It being two days before Christmas, this is an odd time to discuss rape and its relationship to Poems from the Battlefield, but perhaps it is a kind of Christmas gift to myself. Articulating the theme, while not easy, is cathartic on some level, especially since I have just read this article on women in the military and their struggles with harassment, sexual abuse, rape and PTSD.
I often thought about enlisting but never could. So while I have never been on a battlefield other than those I have roamed, my heart and mind are with these women, especially in the sense that anyone who has been raped has fought a battle. And often, I think that women who have been raped by someone in the military experience a stronger feeling of betrayal and abandonment particular to the crime. On some level, we believe that soldiers are, or at least should be, honorable–more so, perhaps, than others.
In my poem “Meeting the Regiment,” I describe my stumbling upon about 50 re-enactors “marching the furious routes of old convictions.” In a remote field at Manassas National Battlefield Park, expecting no one but deer, I was suddenly alone with a troop of men dressed in military garb, and I have to say, never having encountered such a thing , I was stunned and afraid. I froze. I didn’t know what to do or expect.
But…they stopped. And though one frontman grinned at my confusion, they held their formation, waiting for me to pass. A Yankee (and a solitary woman at that), I had to trust “my fate to Confederates.”
As I passed, they tipped their hats and lowered “chivalrous” eyes.
I was safe.
Though women cannot and should not expect chivalry on the battlefield (and I doubt they do), I strongly believe they should expect the same kind of respect one soldier would give to another. They should expect loyalty. They should be able to trust their comrades.
The man who raped me was a former Marine. It took me a long time to get over not only the trauma itself, but the horrible feeling that I had been betrayed by a person who represented those I had once wished to serve with, someone who once claimed to protect our country which includes people like me.
I realize not all men in the military are rapists and that predators give servicemen a bad name. Predators can be found anywhere, after all.
But rape is an act of power and anger, not sex. A predator who already has that power of strength and presumably honorable status, but who uses that power against a woman, changes a woman forever.
Recently, my family, I and several groups sent care packages to a platoon in Afghanistan. Of the 25 in the platoon, 5 are women.
I hope those women know how much they are needed by everyone–their fellow soldiers and us.