Female Marine vets say sexist culture put them at risk
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WASHINGTON — At Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., female recruits learn to blouse their new camouflage trousers above their combat boots. They learn to low crawl under barbed wire and shoot an M-16. They learn to fight. And, several female Marines told Stars and Stripes, they learn that they must decide which of the three types of Marine women they will be: a slut, a dyke or a bitch.
“You are told that pretty much any contact with male Marines makes you a slut,” said Katie Appeldorn, who served in the Marine Corps from 2006 to 2010. “It is automatically assumed she is sleeping around. Dyke isn’t necessarily a lesbian, but she is thought to be.
“Bitch is what you are told to be. It basically means you don’t give the men around you an inch.”
The DOD and the individual services have spent hundreds of hours over the past decade talking tough about sexual assault and sexual harassment — vowing to hold commanders and attackers responsible and stressing a “zero tolerance” policy. But Appeldorn and other female Marines said they learned early that there is also zero tolerance for women perceived to be “asking for it.”
DOD statistics show that few accused attackers are charged and even fewer are convicted. Of the 2,933 people accused in sexual assault investigations completed by the Defense Department in fiscal 2011, cases against 349 of them were determined by commanders to be “unfounded,” and 486 were outside the DOD’s legal authority because the attacker was a civilian or foreign national, the attacker was unknown, a civilian or foreign law enforcement authority was prosecuting the case or the attacker died or deserted, according to the yearly sexual assault report released by the DOD. Outcomes were still pending for 580.
In their sexual assault prevention guidance, the various services cite outside estimates that suggest the percentage of false allegations ranges from 2 percent to 10 percent.
Sexual assault-related courts-martial charges were preferred — which means someone was charged — in 489 cases, and just 191 people were convicted.
The remaining investigations had a wide range of outcomes, from commanders deciding to take no action at all to administrative discharges or charges preferred for other crimes.
The most recent scandal involving sexual assault in the military comes from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where at least 43 female trainees who went through boot camp from 2009 to 2011 reported being sexually assaulted or raped by 17 male instructors.
Earlier this year, a group of eight Navy and Marine Corps veterans sued a collection of current and former military leaders, alleging that the military fostered a culture of sexual harassment and too often punished those reporting abuse. Nineteen soldiers and airmen filed a similar suit in September.
In the Marine Corps, several female veterans not associated with the lawsuit said that culture began to reveal itself at Parris Island, where all female recruits go through basic training, and persisted throughout their time in the service.
Kaitlyn Scarboro served in the Marines from 2004 to 2012 — and said she often heard the “slut, dyke or bitch” comment. Once, when she went into a squad bay at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to interview a recruit for a story as a combat correspondent, the drill instructor decided to make her visit into a lesson.
“THIS is a female Marine,” he said, gesturing to Scarboro. “They are all nasty. I expect you to stay away from them when you get to the fleet.”
He glanced toward her and said, “That’s just the way it is.”
Scarboro was offended, but didn’t let the comment affect her.
“I brushed it off because I thought it was an innocent part of Marine Corps culture,” she said. “Like so many of the outdated traditions we hold on to, sexism was just something that had been passed down through generations of Marines.”
The harassment and abuse didn’t stop with rude comments. Scarboro said she was sexually assaulted while she was stationed in San Diego, and shortly after reporting it, was approached by a senior Marine. “After asking if I was physically OK, he proceeded to explain to me that if I hadn’t walked around in short shorts, being friendly with everyone and smiling all the time, and instead kept to myself like he had advised when I checked in, then none of this would have happened to me,” she said. “He suggested I spend more time alone in my room, and not so much time hanging out with the guys on the catwalks or in the courtyards, because I was just making myself a target.
“I was terribly offended that it was implied that I was either to lock myself up in my room, or expect myself to become a target to my brothers-in-arms.”
One young woman told Stars and Stripes her female Marine drill instructors in 2006 were always telling the recruits, “Don’t go home and be ‘that girl’” — the girl who “gets drunk, has sex, changes her mind and then cries rape.”
The woman, who asked not to be named, took the message to heart. After boot camp, she went home on leave before heading to her military occupational specialty school. When she had too much to drink at the Marine Corps ball, her recruiter offered to escort her up to his hotel room so she could lie down.
Once they got to his room, the woman said, the recruiter raped her.
Terrified that she would be seen as “that girl” the drill instructors were always talking about, she didn’t tell anyone.
“I was raped, and I was drunk and 18,” the woman said. “I tried to forget, but I couldn’t.”
Later, she confided in a woman who had given a briefing on sexual assault, and the briefer told her she was obligated to report the incident, even though the victim asked her not to.
The recruiter was never punished, the woman said, though she later learned he was married and had a reputation at his station for having relationships with recruits.
After the young woman arrived at her duty station, a senior enlisted female Marine gathered all the new female Marines together to warn them of the dangers of living in the barracks: Don’t ever leave your door unlocked, she said. Never assume you’re safe.
Another young woman, who had served in the Coast Guard before joining the Marines, said she was shocked at the sexual harassment she experienced from female drill instructors at Parris Island.
Like the other Marines, this woman said her drill instructors told them not to be “disgusting whores” or “nasties.” They also had an obvious disdain for any makeup.
The woman, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said she was wearing eyeliner, which was allowed, on family day. The senior drill instructor “gave me first fire watch and kept me away from my family for the first few hours because she didn’t like the color,” she said.
In front of the other recruits and their families — more than 100 people, the young woman estimates — the drill instructor told her “to wash the garbage off my face because I no longer worked in my old profession — insinuating that I was a prostitute.”
Parris Island and Marine Corps officials declined to comment on the specific allegations, but said such behavior would not be tolerated.
“I can assure you that if leadership were aware of such comments they would be handled immediately,” said Lt. Jean Durham, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. “All recruits and drill instructors, both male and female, are taught to treat each other with dignity and respect at all times.”
Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos, in an email response to questions from Stars and Stripes, said that he could not comment on what these women may have been told, but that “our female Marines do wear makeup, running shorts, occasionally date or marry male Marines and all of this is considered to be routine, normal behavior.”
“I would be very disappointed to hear that one of my drill instructors would be passing guidance to the contrary,” Amos said. “What is discussed at recruit training is our core values, our heritage, and who we are as Marines.”
Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine officer and current executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, said the Marine Corps’ practice of separating women from men in recruit training sets men and women up for failure. That, plus the difference in physical standards and gender-restricted career fields, reinforces negative stereotypes about women, Bhagwati said.
“You are assumed to be less worthy than your peers,” she said. “Women Marines are harassed and discriminated against every day in the Marine Corps.”
In late September, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed the military services to beef up sexual assault prevention and response training for prospective commanders and senior enlisted leaders, and to assess how the services select, train and oversee basic training instructors.
“Department surveys indicate our youngest, newest servicemembers are the most likely to experience a sexual assault,” Panetta wrote in a memo to the secretaries and chiefs of the military services. “We owe our people a safe and secure initial military training environment. … We must also verify that the policies and procedures we have in place deter those who would ignore standards and engage in inappropriate behavior and criminal activity.”
Scarboro acknowledges that the military is taking steps to increase awareness and prevent sexual assault and said any moves in the right direction are welcome. But, she said, what’s needed is dramatic culture change.
“The problem with confronting people who make these comments is that the most you will get out of it is mockery and reprisal by superiors,” she said. “You are just one girl who got offended by the comment, while so many others adhere to it.”