My Duty to Speak

Message from Panayiota Bertzikis


You are about to read actual first person testimonies of sex abuse in the United States military. A lot of the survivors do go into details about their sexual assault, rape and the military response to the sexual violence.  Reading these testimonies might be upsetting to survivors of sexual violence. Please take that into account before continue reading.

My Duty to Speak started as a writing workshop in Cambridge, MA for Military Sexual Trauma survivors that were hosted by the Military Rape Crisis Center in November 2010. The day workshop was taught by some of the greatest trauma and writing specialists in the country. By writing about what we went through while wearing the uniform, we broke the silence of abuse liberating ourselves while also might be helping someone else who is feeling the same way.

We are thankful for so many survivors who came forward to share their Military Sexual Trauma testimonies with us. As you can read from the testimonies, the military response to rape is often as disturbing and horrifying as the act of rape itself. Want to do something to help survivors? Take Action and call your representatives and demand better treatment for sexual assault survivors in the military. Head over to and sign our brand new Petition to demand better treatment to survivors of rape in the Coast Guard. If you are interested in sharing your testimony go to Be Heard.

My staff and I are always available to you email me at Together we are making a difference and improving the military response to sex abuse within its ranks. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done, and we can not do this without you,  your support and your voice!

With gratitude,
Panayiota Bertzikis
Managing Editor

 *My Duty To Speak is funded by the Military Rape Crisis Center and the Panayiota Bertzikis Foundation.

Arizona National Guard

Racism, rape in the Arizona National Guard

I joined the National Guard in 2015 because I needed the money for school. I worked a bit after high school but were not able to save enough to go to college.  When a recruiter met with me and told me that I was able to go to school and “only had to commit to a weekend a month and two weeks a year and they’ll help me pay for college. I signed up right away. It was my only way out of a minimum wage job.

My parents were proud when they saw me in uniform. My parents are immigrants. They worked so hard to assimilate into the American life. Seeing their daughter in uniform confirmed to them that their hard work finally paid off. Their daughter was wearing the uniform of the U.S. military. How more American can one get?

I got along with everyone in the AZ Army National Guard. People that I never thought I would ever hang out with became very close to me. We often went out and partied together on the weekends that we were not at drill. I enjoyed spending time with them. Looking back now there were some things that I wish I paid more attention to.

My nickname from them was ‘illegal’.  They will make jokes about ICE coming to deport me. I was born in the United States! I wanted to think that it was a joke but looking back now I see how racist that it truly was.

My rape happened after one of those nights we partied. We ended up at  SGT ***** apartment. Some continued drinking. I am not much of a drinker. I had a few drinks when I went out but did not want to continue drinking at the after party. Instead, I drank a diet coke. I started feeling lightheaded and sick. That was when SGT **** came on to me. After that, I blacked out. I woke up the next morning semi-naked, groggy, and unsure of what happened.

I went home. At this point, I am still living with my parents. It is the tradition in my culture to still be living at home and be in your 20’s. My mom saw me and asked what happened to me. She tried calling me and my phone was off. She was obviously very worried. I said that I am fine and that I was tired.

The thought of reporting what happened never crossed my mind. First of all, I don’t even know exactly what happened!  Part of me is happy that I do not remember all the details but part of me wishes that I did so I can have a clearer picture of what happened. Secondly, I heard so many horror stories from others in the Guard about how rape victims are treated that I knew it’ll be best to keep my mouth shut.

Back during drill weekends, everyone acted like everything was normal. I went back to being called ‘illegal’. I was asked if I wanted to go out partying with them. At times I even said yes. If I could pretend nothing happened then can I convince myself that nothing happened?

I did not tell anyone until November 2016. At school, we saw the movie The Invisible War.  A waterfall of tears came running down my face. After class, my Professor pulled me aside and asked if I was okay. I said yes. She said if I want to talk to anyone that she knows some people that I can talk to. I said that I was fine and left. I could not stop thinking about what she said. During office hours the same week, I went to her office. I broke down and told her everything. I mean. I do not even know what happened. She listened. She wrote down the name of a friend of who is a counselor that works on a sliding scale.  Several weeks later I called her friend and she set me up with an appointment. I did an intake and started counseling there. She was non-judgmental and overall a very nice person.

