Standing up for those who can’t: Ever since last month’s Government Accountability Office report on sexual assault in the military,  some  prominent women have called the Pentagon to task for its response — including prominent members of the House Armed Services Committee. Last week, the committee finally was able to question Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office:

“Our civilian counterparts struggle with this as well,” [said Whitley.] ” I mean, there’s no way of knowing how many are out there. But hopefully, what we will be doing is creating a climate so that people will feel comfortable with coming forward.”

“A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who introduced a bill this summer to increase and encourage the investigation of prosecution of sexual assault and rape cases in the military and is attending today’s hearing.

The July 31 Government Accountability Office report also questioned other aspects of the military’s approach to sexual assault prevention and response, saying training programs lack consistent effectiveness; some local program coordinators are part-timers; some commanders do not support the program; and the Pentagon’s guidance suffers when applied to deployed and joint environments.

Last week’s hearings were hailed by journalist and author Helen Benedict,
author of the upcoming Beacon Press book The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq:

Of the 40 or so female veterans I have interviewed over the past two years, all but two said they were constantly sexually harassed by their comrades while they were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and many told me that the men were worse in groups than they were individually. Air Force Sgt. Marti Ribeiro, for example, told me that she was relentlessly harassed for all eight years of her service, both in training and during her deployments in 2003 and 2006:

“I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine. I had a senior non-commissioned officer harass me on a regular basis. He would constantly quiz me about my sex life, show up at the barracks at odd hours of the night and ask personal questions that no supervisor has a right to ask. I had a colonel sexually harass me in ways I’m too embarrassed to explain. Once my sergeant sat with me at lunch in the chow hall, and he said, ‘I feel like I’m in a fish bowl, the way all the men’s eyes are boring into your back.’ I told him, ‘That’s what my life is like.’

And Col. Ann Wright, a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves and former  U.S. diplomat, writes that neither the G.A.O. report or the hearings represent justice for women who’ve been raped and murdered on the battlefield — or for their families:

Since I posted on April 28 the article “Is There an Army Cover Up of the Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers,” the deaths of two more U.S. Army women in Iraq and Afghanistan have been listed as suicides—the Sept. 28, 2007, death of 30-year-old Spc. Ciara Durkin and the Feb. 22, 2008, death of 25-year-old Spc. Keisha Morgan. Both “suicides” are disputed by the families of the women. 

Since April 2008, five more U.S. military women have died in Iraq—three in noncombat-related incidents. Ninety-nine U.S., six British and one Ukrainian military women and 13 U.S. female civilians have been killed in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women and girls…The families of slain soldiers deserve the truth about how they served and how they died. A professional military should handle each case with utmost care and concern. Tragically, in the past seven years, too many families have been faced with unanswered questions and a military bureaucracy that closes ranks against those who are trying to find answers.

Not where you need it: Many of us who eschew Botox were cheered last year when scientific proof emerged that estrogen cream does help generate new skin collagen. But now, scientists have found that when exposed to the sun — in other words, in skin damaged enough to wrinkle — the stuff doesn’t work.

The creams do help skin that is protected from the sun to produce more collagen — the substance that makes skin appear smooth. But this skin is usually far less wrinkled than skin that has seen the light of day, the team at the University of Michigan reported. “Most of the time you want to get rid of wrinkles on your face, your hands, your neck,” said Laure Rittie, who helped lead the study, paid for in part by Pfizer Inc.

She said she was surprised by the finding. “Generally estrogen is thought to be beneficial for skin. A lot of companies offer products that tell you estrogen can help fight skin aging. This is only partially true,” Rittie said in a telephone interview. “It can only be beneficial for skin on areas that are not exposed to sunlight.”

Not every over-40 mom is Madonna: Newsweek noticed this week the recent spike in boomer births, and managed to both be celebratory and warning:

“Every doctor I saw put me through every test possible,” [said one woman]. “But all the doctors could find was that I was a 44-year-old woman with one fallopian tube who just happened to be healthy and pregnant.”

With celebrity magazines chock full of photos of famous over-40 moms, it’s easy to forget that women like Robertson are the exception, not the rule. Reproduction has its own timetable, doctors caution. “It’s not our place to tell women forget your education and career and go have babies,” says Dr. Tommaso Falcone, professor and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics-Gynecology at the Cleveland Clinic. “But it’s irresponsible to not share information. And it’s clear that it’s harder to have a child at 40. No one should get pregnant until they are ready to be pregnant, but women need to make reproductive decisions based on facts.”


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