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16 Dec, 2009 06:35

Rape within the ranks

American female soldiers step into war, facing the dangers of combat together, never imagining that the enemy could be standing by their side all along.

Startling figures straight from the US government show one out of three women soldiers are sexually assaulted within the ranks. Thus for them, fighting the enemy is not their only battle. The number of reported cases is on the rise and some victims are speaking out, in the hope more will be done to combat the problem.

“Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within” documents the stories of female soldiers, turned rape victims, at the hands of their fellow US comrades.

Filmmaker Mercedes Gallego says sex crimes in the military are common practice, because attackers rarely face investigation.

“Commanders do not encourage the women to come forward – or the opposite. They pretty much tell them to move on with their life,” says Mercedes Gallego, Rape in the Ranks filmmaker, adding, “that it won’t be good for their careers. They make them feel guilty and some of them have even been persecuted for coming forward and reporting it.”

Women account for 15% of US military personnel and are reportedly four times as likely to be raped when deployed in war zones.

Sexual assault in the military is a problem that is only getting worse. According to the US Pentagon, reported cases in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year have increased 26%. But that figure is only based upon the victims who actually come forward.

In 2004, army staff sergeant Sandra Lee was deployed to Iraq, rebuilding schools and fighting insurgents.

During her tour, she says a senior officer raped her twice but she never reported the crime.

“I had a job to do. I didn't have the time or mental capability to deal with something like that,” says Sandra. “You’re on alert 24-7 all day long. If I allowed myself to deal with it or think about it I don't think I would have been able to make it.”

The eight-year veteran now talks publicly about the assaults, as she battles veterans and military officials over medical assistance.

"The army thinks that I am worth nothing, but at this point I do not even care,” says Sandra Lee. “I am so tired of fighting. I’m trying to live my life as normally as possible that I just can't fight this one more thing.”

A Veterans’ Affairs communication director, James J Peters from VA Medical Center, declined RT’s interview request, writing quote, “I am not authorized to provide subject matter experts for foreign press.”

Lee says the army is trying to boot her out with a less-than-honorable discharge, after requesting a transfer off the battlefield. Countless other faces are fighting the issue in court, a conflict within those who once faced combat together.

Meanwhile, getting pregnant during military service has been prohibited and could result in a court martial, according to a new policy announced by the US Army General in Iraq.

He says female soldiers who become pregnant, along with those who impregnate them, will be sent home to face criminal prosecution.