I went a few times but with the even small portion that I had to pay, I was having difficulties if I wanted to continue. In my family, we all pool our money together to pay for bills. There was only so much I could keep before it becomes noticeable. Mental health treatment is viewed unfavorably in my culture. My mom would never have understood why I needed help. To her, God and family, not a counselor, is who we should turn to when we have a personal problem.

Let me also make this very clear. Any sort of counseling or treatment is extremely frowned upon within the National Guard and I guess the entire military. I have known many that lost clearances and even their careers because they reached out trying to get help. I was absolutely not going to hinder my job.

My counselor helped me locate free resources and told me about the VA and the Military Rape Crisis Center. I watched the news. I knew what was happening at the Phoenix VA so I decided to call the Military Rape Crisis Center.

The person that I have spoken to at the Military Rape Crisis Center set me up with counseling. The counselor that he sent me to was very nice. I went for three weeks.

I missed one appointment because my little sister got sick and I needed to bring her to the doctor. I kept on missing her calls to reschedule and I did not have the courage or motivation to call back. I stopped going.

Maybe I not ready for counseling. The thing is I do not even know what happened to me.  Maybe I am protecting myself by still denying what happened?

I spoke to MRCC employee I forgot her name and she suggested that I try yoga. I am still going to their yoga classes. She also tried to get me to go to the group but I just do not see myself fitting into that. Again, I am not even sure what even happened. I have nothing to say. For now, I am sticking to yoga. I do not have to talk during that.

I do not plan on re-enlisting. After college, I want to have a good job to help support my parents and siblings. That was after all the reason I enlisted in the first place. For now, I need to get through it. I dread every drill weekend but I keep on going by thinking about my goals and my life after this chapter of my life is over.

My Duty to Speak

We Know How You Girls Like To Have Fun

Suzanne, USMC

It was the eve before my 20th birthday, I had been telling everyone it’s almost my birthday, I’d always been excited for my birthday. A few male marines told me they would be at a hotel we all used to hang out at and I should stop by. I didn’t know them and I had no intention of stopping by. So a group of my friends and I went to the hotel and got a room and we’re having a few drinks and we’re running around on the catwalk, that’s when the male marines saw us and asked us to come in their room… I was hesitant but they said come on we got you a cake. We went in shortly after that we were about to leave and one of them threw my friend on the bed, she jumped up and left. I was scared and started to leave but they kept saying we got you a cake and asked if I wanted to play cards. So I did, we started playing a drinking game which I was loosing most of the time. I remember putting my head down and on of the marines said do you want to lay down, I said no ill stay here. The next thing I remember is I was on the bed and one of them was taping me. I was crying asking them to stop and I tried to get away… there were four of them and they took turns. I remember the laughing as I was crying and trying to get away. At some point I dissociated, it felt like I was floating outside of my body and I was watching. This continued through the night into my birthday. In the morning I was afraid to move, I didn’t know what to do… they were on the bed watching cartoons and saying things about me like if she hadn’t been drinking she wouldn’t have had sex with us. The phone rang and it was my friend, I asked her to please come get me. She did and we went back to the barracks. I was bleeding vaginally and emotionally a wreck. Rumors were going around about how I was fucked in every hole. Male marines started approaching me because they thought I was easy. I went to the Chaplain on base and told him… he told me to report it to the police which I did. I was taken to the hospital so a rape kit could be done. That’s when the MP’s came… I was hesitate to give names but was threatened that if I didn’t I would be in trouble. I gave them the names and filed a report. The next day I was called into the commanding officers office and put in the same room with the four marines that raped me. I was terrified another marine came in and told them to get me out of the room. The next thing was going to NIS and they had me in the same vehicle with them. I went into the NIS officers office and the first thing she said to me was COME ON WE KNOW HOW YOU GIRLS LIKE TO HAVE FUN I said no I don’t. I was so scared and far away from home that I dropped it. Even though I dropped it, it has been 30 years of nightmares and flashbacks and self destructive behavior. I am finally on a healing journey with help from programs such as the Lone Survivor Foundation.

