Andrew Gelman recently commented on the difficulties of measuring or interpreting just about anything, and gave an example about sexual harassment in the Marine Corps. I wanted to relay a story. There is no general conclusion to be drawn that I can see; it’s merely offered to sheltered academics to show that people are a hell of a lot more interesting than data.
The year was 2004. We (the Marines) had just taken over a quiet area of Iraq from the 82nd Airborne. While not much had happened since the invasion, insurgents were concentrating forces there and this region would become the hottest part of the War on Terror for the next three or four years. Within weeks of our arrival the place exploded resulting in the first Battle of Fallujah. The events described below took place just after the first battle and during the buildup to the second battle.
We were stationed on an old British/Iraqi air base across the Euphrates from Fallujah proper. We were mainly running convoy operations, but had about a dozen collateral duties including everything from intelligence to construction projects. One of those duties was to coordinate the MPs and NCIS agents on law enforcement issues.
Within a short period, three separate females from other units reported being raped. After the third allegation the command feared a rape epidemic and took general action.
All three incidents happened at night in dark areas surrounding the sleeping quarters. The area was dark for a reason. Blackout conditions were observed because the base was being mortared and rocketed daily. After the accusations though, a high level decision was made to put flood lights in those areas.
This was risky. At that time, most people lived in closely packed tents that only had a thigh-high layer of sandbags for protection. Within a year or so sleeping areas had dramatically better protection, but this was still early in the war. In general mortar/rocket attacks were ineffective because the population density of this base was low. However, the area around the sleeping tents was packed with people and if the insurgents knew where to aim they could increase their chances of hitting someone.
Those floodlights made perfect aim points. All the insurgents had to do was point their tubes at the light and adjust the angle until they hit something. They did hit one of the transient’s tents which housed up to 60 people, but was empty at the time. It’s only dumb luck and the insurgent’s extraordinary incompetence that prevented anyone from being killed.
I had doubts about the allegations. All three females were armed with at least a rifle and ka-bar, and possibly had a pistol as well. It was hard to believe three heavily armed Marines had been raped. I never voiced my concern to the NCIS agents doing the investigation, but I did talk privately with one of the senior enlisted MPs. He assured me rape was possible under those circumstances based on his civilian law enforcement experience.
After three months of NCIS investigations, all three females recanted their stories.
The females were having affairs (many of those involved were married) with male Marines and had unprotected sex. Fearing a pregnancy, but not wanting to admit the prohibited acts of adultery or having sex in a combat zone, they claimed rape in order to get “morning after” pills from Navy medical.
The flood lights were removed and all involved were charged and prosecuted.
There was much grousing about the lights, but personally I was grateful the rapes weren’t real. The ladies were lying about love. It had the odd effect of restoring my faith in humanity more than a little.