When I first started researching this project, reading books like 'Horror in the East (by Laurence Rees) I was immediately struck by the connection between a brutal military training system and soldiers comitting acts of extreme sexual violence - well, it's not difficult to see how one can lead very easily to the other.....
Michael T. Crawford a Communications assistant, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape; Public affairs specialist, Army Reserve writing in the Huffington Post (04. 14.2014) declared that
"Rates of sexual assault in the military are staggering. Our service men and women deserve better than this. A culture of hypermasculinity -- strength and stoicism -- breeds the sense of power and entitlement that drives sexual assault.
When an institution has a blind spot for an issue, it's hard to create real solutions. One ineffective military policy attempting to the address the issue is its risk reduction training. The practice assumes that all soldiers must take steps to reduce their risk of falling into harm's way. This mentality places blame squarely on the victim for everything from being shot to being raped.
Commercials, training and command messages not only reinforce an old and dangerous frame of mind that only a victim is to blame, but also illustrate a sad reality: The military can't seem to free itself from its own thinking."
One of the artists in the Intimate Transgressions exhibition - Nermine Hammam, who is Egyptian and who witnessed the drama unfolding in Tahrir Square, had another interesting insight into the military mindset - but from the point of view of the young inexperienced soldiers, who were pressed into service in the course of the Arab Spring in Cairo, 2011.
She writes that
"Watching these young soldiers in ill-fitting army fatigues, astride incongruous military hardware, I wondered: What is power and who, ultimately, wields it? Then it dawned on me: Power is a myth, a construct. It resides only in the images that we hold of it, rather than in its inherent reality.
During that time, the power of the military was symbiotic: a frantic to and fro between army and civilians. Power conferred by onlookers, endorsed by long-held beliefs and projected back on those who looked on it, as fact. Soldiers and citizens, alike, engaged in that transference of power: from us to them and back.
Growing up, we learned that power has a certain ‘look’. Now, I see that it is an elaborate performance complete with props. What transforms wide-eyed youths into the loaded symbol of the army is a carefully choreographed performance of uniforms and equipment, a strength in numbers, a united display of force."
Hammam recognises the vulnerability and the 'manipulability' of these young soldiers. So how do we warn them of the danger of chasing this 'look' of power, of losing sight of their humanity and their moral compass?
If we are serious about addressing the issue of extreme sexual violence used as a military strategy then we need to inform ourselves about what the military does in our name and put pressure on our governments to instigate change.