Coast Guard

PTSD and the Coast Guard

Coast Guard Spouse, United States Coast Guard

My wife is currently stationed with an ANT Team. Last August she was breaking in as one of the coxswains on the boat. Unfortunately, she was involved in a mishap. She took for blame for the mishap since she was driving the boat. After the incident, her command blamed her the accident. She felt isolated and alone. No one at the unit talked to her. She began having nightmares and was unable to sleep. On top of all of this, she was scheduled to receive hip surgery in November which increased the isolation, she felt from her OINC. He told her to man up. He needs surgery, but he has a job to do, so surgery is no option. My wife served 6 years straight on an operational cutter. The hip pain wasn’t getting any better, and she tried a year of physical therapy. All the stress that the unit caused her to put on weight and again she was unable to work out because of the hip pain. In October, she failed her weigh-ins. This was the first time she failed in 10 years. She never failed before. Through all this, my wife tried to fight through it with no help from the Coast Guard. She knew she needed help so she got counseling from the Chaplain. After a few sessions, she talked about the nightmares and lack of sleep. In January, she was referred to a psychologist where they diagnosed her with PTSD. The PTSD was directly caused by the mishap in August. This was also confirmed by a Coast Guard psychiatrist in Cape May. We requested for weight abeyance since the PTSD caused the weight gain. She was denied this waiver.

The officers at Washington D.C. said discharge her and let the VA handle it. We have a copy of that email. My wife did 10 years of service for the Coast Guard and she planned to do 20 more years. To kick her out for weight is wrong. She should be given a medical board and be given medical retirement for either her PTSD or hip. The sad part also is the OINC still has a job after the way he treated her. My wife has nightmares from this guy. The unit she has now has done nothing to help her and are having her discharge in June. We contacted legal, they never call us back. We need help. The Coast Guard doesn’t care about my wife’s condition. They are just throwing her out like a piece of trash and letting the VA handle her. I lost my wife in August because of this mishap. She sleeps on the couch because of the nightmares and is on edge at all times. I don’t want to see this happen to another Coast Guard member. I hope my story helps someone.

u.s navy

The U.S Navy’s Response to Sexual Violence in 2017: Blame the victim. Don’t charge perpetrator.

Anonymous, United States Navy

I was 18 and thought I knew it all. Fresh out of Navy boot camp and away from my strict Guardian I was ready to live my life the way that I thought I should be able to live it. I was finally allowed to leave the base for the weekend and was going out with a guy and a girl I thought I could trust. I didn’t know that weekend would be the one that would change my life. We got our hotel and had gone to eat and have a fun night out on the town. We stopped by a popular hookah lounge to smoke before going to the 18+ club around the corner. While we were there, we saw two guys we knew from the base. They had a third guy with them that no one knew. The guy in our group invites them to join us. I’m not sure when one of them slipped something in my drink, but I think it had to be when I went to the bathroom.

I don’t really remember much after that. I think I lost about 6 hours. We apparently went to the club and somehow all if we got separated. I ended up back at the hotel with the three guys and the other girl. She was wasted according to what I’ve been told and passed out almost immediately. I woke up with the three guys over me. I started flipping out. I didn’t have anything on, and I was in so much pain. They freaked out when I woke up and left. I was bleeding, and I didn’t know what to do so I cleaned myself up and didn’t say a word. For 6 months I tried to forget about what had happened but if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that things like this just don’t disappear. I started having seizures and flashbacks. Everything would be dark, and there was so much pain. It was time to face this monster head on. I was so scared to tell anyone what had happened.

