More money than ever is being spent to convince girls to join the military in the US. But reports show that they actually are becoming victims of sexual assault at the hands of recruiters even before they take their military oath of allegiance.
Aimee Allison, a former soldier in the US army says there is a deep problem of widespread abuse and a system that protects the criminals.
Recently, the Marine Corps agreed to revamp its recruiting practices in Northern California and pay $200,000 to two young women who claimed they were raped during a slumber party at a Ukiah county recruiting office.
The women were in high school, 17 years old, and interested in joining the military in late 2004 when they claimed the two recruiters, Sgts. Joseph Dunzweiler and Brian Fukushima, raped them. Both recruiters were demoted after court-martial proceedings but were acquitted of the most serious charges.
The unusual settlement, signed by a federal judge in San Francisco, requires notices to be posted at recruiting stations throughout the region advising potential recruits how to reach a confidential advocate if they feel a recruiter has behaved inappropriately, and explaining that young women have the right to work with a female recruiter. The settlement also requires female supervision at slumber parties with female recruits.
One of the young women told a news agency last year that they were drinking and playing cards at a recruiting station slumber party when Fukushima climbed into her sleeping bag on the floor of the station and took off her pants. Two other recruiters were having sex with two of her friends in the same room, she said.
She said that she met Dunzweiler in late 2004, and that he immediately began flirting with her, asking her out and sending her e-mails about how he wanted to "get her alone."
She said she believed Dunzweiler would prevent her from joining the Marines if she didn't have sex with him. The other plaintiff said in court documents that she was very drunk, had vomited and could not resist Fukushima's advances.
An Associated Press investigation published last year found that across all military services, one out of 200 frontline recruiters - the ones who deal directly with young people - was disciplined for sexual misconduct in 2005.
After widespread reports of rape, unwarranted jail threats, cheating drug tests and falsifying documents, thousands of recruiters were ordered to attend ethics training.
In California, it is legal to track convicted sex offenders. Communities sometimes use this data to run sex offenders out of town.
Yet, military recruiters who commit the same sexual offenses are rarely convicted in military or civilian courts. They are most often given administrative punishment such as reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay.
Compare this with highly publicized abuse cases involving Catholic priests, notes Ellison. Priests convicted of sexual crimes appear in the Megan's Law database. Recruiters given administrative punishment do not. Ironically, priests aren't fixtures in most public schools but military recruiters are.
Recruiters have unprecedented access to girls (and boys). In the wake of severe cuts to extra curricular activities and counseling in high schools, recruiters have filled the void and become a regular part of the school day. With the school's blessing, they give career advice in classrooms, take students on field trips, volunteer during football games and teach physical education. Recruiters can overcome a young person's hesitation to join the military in wartime based on the strength of their long-term relationship -- and this relationship most often begins at school.
Once trust is established, recruiters often take students off-campus to events like the recruitment station slumber party at which the Ukiah girls were brutalized. According to the AP report, sexual misconduct almost always takes place in recruiting stations, recruiters' apartments or government vehicles.
Says Allison, "I was once a 17-year-old Army recruit ill-prepared to navigate the male-dominated recruitment system. As I experienced, recruiters wield immense power over teens with their promises of special favors for choice assignments and the authority of their uniform. No one warned me that my comrades in arms might themselves be an enemy. When I was subjected to what can only be called an inappropriate gynecological exam at the downtown Oakland recruiting station, I was too intimidated to speak up for myself."
In March last, it was revealed that reports of sexual assaults involving members of the US military increased by 24 percent in 2006 over the previous year.
In an annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said the increase may have been due to a change in the military's policy, allowing victims to report alleged assaults confidentially.
"There were 2,947 total reports of alleged sexual assault cases involving members of the armed forces," the report said.
"Reports increased by 24 percent from 2005, which may reflect victims' increased confidence in the reporting structure," it said.
When female enlistment, making women now 20 percent of the entire military force, is likely to grow further, effective steps should be in place to protect them from their own fellow soldiers or superiors, activists insist.