Cpl. Juanita Cummings, an 11-year veteran of the Canadian armed forces, is fighting mad. Recalling a tour of duty in the Middle East in 1996, Cummings describes how she was one of 25 women camped alongside 150 men in a military outpost roughly a twohour drive from the nearest town. Could there be, she wonders, a better setting for the sexual predation of females? Yet Cummings, who served as the camp’s harassment officer, received no reports of sexual harassment—let alone the sort of vicious rapes detailed by the magazine. “Putting rape on the cover along with the picture of the woman in uniform did what it was supposed to—sell magazines and make money for Maclean’s,” she says. “I think it’s unfair and I’m totally pissed off.”
In the wake of the May 25, 1998, Maclean’s coverstory, many members of the Canadian Forces—both male and female—responded angrily to what they saw as an unfair portrayal of the military as a breeding ground for sexual abuse against women. Perhaps none were as outspoken as a group of Halifax-based female naval personnel, who came forward to declare that the story bore little resemblance to their own experiences. Last Friday morning,
11 women sat down for a freewheeling 90-minute discussion with Maclean’s Atlantic Bureau Chief Brian Bergman. His report:
Cummings’s outrage was shared by all the women who gathered last week in a military boardroom overlooking Halifax harbor. The women did not doubt the veracity of the rape victims interviewed by Maclean's and expressed sympathy
for their plight. Most also agreed that sexual assaults continue to take place on military bases and aboard naval ships, though they say such attacks are very rare. Other forms of harassment— lewd comments, unwelcome sexual advances—also persist. But they are far less prevalent than in earlier years, the women say, and commanding officers are much quicker to crack down. “What was once considered teasing and fun is no longer tolerated,” says Chief Petty Officer Maureen Draffin, a 25-year veteran.
What rankled most, say the women, were Maclean's assertions that the military culture is one of “unbridled promiscuity” in which females are “often little more than game for sexual predators.” They say this does not square with their own experience, where the vast majority of men treat them with respect. "I feel very bad for the men in this situation,” says CpI. Karen Westcott. “I mean, what’s next? Now, they are all rapists. They are going home and being called rapists by their neighbors.”
In fact, the women say one of their greatest fears is that, on the heels of the Somalia debacle and other military-related scandals, the perception of rampant sexual abuse will convince younger Canadians—both women and men— that a career in the Forces is not a respectable option. “I’ve got a 16-yearold cousin who is set to follow in my footsteps,” says CpI. Danielle Robichaud. “Up until last week, she saw the military as a wonderful opportunity. What is she going to think now? Is she going to be scared? I don’t appreciate the message this is sending out.”
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