in the U.S. The highest rate in the nation in 2004 was from Mineral County, Montana, with three other counties from that state in the top 20. Other states in the list included Kansas with three counties, Texas with three, and Nebraska with two. Rural counties in Mississippi, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, and Kentucky round out the list. That year, more than 44 percent of military recruits came from rural areas, according to Pentagon figures. In contrast, only 14 percent came from major cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and the West (24 percent).” My favorite high school and college kids, upon graduating, will talk about their hopes and plans and then say something like, “and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll join the military.” For the poorest, often those from single-parent homes, a military career is their highest and best hope. Indeed, their role models may be retired military guys since those folks retire to the country, often to farms the family could keep because the kids left farming. It’s amazing any of the youngsters get out with their humanity intact. Their first weeks are spent in total isolation with their units, banned from contact with family and friends. Then, bonded to their buddies, the training intensifies. Protection of the unit includes a grounding in homophobia and, since they don’t know where they’ll serve yet, the kids learn about all their enemies: “we good, they bad, we have big guns.” In this kind of environment, women are almost always the victims. Smaller, optimistic, trained from an early age to be pleasing, the result is inevitable. Kudos to the folks who are speaking out. They are the courageous ones in America’s incessant wars.

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