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How Can We Protect Women In The Military From Sexual Misconduct?

Seher Sikandar

Anuradha Bhagwati, the daughter of two economists, was in graduate school at Columbia University when she decided to enter the Marine Corps.

There, she encountered persistent, galling sexual harassment and backbreaking training.

She writes about the experience in her new memoir, “Unbecoming.”

Navy veteran Jerri Bell wrote about “Unbecoming’ for The Military Times:

She remembers an inebriated male lieutenant who climbs into her roommate’s bed. Bhagwati listens while she declines help, persuading the man to not rape her “as if she were negotiating a hostage release,” before escorting him back to his own room.

When both the men and women in the platoon close ranks to protect the man from sexual assault accusations, she learns that servicewomen face two choices: play along by acting like nothing is wrong, or suffer privately and keep quiet.

When she complains about an instructor who told the class the “if you can’t fight it, just relax and enjoy it” rape joke, a captain hearing her out advises Bhagwati to pick her battles against military culture — and this one wasn’t it.

Of course, Bhagwati and her colleagues are not alone in experiencing a hostile culture toward women, especially women of color, in the military.

Here’s how Kate Hendricks Thomas, a former Marine, wrote about just some of the misconduct she says she experienced during her service.

The Marines in my unit took to carrying spray paint with me aboard the forward operating base near Fallujah. Spray paint sounds like an odd thing to carry in your cargo pocket, but I needed it to cover increasingly detailed and explicit drawings of me that decorated every port-a-john on the base. We were in Iraq, but a significant number of Marines in other units had time to bring their Sharpie markers to the johns — the interior surface of all the bathrooms had graphic pictures of me in sexual positions. Written off to the side were notes about what each contributor would like to do to me. It got dark, perverse, and crazy, hence the spray paint. I laughed at the time and gave the “artists” points for creativity.

And Senator Martha McSally recently said she survived a sexual assault while she served in the Air Force.

During a subcommittee hearing when she disclosed this, McSally described the process of coming forward about her rape as if “the system was raping [her] all over again.”

McSally said that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan agreed to form a task force focused on eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the armed forces.

How can we better protect members of the armed services from the violence that comes from inside their own organization?

We talk to Anuradha Bhagwati and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) about it.

Produced by Kathryn Fink.


Anuradha Bhagwati, Former U.S. Marine Captain; author, “Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience”; @AnuBhagwati

Rep. Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative (D), Maine’s 1st Congressional district; @chelliepingree

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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