YORK, Pa. - It took Diane Pickel Plappert six months to tell a counselor that she had been raped while on duty in Iraq. While time passed, the former Navy nurse disconnected from her children and her life slowly unraveled.
Carolyn Schapper says she was harassed in Iraq by a fellow Army National Guard soldier to the extent that she began changing clothes in the shower for fear he'd barge into her room unannounced — as he already had on several occasions.
Even as women distinguish themselves in battle alongside men, they're fighting off sexual assault and harassment. It's not a new consequence of war. But the sheer number of women serving today — more than 190,000 so far in Iraq and Afghanistan — is forcing the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to more aggressively address it.
The data that exists — incomplete and not up-to-date — offers no proof that women in the war zones are more vulnerable to sexual assault than other female service members, or American women in general. But in an era when the military relies on women for invaluable and difficult front-line duties, the threat to their morale, performance and long-term well-being is starkly clear.
Of the women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have walked into a VA facility, 15 percent have screened positive for military sexual trauma, The Associated Press has learned. That means they indicated that while on active duty they were sexually assaulted, raped, or were sexually harassed, receiving repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.
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