Performance Brings Attention to Sexual Violence in the U.S. Military

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Public Performance Brings Attention to Sexual Violence in the U.S. Military.
Pat Payne, "Crawl."
November 8, 2008
Riverside, CA

This weekend strollers, shoppers, university types, and the omnipresent young skateboarders in the pedestrian mall in Riverside, CA saw something that made them stop twice and take (mostly) reticent notice. Or, in the case of our skateboarders, circle back and come to a curious halt. They became accidental witnesses to an unusual scene.
**
A Black woman in Army fatigues lays on her belly in the hot sun. She makes a slow, deliberate ARMY BELLY CRAWL (see p. 147, U.S. Army Fitness Training Handbook: Department of the Army, 2003) down a slate and marble pathway. On any other day, these low marble walls demarcate a formal sloping path that meditatively leads to a bronze sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi. On this day, the path becomes a metaphorical urban trench for our woman warrior during her slow ritualistic crawl. As she drags herself forward, fabric unravels from her feet leaving two trails of red in her wake. Three figures process behind her holding blocks of ice that melt in their hands as they move forward. The crawl is made more physically demanding as she holds a ceramic face-a mask of a woman's head-like a ritual offering as she pulls herself forward on her elbows. A small crowd amasses, and she begins to declare: "1 in 4!"

The facts and figures that she demands passersby hear begin to tell a story: the story of the current epidemic of rape in the U.S. military. Recent Veteran and pentagon data show female soldiers are sexually assaulted by their fellow troops at alarming rates. One woman in the crowd yells back spontaneously and angrily: "They deserve it!" and turns her back and leaves. The artist doesn't miss a beat and responds, "You cannot just walk away." And she continues on her crawl, reciting the facts and imploring the audience's engagement.
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During the election night returns, CNN made much ado about its deployment of new technology to beam in the supposed "hologram" of a reporter from a remote location. This attempt to bring the beat reporter into the newsroom reflected a desire to make the news more real and immediate, but somehow only succeeded in making the news seem more simulated and removed from reality. Pat Payne's performance "Crawl" also sought to collapse the geographic distance between the viewer and "the news," as she metaphorically transported the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq into the town square of southern California's Inland Empire. Her performance, using old technologies of the body, more effectively collapsed the distance between the spectator and "the news" than did the CNN hologram. People in the pedestrian mall in Riverside on Saturday were implored not to turn away from the facts, even those that are difficult to hear. They were asked instead to stand witness to the words emanating from the body of a Black woman soldier who spoke for those who have been raped by their compatriots in the line of duty. Today's remote technologies of war combined with the highly mediated immediacy of "embedded war reporting" often shelter civilians from the material conditions and experiences of our troops. And often the violence of war is understood only as emanating from the enemy. Payne's piece was an effort to bring to light recent news of the epidemic of internal violence, of rape by U.S. soldiers of their comrades. Her piece, "Crawl" reported the news in a new way, on a human scale with physical immediacy in our own environment. By refusing the new technologies that often operate to obscure or distance us from hard realities, she took the risk of embodying the news on our doorstep in order to make it more visible.

Pat Payne explained after the performance that she became interested in understanding the military experience after her boyfriend was deployed. In the course of researching, she became aware of the statistics about rape, especially through reports coming out of the Veterans Affairs hospital in the Los Angeles. Rep. Jane Harman, D-California reported: "My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of the female veterans seen there say they were victims of sexual assault while serving in the military." The General Accounting Office further found that occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported by half. At the 14 installations GAO visited, investigators found 52% of service members who had been sexually assaulted over the preceding 12 months had not reported the assaults. Harman called rape and sexual assault in the military an "epidemic," explaining, "Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

Although she did not reference the "don't ask, don't tell" [DADT] policy, for me the policy is a subtext of the performance. As I have discussed in earlier postings, newly released Pentagon data shows that women are discharged under DADT at higher rates and out of proportion to their numbers in the military. One likely reason for the disproportionately high discharge rates of female servicemembers under DADT is that the policy can be leveraged in a form of harassment known as 'lesbian-baiting.' This can take the form of sexual harassment where a male servicemember threatens to accuse a female subordinate of being gay, if they refuse their advances. In addition, Pentagon data show that African American women are discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at three times the rate that they serve in the military.


Pat Payne, a Caribbean-American multi-media installation/performance artist, has performed in the US and Mexico and in Beijing, China, during the 4th NGO Conference on Women (1995). She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego and is currently based in Los Angeles.

Inspired by the performances of william pope.l, Pat Payne developed "Crawl" to honor and draw attention to female soldiers who have been killed in the War on Terror or been raped by their military comrades.

"Crawl" was presented as part of the University of California's Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) 2008 conference.

Jeanne Scheper, Reseach Director, Palm Center

Comments

Re: in reguards to DADT

The DOD policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and privious anti-homosexual policies, were precisely that which against (women) service members, to procure sex. (Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Rape.) It was (is) "Prove that you're not a Lesben, Here and Now." "Or I'll tell everyone you must be..." For the men it is slightly different, but one has to "Prove" he "Likes" Females. (Use your imagination) Debauchery all. ... just to clear that up. -d

It's about Time...

People (the American People) Woke up. It's dirty, it's all dirty. The "Honor" (in general) of service to one's Country is tarnished. A war that shouldn'd be, and this as well. I've known of this for a long time, it's not new, it is in (too) many instances SOP. So, it's about time it finally comes out. The really sad part is there are many Men and Women serving their Country with Honor. This type of anti-social behavior (as I stated above) tanrishes their efforts. It needs to Stop. Now. -d

Easy Way to stop Rape in the Military

The thing I'm that wondering is does anyone here understand that there is a very simple solution: Don't have women in the military! I realize that in the light of the PC, equal opportunity, "googly goop" today, this type of thought isn't in vogue, but it might be the most practical solution. You can try to butter it up and talk around it but the bare facts are that women fall far`short of men in the soldiering business. They just don't have the physical strength of a man. A side result of this is if they were equal in strength they would be able to defend themselves and wouldn't be raped. I imagine that some of you who are reading this are shaking your heads at this point. The thing that you don't understand that at the enlisted levels what keeps things non violent is not law, it's the fear of retaliation. "You may be able to beat me up but you have to sleep sometime and when you do, I'll be there with my entrenching tool". Most women don't have enough "menace" to gain the necessary "respect" to pull this off. The military has changed a lot since I was in. I think the character quality has dropped so having "menace" is probably even more important today than ever before. As I say things have changed. In my old unit a rapist wouldn't have been tolerated and I'm talking about "unofficial" justice. I think the best solution would be to just "fold the tent" and write off "women in the military" as a really dumb idea. I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish and I think that your presentation "Crawl", though I haven't seen it, sounds very good. I just don't think it will change anything much and no change means more young women psychologically damaged. I think what you're trying to do is like trying to make water flow up hill, basically an impossible task. However, I salute you for trying!

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