The Navy has a reputation for not believing rape victims. Thankfully I had a very understanding woman I could talk to. It’s been a year and a half since I came forward and since then life has been hell. The Navy sent me to counseling for “adjustment disorder.” They said that I didn’t acclimate well. I got to the point that I didn’t want to leave my bed. I was depressed and suicidal, but no one cared. I was told multiple times that I was just “one of those girls,” that “I must have just regretted it,” and that “I must have been asking for it.” I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My doctor made me go over it again and again. She couldn’t believe that I couldn’t remember anything. She acted as though I was lying. I was scared to sleep at night because the nightmares had gotten so bad. I became a perfectionist, and everything had to go my way, or I would freak out. I was given anti-depressants and sleeping pills. It finally got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore, so I downed a bottle of sleeping pills and later down on my bed. I woke up the next day groggy and upset because my plan hadn’t worked so to numb the pain I started cutting. I was always careful to cut where no one would see. Soon cutting wasn’t enough. I started drinking to numb myself and make it through the day. It was to the point that I was drinking before work as well as after.

A Chief at my command smelled the alcohol on my breath one day and took me aside to ask me about it. I broke down. She became one of my closest confidants at that command. I was finally given a fresh start when I was transferred to a new command. It didn’t last, though. People talk, and it wasn’t long before people knew what had happened to me. I was getting the same looks and the same comments. It wasn’t long after that that the Navy decided to force me out. It’s been a rocky road for the past year. I got a new doctor who listened to me. My diagnosis was changed to PTSD. It’s been almost 3 years since I was raped and two and a half years since I came forward. I just found out they are dropping my case. They say I waited too long to come forward and they don’t have enough evidence. I’m now being told that I could be charged with lying in an official statement. This is the reason that women don’t come forward. I know several women with a similar story to mine, and it’s sad that this is how the military works. For people who say rape culture isn’t a thing think about this. A woman can say I was raped and the courts will ask for timelines, witnesses, rape kits, and other things. When the man says he didn’t do it, the court says okay, we believe you.

My Duty to Speak, U.S Army

Raped at Ft. Hood

I was 19 yrs old stationed with 157 QM Unit Ft. Hood Texas. I needed a ride somewhere the next day. I asked a group of guys sitting at a picnic table that I knew. I said I would give gas money. One of them asked me to follow him, and we could talk about the details. I followed him to his barracks room. He tried to kiss me. I pulled away. He told me I was beautiful. He then choked me and threw me to the ground. As he was raping me from behind, I was yelling for help and yelling stop. It was so painful that I then began praying in my head for him not to kill me until he finished. It was painful. When it was over, he tried to hug me and told me not to tell anyone. I ran out of the room, past the guys at the picnic table to my room. I took a shower and cried. The next day I walked to the police station. I told them what happened and they called my First Sergeant. She called me to her office and said this was all my fault for going into his room. I also told the Commander, but nothing was done.

in the news

Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors

Over the past several years, in response to public pressure, the US military has made a concerted effort to improve how it handles sexual assault cases. Many of the reforms have provided important additional resources and protections for service members who are sexually assaulted while in service. Other policy changes have made it more difficult to quickly dismiss service members for mental health conditions.

However, virtually nothing has been done to address the ongoing harm done to thousands of veterans who reported sexual assault before reforms took place and lost their military careers as a result of improper administrative discharges.

“Personality Disorder” discharges—a term used to describe a mental health condition that can disqualify someone from military service—were once “the fastest and easiest way to get rid of someone” in the military.[3] The use of personality disorder discharges declined dramatically in 2010 after government studies had revealed proper procedures were often not followed. Nonetheless, these, and other types of questionable mental health discharges are still in use, and they comprise part of the discharges examined in this report because of the continuing harm suffered by veterans who received these discharges and have no recourse to correct their records.

Read the full report from the Human Rights Watch here.

in the news

Raped while on deployment in Guantanamo Bay.

