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Secrecy and Sexual Assault in the Military – Richard Wolinsky interviews Helen Benedict

Richard Wolinsky: This is all set against the background of things that happened and people you interviewed, so I’d like to go into some of the details that simply stunned me. Rape plays a major part in this book [Sand Queen], and I understand that you wrote a play about a class action suit against the Pentagon by women in the army because the army refused to deal with rape.

Helen Benedict: The suit is on behalf of fifteen women and two men who were sexually assaulted and/or raped in the military, not just the army. It was inspired, in part, by The Lonely Soldier, which described the rates of sexual harassment, assault, and rape within the military of female and male soldiers, perpetrated by their comrades, not by the enemy, not by outsiders. The statistics are horrifying. Somewhere between one in five and one in three women are sexually assaulted while serving alongside their comrades.

Richard Wolinsky: There’s a scene where two soldiers assault Kate.

Helen Benedict: It isn’t an exact replica of any one story I heard any more than the characters are. They’re not conglomerate characters or disguised real people, but I heard many, many stories of rape.

Richard Wolinsky: At one point, Kate goes to the bathroom and sees these horrendous epithets on the wall, including “sand queen.” Is sand queen an actual term they use?

Helen Benedict: It’s a derogatory term that’s specific to the Iraq war, which comes mainly out of the army. It means an unattractive woman who is the object of a lot of attention from men because women are so scarce. It goes to her head, she gets very arrogant, and she also allows herself to be used by these men who wouldn’t look at her twice at home. As one soldier said, “She’s a mattress.” The language they use about women is so horrific. I decided to use it not only because somebody says that about Kate, but because it summarizes the denigrating attitude that so many military men have towards military women. More here.

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