For some women, silence is not an option. When violated we find the wherewithal to pursue persecution for the person that took our innocence. These women, Schroeder, Moore, McClendon, Bertzikis and Conner have been sexually assaulted by men that they were taught to trust. Trust was also not an option because it was necessary to establish it so that in a time of war, women and men could support each other in fighting the enemy.
Instead, the following women have been prisoners of a personal war – sexual assault in the military, with no way out unless they are stripped of their duties, falsely diagnosed with a pre-existing condition which leaves them with no health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a perpetrator who is often never acknowledged to be so.
I wrote an article a while back entitled Taking the Stand. It was a personal account of how hard it is to actually face your accuser and their lawyer’s fabricated and charismatic attempt of your experience so that the perpetrator can go free. During Taking the Stand, I was sure to speak of the open letter written by Tyler Perry to the victim who initiated a full-out investigation by coming forward in the Jerry Sandusky case.
I noted how difficult it is for a child to speak out, and as someone who has experienced molestation and sexual assault, the fear of telling does not wane because of your chronological age.
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CNN wrote a story which was released in April of 2012 entitled “Rape Victims Say Military Labels Them Crazy”.
Four women, Stephanie Schroeder (Marine), Anna Moore (Army), and Jenny McClendon (Navy) and Bertzikis were interviewed because each of these women who were sexually assaulted while in the military received a diagnosis of “personality disorder” from a military psychiatrist after reporting sexual assault.
Due to the stress and trauma associated with sexual assault, a more accurate diagnosis could have been Post Traumatic Stress Disorder known as PTSD. However, PTSD is a diagnosis that is treatable with full health benefits, and personality disorder is a pre-existing condition which prohibits women who are thrown out of the military for filing charges against their assailant, no medical recourse.
Benefits that are privileged to soldiers for the duration of their lives are stripped from them indefinitely – although there is a grievance process in place, these women who often have made a career of military life lose everything after being a victim of rape.
Schroeder, Moore, McClendon and Bertzikis, are not alone in being ostracized by their leaders in command. According to the CCN investigative story, 3,191 sexual assaults were reported in 2011. The Pentagon estimates that real number to be about 19,000 because of the number of sexual assaults that go unreported.
From 2001 to 2010 the military discharged more than 31,000 service members because of personality disorder, according to the Freedom Of Information Act request by the Vietnam Veterans Of America. In every branch of the military the number of women soldiers discharged for personality disorders are disproportionate with the total number of women that are serving.
In some cases, women who have been sexually assaulted and are diagnosed with personality disorder are discharged with fees – often repaying their sign-on bonuses to include interest. One woman reported a $2,800 sign-on bonus with a $6,000 total after fees were added.
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A Columbia University professor, Helen Benedict wrote a book called, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War Of Women Serving In Iraq. Benedict interviewed over forty soldiers and veterans, mostly women who came from all branches of the military excluding the Coast Guard.
80% of adults who are suffering from narcotics and or alcohol substance abuse were sexually abused by the age of eighteen. More statistics about child sexual abuse and assault can be found in an article entitled, The Bible and Child Sexual Abuse.
Military women feel the shame, confusion, fear and trauma associated with sexual assault and often turn to narcotics and/or substance abuse, losing their lives according to Benedict. This kind of abusive self-medication is used to try to drown or numb the effects of the sexual assault within the victim.
With one in four women, and one in six men who have experienced child sexual abuse, the military has not escaped this reality, and many service members who have been sexually assaulted may have also experienced a sexual assault, molestation or some form of child sexual abuse prior to the military rape.
In a Zoll Air Force Study, 83% of women did not report being sexually assaulted for concern that it would affect their unit. Susan Avila-Smith, military sexual trauma survivor is the director of the Veteran’s Advocacy Group WOW, Women Organizing Women and has helped women and men heal from military sexual assault for fifteen years.
There are seventeen plaintiffs in a class action suit filed February 15, 2011 in Federal District Court in Virginia against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then Defense Attorney Robert Gates charging them with failure to investigate complaints or prosecute and consequence perpetrators.
Here are a few facts from 2003:
1 in 3 women in the military have been sexually assaulted
8 in 10 women had been sexually harassed
37% were raped at least twice
14% were gang raped
Meisa Bonelli, has no military experience – in fact she admits that like many of us civilians she was disconnected to the idea that sexual assault is an epidemic in military life for women. She, successful in the financial industry, whose sister is Kesha Conner, a specialist with the United States Army branch of the military revealed that she was sexually assaulted in a conference call with both her lawyer and Bonelli on the other end of the call.
As a result, her sister has suffered no due process during court proceedings, as she was not allowed to have her lawyer present. Conner is the victim of a “second assault” or “second injury” as it is called where the commanders and higher-ups have corroborated their stories to defend the perpetrator.
