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Victims of military rape struggle profoundly

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 2:40 p.m. MST

A convoy of soldiers crosses the border from Iraq into Kuwait, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011.

Maya Alleruzzo, Associated Press

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On Thursday the New York Times ran the story of Tiffany Jackson, a female veteran grappling with the effects of military sexual trauma. Jackson was violently raped by a commanding officer while deployed with the United States Air Force in South Korea. Returning home, Jackson struggled keep work and control her anger. Her life unravelled when she began abusing drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with her grief and pain about the assault.

Jackson's experience is not unique among female service members. One in three military women has been sexually assaulted, compared to one in six civilian women, according to the Department of Defense. According to calculations by Huffington Post, "a servicewoman was nearly 180 times more likely to have become a victim of military sexual assault (MSA) in the past year than to have died while deployed during the last 11 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Mental health experts find that among victims of military sexual assault, drug abuse, homelessness and post-traumatic stress are particularly acute. For example, the Department of Labor found that nearly 90 percent of homeless female veterans were victims of sexual assault by a fellow serviceman.

In his Aacademy Award-nominated documentary, "The Invisible War," filmmaker Kirby Dick explores the ways that sexual violence against women in the military is particularly traumatic. Some of the victims he interviewed said that "units in the military are like families and when someone you trust with your life violates you, it is hard to feel safe."

Like Jackson, many of the women Dick interviewed indicated that they were assaulted by their commanding officer.

"I am supposed to report the rape to my commanding officer," said one servicewoman who was victimized while serving with the United States Coast Guard, "but he's the one who did it."

Data from the Department of Defense shows that very few reported assaults actually make it to court martial. For example, in 2011, a total of 3,192 incidents of sexual assault were reported by service members. Only 240 went to trial.

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