Is the military labeling rape survivors as “crazy” to get rid of them?

Last year, 3,191 military sexual assaults were reported and the Pentagon estimates the actual number was about 19,000. And, although the military claims to have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault in the ranks, the it has long been accused of not doing enough to address the problem.

Now, according to a new report from CNN, it seems one of the ways they’re sweeping the problem under the rug may be by labeling the survivors as “crazy” and booting them from military. Interviews and records obtained by CNN suggest a pattern where servicewomen come forward after being assaulted, their complaints are ignored, and then they’re diagnosed with a personality disorder and discharged.

From 2001 to 2010, the military discharged more than 31,000 service members because of personality disorder–and a disproportionate number of them were women. For example, in the army, 16% of all soldiers are women, but women constitute 24% of all personality disorder discharges; in the Marines, women made up 7% of the Corps and 14% of personality disorder discharges.

The military says it doesn’t keep track of how many of those discharges involve sexual assault, but interviews suggest a pattern. Anu Bhagwati of Service Women’s Action Network explains, “It’s also extremely convenient to slap a false diagnosis on a young woman…and then just get rid of them so you don’t have to deal with that problem in your unit. And, unfortunately, a lot of sexual assault survivors are considered problems.”

There’s good reason to question these personal disorder diagnoses. By definition, a personality disorder is a long-standing mental health problem but none of the women profiled in the article had such a history. Former Marine Stephanie Schroeder said, “I’m not crazy. I am actually relatively normal.” Schroeder had been punched and raped by a fellow Marine and then told when she reported it, “Don’t come bitching to me because you had sex and changed your mind.” In fact, psychologists aren’t supposed to make a personality disorder diagnosis in the immediate aftermath a traumatic event–such as, say, a sexual assault–or when another disorder–like, say PTSD caused by a sexual assault or by, you know, being in the fucking military–could be responsible for the symptoms.

And since the military considers a personality disorder to be a pre-existing condition, victims don’t get veterans benefits for it as they would if it were a “service-related disability.” They also lose their education benefits under the GI Bill. So basically, women who served in the military, were assaulted by their fellow soldiers, betrayed again by a military hierarchy that ignored the crime, are now being told that they’re out of a job and can’t even get help for the trauma they’ve suffered because they were crazy all along.

Pic via CNN

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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