Any time you re-traumatize the victim including punishing them or retaliating against them for revealing a rape or sexual assault, it feels like the same rape or sexual assault experience happening all over again.
She was sent to Kuwait at 4:00am on September 1, 2012 after being charged and convicted of crime(s) that she has been falsely accused of because of her admission of sexual assault, and pursuit of justice. And, today while many of you read this from computers that are in cafés, the office, or at home, she is jailed! Conner is locked in solitary confinement for one month (so the family has been told) in Kuwait, while her perpetrator enjoys his freedom.
In a desperate plea for a fair trial, and to clear her sister’s name, Bonelli has created a video uploaded to You Tube, to incite pressure on the military courts to respond appropriately.
In the past few years, I have befriended several military veterans who have explained that much like religious groups can have their own separate court where a person who is a member of said group is responsible for adhering to the guidelines, commandments and ethics of their spiritual doctrine, the military has its own court with its own way of handling disputes.
In an article that I found “Military Court vs. Civilian Court” it was made clear that a person cannot be tried in both a military court and a federal court however, they can be tried in military court and a state court. The deciding factors are ambiguous to me however, what holds true is that sexual assault is a crime in any court. And, if one court refuses punishment or fair trial for a sexual assault case, there may be some actions that can be taken to ensure that they are tried in a civilian court. To find out, consult a military and civilian attorney respectively, or one who specializes in both.
Kesha Conner entered the military six years ago – during the Iraq war. We have organizations, and slogans that say things like “Stop The Abuse”, and one of my slogans and teaching titles for a workshop is “I Have The Power To Say NO!” With the advocacy work that human service professionals and victors of sexual assault contribute, it is alarming that we are unmasking such a cover-up.
According to Mr. Montalvo who is Conner’s Attorney: “I find it beyond reprehensible that an officer of the court and a military judge charged with upholding the law would so openly and notoriously abandon the basic Constitutional principles that our young men and women are shedding blood over and for such pettiness. This military judge represents everything that is wrong with our current military justice system. If this was your son or daughter in the middle of Afghanistan is this how you believe they should be treated? This deliberate and abusive disregard for the rule of law is astonishing and should outrage all Americans who believe that judges are supposed to ensure that justice is served and not perform as another prosecutor in the court room or in this case a persecutor. A “Lynch Mob” is defined as a mob that kills a person for some presumed offense without legal authority. If this is not a lynch mob I don’t know what is.”
There is no excuse for rape or sexual assault. Conner and the other 3,191 women who reported sexual assault in 2011 did not deserve to be sexually assaulted by their military counterparts, or to receive the brutality that followed. McClenden is still awakened by nightmares several times per week. Schroeder suffers from anxiety and depression. She is fighting for the personality disorder diagnosis to be changed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so that she can qualify for medical health and other benefits. Moore, received the PTSD diagnosis and is on full disability – I guess disability is the least that the military can provide considering they took away her life and career.
Bonelli is fighting to ensure that Conner is not the next woman who has been assaulted to be demoted, removed from duty altogether or worse, to remain in solitary confinement in Kuwait indefinitely.
By definition, sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact which can stop short of rape however include molestation. When you visualize adult molestation or unwanted contact (sexual assault), think of the movie “Crash” in which the police officer uses his authority to stop a car for no reason, and ultimately sexually assaults the wife played by Thandie Newton.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network defines sexual assault as “unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling.”
The National Center for Victims Of Crime defines it this way:
“What is sexual assault?
“Rape” and “sexual assault” are terms used interchangeably to describe crimes that involve unwanted and illegal sexual acts. The legal definitions of rape and sexual assault vary from state to state. Most commonly, a rape involves the use or threat of force to penetrate a victim’s vagina, mouth, or anus. A sexual assault involves the use or threat of force but may not involve penetration. Fondling someone’s breasts or genitals without consent is an example of sexual assault.”
Whether soldiers are experiencing penetration or molestation, sexual assault leaves invisible scars. And, for soldiers to go untreated, and accused of crimes that they are not committing in order to cover up the actions of their perpetrators are indeed grounds for us all to speak up.
In an effort to gain political attention so that Conner can be released from solitary confinement, a petition has been launched on here —> change.org. As with my petition“Make Child Sexual Abuse Grooming A Felony”, this petition will contact the representatives, and political figures who have the ability to raise their voice and unlock the prison doors for Conner.
Ressurrection Graves is an author of memoir, and writing two titles, Ten Ways To Safeguard Your Child From Sexual Abuse, and Seven Steps To Finding Your Mate For Life. Her book and dvd are available Amazon , in-store and online everywhere.