New book forces the military to look at sexual misbehavior and abuse

Afghanistan-Capt. Nichola Goddard in the Shah Wali Kot district during Operation Peacemaker, an effort launched in March to disrupt Taliban activities and win alliances among village leaders. Photograph by: Edmonton Journal, Merlin Archive

One subject that has escaped exploration is military sexual trauma. This week a new book has brought it to public attention because the book is based on letters home by Canada’s first female officer killed in battle. At first the media swarmed like vultures, but some like journalist Amy Minsky of Postmeadia News have dug for deeper, more balanced facts.

Minsky reports that despite the relatively low number of cases provided by the Canadian military police, one researcher has suggested that women in the military are not comfortable talking about or reporting incidents of sexual abuse or harassment. Examples of the American experience clearly show we need to provide a forum where our service women and men and vets can feel safe enough to share what has happened to them at home on base and on the battlefield.

In defence of the Canadian Forces, many sexual abuse cases are never publicly disclosed but those found guilty are dishonorably discharged. And not only service women have been affected. Reported incidents from Afghanistan reveal young Canadian and coalition soldiers have also been sexually targeted by Afghan soldiers.

To make sure acceptable standards of behavior are maintained, the Canadian Department of National Defence recently made examples of our highest-ranking commanding officers accused of sexual misconduct in Afghanistan. They were ordered home under investigation. Those days when generals like Eisenhower in WWII could engage his mistress as his driver are gone. The same rules apply equally: all for one and one for all. 

Here then is Amy Minsky’s report.

OTTAWA — The Canadian military has investigated just five reports of sexual assault in Afghanistan since 2004, with only one investigation leading to a guilty verdict — a number that contrasts sharply with the picture painted in a new book about a female soldier.

In one of her letters, Capt. Nichola Goddard, who in 2006 became the first Canadian female combat death, refers to a week in the camp during which there were six rapes in one week. Other letters, many of which were sent to her husband, Jason Beam, illustrate an environment where women working on the base were frequent targets of sexual harassment, constantly being ogled.

“I don’t want to speculate on what Cpt. Goddard wrote in a letter to her husband. It’s sensitive,” said Maj. Paule Poulin, spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the investigative arms of the military police. “But you have to remember, Canadians are not the only ones at Kandahar Airfield. It’s a multinational environment.”

Thousands of people, from a number of different countries, are stationed at the camp, Poulin said, describing it as a “small village.”

In 2006, the year Goddard was in Afghanistan, one female Canadian Forces member reported a case of sexual assault, Poulin said. Because the suspect in that case was an Afghan male, the case was referred to the Afghan National Police, who charged the man with sexual assault and later found him guilty.

Another female forces member filed a report in 2009 for an incident that allegedly occurred at a forward operating base in 2006. The suspect in that case, also an Afghan male, was never identified because too much time had passed since the alleged assault, and the forces member wasn’t able to provide an adequate physical description, Poulin said.

The three other investigations — reported in 2005, 2007 and 2008 — were closed after the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service determined they were unfounded.

In an interview on Monday, Karen Davis, a retired lieutenant-commander and current defence scientist at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, discussed an ongoing project that encourages women with deployment experience to record their accounts.

“A couple of years ago, I had focused quite heavily on the women coming back from Afghanistan, trying to get them to write, but there was a fair bit of reluctance,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure where it was coming from, but I knew we were up against a barrier, trying to get women to talk about their experiences in Afghanistan.”

A 2008 report from the Canadian Forces Marshal Provost indicated 170 incidents of sexual assault in the military that year, down from 176 in 2007 and 201 in 2006. The data includes all reported incidents, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. 

@ Copyright (c) Postmedia News, Amy Minsky

About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, emotional trauma, Homecoming Vets, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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