By Steven Lee Myers The New York Times
BAGHDAD — Capt. Margaret H. White began a relationship with a warrant officer while both were training to be deployed to Iraq. By the time they arrived this year at Camp Taji, north of here, she felt what she called “creepy vibes” and tried to break it off.
In the claustrophobic confines of a combat post, it was not easy to do. He left notes on the door to her quarters, alternately pleading and menacing. He forced her to have sex, she said. He asked her to marry him, though he was already married. He waited for her outside the women’s latrines or her quarters, once for three hours.
“It got to the point that I felt safer outside the wire,” Captain White said, referring to operations that take soldiers off their heavily fortified bases, “than I did taking a shower.”
Her ordeal ended with the military equivalent of a restraining order and charges of stalking against the officer. It is one case that highlights the new and often messy reality the military has had to face as men and women serve side by side in combat zones more than ever before.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault, which the military now defines broadly to include not only rape but also crimes like groping and stalking, continue to afflict the ranks, and by some measures are rising. While tens of thousands of women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, often in combat, often with distinction, the integration of men and women in places like Camp Taji has forced to the surface issues that commanders rarely, if ever confronted before.
The military — belatedly, critics say — has radically changed the way it handles sexual abuse in particular, expanding access to treatment and toughening rules for prosecution. In the hardships of war, though, the effects of the changes remain unclear.
The strains of combat, close quarters in remote locations, tension and even boredom can create the conditions for abuse, even as they hinder medical care for victims and legal proceedings against those who attack them.
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