My Duty to Speak

Wednesday, May 30, 2012, marks the fifth observation of Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2012, marks the fifth observation of Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Day

My Duty to Speak

Military Sexual Trauma Memorial Garden

Panayiota Bertzikis, United States Coast Guard

This is a post that is so difficult to write. This is a post that I wish that I did not have to write. I wish instead that I were standing watch on a 210’. I wish instead that I were working on my qualification to make it as an MST1. Instead I am writing from Scottsdale, Arizona on the eve on the 6th months anniversary of my brutal rape while serving in the United States Coast Guard.

Tomorrow the Military Rape Crisis Center in conjunction with the National Organization of Women, Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter would be unveiling the Military Sexual Trauma Memorial Garden. This first of its kind memorial would be dedicated to all survivors and departed victims of Military Sexual Trauma. I wish that such a memorial was not needed. I wish that women and men could serve their country without being sexually assaulted or raped.  I wish that my shipmates, my comrades, my fellow veterans do not have to suffer the way that I am.

I wish that one-day survivors of rape and sexual assault can report a rape and be believed by their command. I hope that they never know the feeling of being handed your discharge papers because they dared came forward with reporting rape.

I wish that I could say that things get better. I wish that I could say that the pain lessens. I wish that I could say that the nightmares and flashbacks go away. They don’t. Since my rape at Coast Guard Station Burlington, VT six years ago tomorrow the pain of betrayal, the pain of being beaten and raped by a man that I was willing to take a bullet; my shipmate, the pain is still there as much as it was the first day.

The pain won’t go away and for that I have dedicated my life to try to eliminate sexual violence in the United States Coast Guard and within the Department of Defense.  I don’t want my shipmates, my comrades, and my brothers and sisters-in-arms to suffer through in ways that I did. As founder and Director of the Military Rape Crisis Center I wish that such an organization did not exist. I wish that rape in the military were not an issue. Since it is I vow to make sure that I at least give my shipmates the support that is needed after an assault.

Throughout the six-years I have met many strong and brave men and women that also served their country only to find that the biggest enemy was from their fellow soldiers/shipmates. They understand the pain of betrayal. They understand the fear associated with watching the military set free their rapist. Some of these men and women I now consider my best friends, closer than even family. I wish that I had never met these men and women. I wish that they were never raped. I wish tomorrow that a Memorial wouldn’t be dedicated in their honor. I wish that such a Memorial was not needed.

I wish that I can say things improved within the United States Coast Guard and DoD. I wish that I can say that the Coast Guard and DoD are striving to eliminate a culture that allows rapes and later punish the survivor for being raped. I wish that I could say that 6 years later that progress is being made. Progress is not being made. Little, if any, improvement has been made within the military that actually benefit survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

However, sometimes wishes do come true. I wished for my cries to be heard. It did. For that I am eternally grateful to Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-D), Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-D) and for every journalist that dared to touch on the topic of Military Sexual Trauma for listening to survivors and for believing us and in us. For that thank you so much. We all thank you. Thank you for being our voice.

With me I carry a photo of a shipmate of mine. A woman that I first met at basic training and ran into her again after we were both transferred to Coast Guard Boston. This woman at basic training was so full of life and happiness at basic training. When I met her again in Boston pain and sadness took over her. Like me, she too reported a sex crime and was transferred to Coast Guard Boston. She did not make it. At the age of 24 she passed away as a direct result of the crime done to her while serving in the U.S Coast Guard. Her perpetrator was never prosecuted. For her and the many other departed victims and survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, tomorrow on Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Day a memorial would be dedicated in our honor.

The Memorial Garden is in Garfield Garden Park (northwest corner of Garfield and 6th Street in Phoenix). Ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m on May 30, 2012.

My Duty to Speak

Airman raped at Tech School

Evonne M (Nicholson) Schneider, United States Air Force

I joined the Air Force, 3/92. While at tech school (police academy) I was sexually assaulted by another airman. I notified my chain of command a few days later, as I sat in my dorm room for 3 days scared to death. They shipped me out w/o completing all my training because within 2 weeks it was discovered I was pregnant. I tried for years to forget, to hide it in my past and keep that box closed tight. I never told anyone, not even my family of the incident.

I went through with my pregnancy, and had a beautiful baby girl. For the next 16 years I held it together, I have no clue how. I managed to stay in the military for 2.6 years…and recvd. honorable discharge. they wanted me to cross train me because I couldnt focus nor could I pass the tests to move up in rank. little did I know, years later i find out my focus, concentratin…were just the begining of my mental health showing me the warning signs. I ignored it, took my discharge and i was out.