I’ve only been in the army less than a year at the time, when my company was set to deploy to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I was so excited to be going on my first deployment. It was July, and we had been there a month, and I had decided to volunteer at a local thrift store. I met a Spc there who hit on me, but I just shook it off. He invited me to join him for lunch (not very many places to eat). So I said sure he then proceeded to say he forgot his wallet and had to go retrieve it. We walked back to his room, and he invited me inside I was hesitant, but he kept saying it was only for a second. I entered his room, and the only place to sit was his bed, so I stood. He kept telling me to relax and saying that I could sit on his bed if I wanted to and to not be so tense. When he came back from the bathroom he asked me if I want to watch a movie, I said no and wanted to get lunch. He then proceeded to grab the shoulder and push me On to his bed and then asked if I wanted to have sex with him. I said no and then be said: “if u won’t then I’ll make you.” I tried to leave, and he grabbed my arm and the. Put his hand around my throat and squeezed until I was almost unconscious. He pushed me on the bed and somehow managed to get my clothes off. I kept telling him, no but he didn’t care he seemed to take pleasure in my resistance. He then grabbed my hair and yanked it told me to open my mouth I saw that he had his manhood there in front of my face. He then used one hand to push open my mouth and stick his junk in my mouth. “You bite me, and this will be a whole lot worse” after he was somewhat satisfied with that he yanked me back words and held my hand over my head and held me down. His hand traveled down my body, and he felt me, and he said he knew I wanted this even though I said no my body was saying yes. I felt as though my body had failed me. I didn’t want this, and yet my body was reacting to it and not in the way I wanted. He then was inside of me, and I just started begging for him to stop and that it hurt and didn’t want this. He laughed and kept going until he came. He then bent down in my ear and said: ” Don’t lie was the best u ever had and kept saying I wanted it.” He went to the bathroom, and that’s when I made my escape, I wanted to tell someone, but my Sharp didn’t seem to want to listen, so I never told anyone. I saw him 5 months later he smirked at me and grabbed my hand and told me he missed me in his bed. I never saw him again after that, but now I have nightmares.

My Duty to Speak

Pentagon misled lawmakers on military sexual assault cases

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon misled Congress by using inaccurate or vague information about sexual assault cases to blunt support for a Senate bill that would make a major change in how the military handles allegations of sexual misconduct, an Associated Press investigation found.

Internal government records that summarized the outcomes of dozens of cases portrayed civilian district attorneys and local police forces as less willing than senior military officers to punish sex offenders. The documents buttressed the Pentagon’s position that stripping commanders of their authority to decide which crimes go to trial — as the Senate legislation proposes — will mean fewer victims will get justice because there will be fewer prosecutions.

But in some the cases, the steps taken by civilian authorities were described incorrectly or omitted, according to AP research and interviews. Other case descriptions were too imprecise to be verified.



read the full article here.

My Duty to Speak, U.S Army

Soldier raped in Korea

Anonymous, United States Army

I joined the military at 18 because my mother was sick. She died when I was 19yrs old in A.I.T. Two months later I was sent to Korea after being there a month I was raped by a top-ranking soldier. I was already devastated by the death of my mother this just pushed me over the edge. After trying to cope for a few weeks, I couldn’t so I took an overdose of Percocet. At the hospital, I found out I was pregnant with his child. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do.

In the hospital, I informed my female Sargent, and she told me to keep quiet no one will believe me. She then told me to go off the post in Korea and find a abortions doctor. Abortion is illegal in Korea, and they wouldn’t allow me on a plane until I was 6 months. I had never felt so alone. I gave birth to her, and my family would not allow me to give her up.

She is now 13 and thriving I am a mental case and dying. Its hard enough seeing your attackers face every day, but even harder losing your life and having no help. They did DNA, and it was his. He pays a few dollars a month, but he still gets to live his life. The military refuses to acknowledge my assault. I suppose if it didn’t happen this child must be a ghost. I struggle every day to pay bills, to eat, to care for this child, I have no car, I’m a prisoner serving time. I need help. I was only 19yrs old, what about me??

U.S Army

Drugged and Raped in Germany

Anonymous, United States Army

I joined the Army as a bright-eyed and innocent 17-year-old in 2004. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and my desire to become a Blackhawk Crew Chief controlled most of my choices during my ten-year career in the Army.

