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

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • morgan

    Has it ever occurred to any one that the men who are committing the rape may be the crazy ones? Slapping a false diagnosis on a woman who has just been sexually assaulted is really un fair. I don’t understand what goes through some peoples heads, you work for the military to help your country and others, but you rape women that are technically on your own team. The military definitely has some work to do.

  • Callie

    So, this certainly sounds like it could be gaslighting. But we’ve also seen some statistics lately (as well as a whole ton of anecdotal evidence) that rapists often deliberately target women who have personality or mental disorders, because they know that these women are less likely to be believed when they attempt to report the rape. Does anyone other than me think this could be a factor? I mean, obviously a lot is screwed up about the military is handling this, and it certainly doesn’t sound like this is the case for every woman, but I can’t help thinking there might be a correlation there.

  • Alison

    Grr, this is so…angry-making. The idea that they don’t even want to confront the problem of sexual assault and that they care so little about the victims not just to deny them justice but to slap a “crazy” sticker on them and shoo them away, likely ensuring even more trauma and suffering in their lives…I just can’t even. This should NOT be the way we treat anyone, let alone veterans. This sure doesn’t scream “American exceptionalism” to me :(

  • Dan

    Interesting that CNN asserts that “pre-existing medical condition” grants an Entry Level Separation regardless of time in service, when the actual policy is different. Medical discharges result in an Honorable character of service, which retains GI bill benefits.

    Also, adjustment disorder and personality disorder aren’t qualifying reasons for a medical discharge.

    What’s the part of the story which is being deliberately withheld?

  • Brüno

    Its even worse when a woman serving abroad is raped by a local, say a German. Then there is zero chance of a case being opened in the first place.

  • Kaitlin

    This is just crazy and absolutely dumb. I am so angry I am quit speechless. I hate that they discharge them and then they are out of a job and have claimed to be crazy. So basically they are screwed. They are going to go back home and everyone is going to look at them like the crazy girl with a personality disorder who claimed rape for pity. They are going to think she had sex and regrets who it was with so she tried to claim rape. That is the things that our women go through in the military? They aren’t appreciated for their services and being strong young women who are willing to go into the military and fight for our country. People disgust me and how just because you are a woman you are tossed to the side like you are nothing when something goes wrong. Oh you are just crazy and shouldn’t have come in the military anyway so here you go, we will discharge you and release you of the pressure of being here but we need a reason so we are going to call you crazy. Sounds like a fricking awesome plan. These women are trying to help everyone in this country and they are being punished when the men who are so “great” next to them are raping them and the women are the crazy ones? I don’t understand. Then they get to lose everything they had because they don’t have a service related injury so it just doesn’t count for everything but being crazy. Wow. What is our world coming to?

    • Devan Harrington

      This is just another example of how, in a patriarchal society, women are seen as less than capable of having independent thought. I’m sure that they weren’t evaluated by a woman, or had the option of a second opinion by a woman. It seems to me that these women should get themselves together and find a lawyer. I see a class action lawsuit in the future.