Feminism / Health / Politics

Doonesbury Dedicated a Week to Talking About Sexual Assault in the Military

In case you missed it, cartoonist Gary Trudeau featured Doonesbury flashbacks last week to dedicate his strips to discussing sexual assault in the military. 16 panels, of course, doesn’t even cover how bat shit insane the cases of rape in the military are (both toward US soldiers as well as to women abroad). But Doonesbury has been syndicated for over 40 years, and Trudeau does not shy from controversy (though, frankly, I don’t see why this would be considered controversial).

Mel: Are women "hassled" a lot in the military? Truthfully, yes, and for many it's not just harassment. There are now an estimated 1900 rapes and other sexual assaults every year. 20% of female vets have been sexually attacked while serving. Girl: Whoa...Really? I've always planned on joining...What's the math on NOT getting raped? Mel: You're gonna have to do it yourself. Mel: Miss, if you're thinking of joining, you should at least be aware of what you're up against...If you are assaulted while serving, don't expect your commander to be sympathetic. The way the system is set up, you're highly unlikely to receive justice. In fact, if you report rape, your career is almost certainly over. DB: I had no idea this was an interest of hers. Friend: Really? You guys should talk.Mel: Since only a tiny percentage are ever convicted, sexual predators feel to attack with impunity. Why are so few punished? Well, for one reason, victims have to report up the chain of command, so few of them report. Why? 33% of victims don't report because their superior is a friend of the rapist. 25% don't report because he IS the rapist! DB: Well. That was certainly unexpected. Mel: ... DB: So what's going on honey? Mel: Nothing. [thinking: "Dude you're a human IED."]

Most people I know (myself included) haven’t read a newspaper comic strip since high school. So here’s some context: What you might not know is the uniformed speaker at the podium is longtime Doonesbury character, Melissa Wheeler. Her character was introduced in early 2007 as a wounded veteran and a victim of undisclosed sexual trauma, which was later revealed to be command rape. The strip chronicled Wheeler’s healing, and after treatment, she decided to reenlist, returning to Iraq, where she became the comic strip’s most prominent active-duty voice since Ray Hightower’s character from the early 90s. While in Iraq, her behavior remained informed by her previous experiences; she bristled at unwanted male attention mid-deployment, and descended into an understandable fit of paranoia at an officer’s unexpected summons.

People who are sexually assaulted in the military are up to nine times more likely to develop PTSD, including combat PTSD; noncombat assaulted military personnel were four times more likely. What’s unique about the comic is that Melissa’s character arc doesn’t end at the assault. She’s a victim of rape, duh, but she’s also a survivor of it. In fact, most of the conflict we see happens afterward, because there’s still so much to contend with.


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