Basic and AIT went pretty smoothly, I found most of the challenges exciting and quickly learned that my gift of easily adapting to nearly any situation was a skill that enabled me to fit in with my all male job choice when I got to Germany. Not to say all of the men in my job wanted me there, many spoke openly about how women were not cut out for the job, but I had thick skin and good friends, so I just drove on. I was lucky to not be betrayed by a friend and am thankful for that fact every day.

In May 2006 at the age of 19 a group of friends and I went to a bar that was frequented by soldiers, us included (in Germany at this time prosecution for underage drinking was unheard of, I could buy alcohol at class six) I had a drink or two but was to be one of the designated smart people that night so I kept my wits about me. I chatted it up with my would-be assailant and his friends then went back to my group, nothing was weird, he didn’t pressure me, just talked about our MOSs, and that’s about it. The next thing I can recall is being herded into a cab by him and his friend, the entire time all I could do was say over and over “I want to go home to …, I want to go home to…” but I could not move no matter how much I wanted to.

I was somewhat coherent throughout, with crazy colors swirling like the view from the tilt o whirl at a carnival. I don’t remember anything the two of them said. Considering I came from German farm girl stock and was far from dainty, it took the two of them to haul me up his barracks staircase. Again all I could do was slurringly say no, leave me alone. The friend left me with the guy in his room. I told the guy please no, and that I was in fact on my period, he was undeterred. Having no control over my movements I was like his fucking puppet, he would put me into a position, and I would just stay there all the while screaming in my head. He was rough causing bruising all over my body, and he almost bit my nipples off.

The next day I woke up and he was gone, I pretty much what had happened, but was still a little foggy, there was blood on my thighs, and my breasts and I were extremely sore. I was so angry, but all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there, I snooped around the room looking for his name but after a few minutes the need to leave won out. I emerged from the barracks to find myself at a different kaserne about 20 minutes from where I lived. I knew a strauss was nearby and rode it to the train station. When I got there, I spent hours there bewildered all I knew was that I was drugged and you cannot fly if drugs are found in your system, it doesn’t matter how they get there. I was set to start flying just two months later and had worked my ass off to get there. All I wanted to do was fly so I kept my mouth shut, in 2006 nothing good came of “crying rape”. So I dug out the tampon the guy had lodged into my body and eventually made it back home.

I told me few very close friends, and they asked, what do you want to do? All I could say was “kill him.” I never saw him again, most likely because I don’t remember what he looked like. For the next couple years, I drowned myself in booze, work, and sex but rarely felt much and endured a painfully forced unhealthy relationship. Three years later a close friend turned into a lover who is now my husband of seven years. I told him the short version when we were dating and never spoke about it again for five years. I was managing, but after a relatively graphic tour in Afghanistan, all hell broke loose.

By 2012 I was losing it, I was detached, having horrendous nightmares, panic attacks in groups. I would hold it all in till I was alone driving to work where I would cry my heart out, all I could do was think about this guy violating me over and over, then paste the professional Sgt face on and be dying inside. I went off the deep end the day we had to watch The Invisible War for EO training. I had to get up twice to hold it together, as always it sparked talk on the subject later at work. One of my soldiers jokingly said there is no way Sgt…(me) would let a man do that to me, that I would rip his balls off. If only. I just grabbed a good friend and hauled him to the smoke pit where I chain smoked his cigarettes. I could tell he knew something had happened to me as we just smoked in silence, the pity in his eyes angered me even more. I sought help that week, things got a bit better, sleep came easier over time.

I was medically discharged in 2014 for an injury incurred in AFG that I could never recover from. Now in college, many days are a struggle, telling some close friends lately has brought some peace, but I will probably never tell my family. To this day I continue to have vivid dreams of being raped by faceless men ending in me killing them in any fashion I can. It is disturbing and exhausting. This is my story, I selfishly choose my career over the need to protect other women, and the need to find justice, but seeing how other victims have been treated all of these years what other choice did he Army leave me with? I will be haunted by my decision for the rest of my life whether it was right or not.