It’s been reported that a US sailor, former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha, was brutalised for more than two years at his base in Bahrain after unit mates suspected that he is gay.
And, according to Youth Radio, the Navy promoted his senior officer most responsible for the violence, even though Naval officials were aware of his role in creating the climate of abuse.
Official Navy documents confirm that after Rocha’s unit mates first suspected that he is gay, they engaged in a two-year pattern of abuse including tying him to a chair and pushing him, still bound, into a dog kennel full of faeces.
Rocha says that they forced him to simulate oral sex with a man more than thirty times on video tape, as part of a training exercise to teach sailors how to respond to a hypothetical complaint about homosexual sex. And they hit him as hard as they could repeatedly while forcing him to bend over a desk.
Rocha was a military police officer with anti-terrorism training who graduated at the top of his military class, and who received favourable performance evaluations throughout his career. His unit mates first suspected that he is gay in 2004 when he refused to sleep with female prostitutes, a practice that was apparently widespread at his base.
Rocha did not report the abuse, which continued until 2006, because he feared retaliation as well as discharge under the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of discharging openly gay personnel.
According to Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, a research institute on controversial social issues at the University of California, “It is very hard for an organisation to get rid of abuse as long as discrimination remains official policy.”
After a colleague complained, the Navy launched an investigation, which concluded in 2007. Official documents from the investigation were obtained recently via the Freedom of Information Act by one of Rocha’s unit mates.
While Rocha was singled out and forced to endure the longest period of abuse, others were victimised as well. An official military summary of the investigation lists 93 incidents and types of abuse including throwing hard rubber balls at the groin, allowing a dog to attack a sex worker, and handcuffing two female sailors to a bed and forcing them to simulate lesbian sex while being videotaped.
Since the launch of the investigation, the Navy has promoted Chief Michael Toussaint to the rank of Senior Chief. Toussaint was the petty officer in charge of Rocha’s unit, and perpetrated or presided over most of the abuse.
Following his return from the Middle East, Rocha developed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After acknowledging to his superiors that he is gay, he was discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell”.