Oct. 2008, i “snapped” ; suicidal thoughts, couldnt hold job, isolated myself, i would be up for days literally with my mind racing. On top of all that my now 16 year old daughter asking me who her father was. I never told her she was a result of a sexual assault. Now, that beautiful child refuses to speak to me because I won t disclose his name to her. I have been in prison, was in for 2 years for physical violence…I was never in trouble in my life. I now, over the past year, in counseling and on alot of medications to keep me stable, help me sleep, etc. at 19 years old I had the world at my hands ; all i wanted to do was to be a cop in the airforce. Now im 38, on ssdi, and a measly 60% s/c (we deserve more than that for our lives being torn from us), i have lost custody of my children, i am divorced, and i rely on my parents & live with them. I finally told my mom of “the incident” last november, the look on her face i could tell it hurt her to hear it as much as it has hurt me to live with it. Did i mention, while raising my 4 children, every chance i got i was at the bar & learned how to hide my alcohol in my house and my family had no clue that i drank heavily for many years (except while pregnant).. 3 1/2 years now and i havent had a drink I still, as my psych doctor says, “am very guarded” w/ details. I have slowly begun to even tell people “I was sexually assaulted”. I am no longer ashamed, nor afarid to speak up; regardless of the judgements. I had to literally “LOOSE MYSELF TO BE FOUND” Thank you.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guard member raped, forced to write statement that is being used against other rape survivors.

I reported a rape in the United States Coast Guard. Within 30 minutes of the rape I reported it and was treated immediately at a civilian hospital since my unit was not large enough to have any HS or medics. A rape kit was performed and I left the emergency room after 5 or 6 hours. My duty for the remaining of the weekend was suspended so I could recoup. At that time I felt that the Coast Guard really cared. I was dead wrong.

Since I chose unrestricted reporting I was sent to speak to CGI and they investigated the rape by interviewing me, him and all who were on duty that evening. At first they seemed to care a lot about what happened and told me that they would get this bastard for what he did to me. My shipmates at my small boat station was split. Some sided with him but others who were aware of the previous hostile environment that he showed me sided with me. I caused a war at my duty station.

Due to some backlash from survivors of rape speaking out I was ordered by the SARC to write a statement saying I was treated fairly and have been supported. I wrote such a statement which they are now using without my permission. The SARC is using my statement against Coast Guard rape survivors who are saying that the treatment of rape survivors is subpar. It was never meant to be used in that way. It was only written because at the time I felt that the Coast Guard treated me with respect. That all changed.

After several months CGI dropped the case for reasons of lack of evidence. That was the turning point from when I was treated with respect to when I was treated like a shitbag.  Senior Chief allowed the entire crew to call me names. People that I thought were my friends eventually all turned their back on me. I was kicked several times. My personal belongings were vandalize. I had the word SLUT written across a mirror in my barracks with lipstick. Phone calls were made to my mom telling her that she raised a slut. I became suicidal.

This happened in 2011 and 2012. My story is recent. We need to stop this.

My Duty to Speak

Questions for the Coast Guard

As I was responding to an email to Captain Christine Cutter, United States Coast Guard District 1 Legal on why evidence that I thought was vital to the investigation and why what I told CGIS during the investigation does not add up to what CGIS documented I thought that many others may have similar questions on their investigation or CG handling of rape cases.

The United States Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the military but has the highest percentage of service members seeking services through the Military Rape Crisis Center and its affiliates. Earlier this month the Military Rape Crisis Center held it first male-only peer support group for rape survivors at the Coast Guard Academy. The response was overwhelming from cadets needing to talk about their trauma in a confidential and safe environment. The Military Rape Crisis Center also holds a women-only peer support group for cadets in New London that meets monthly.

Active Duty members also need our help. The Military Rape Crisis Center Maine Coordinator, Jennifer, tried endlessly to find support for our Maine Coast Guard survivors. As it stands now the Coast Guard does not offer any support for it Maine’ shipmates. My shipmates in Maine who been assaulted first need to contact Boston, hope that the SARC return phone calls in a timely manner-Jennifer had an average of 3-4 days for phone calls to be returned-only to be referred to a non-Coast Guard base in Maine that is rumored to be shutting down. Not acceptable for a woman or man that just experienced the worst trauma of their life and evidence needs to be collected in a timely manner.

If you are like me and feel that members of the United States Coast Guard deserve much better than what the Coast Guard is currently offering to them please use the comment section of this blog to ask questions to Shawn Wren,the Coast Guard’s sexual assault prevention and response program manager, and the Coast Guard numerous SARCs and JAGs. The Coast Guard is reading this blog almost continuously. Let hope that they have the integrity to answer questions from survivors.

My Duty to Speak

Air Force vet still haunted by rape, command’s response.

Virginia, United States Air Force

I was assaulted by an officer in 1975. I ended up driving to the base hospital because after the assault the MP’s would not let me drive out of the base. I was admitted but the stay is very vague. The officer called on a pay phone and told me he was sorry. I hung up on him. It appears that during the assault I either hit him or scratched him. I never saw him again. The few months that ensued I lived in terror that I would be discharged, I had three sons 8, 6 & 4 that I was raising with no help. Later I was told I could get a court-martial for illegal co-habitation ( I stayed at my friend and her officer husband home. She had to leave to California on a family emergency.) or get a hardship discharge due to one of my boys having juvenile diabetes. OMG they even questioned my boys if they had seen me have sex w/other men including my friends husband. I found a ratty apt as soon as my friend left even though I never felt threatened by her husband. I was in my apartment less than a week when they discharged me. I cannot begin to tell you in such a short space all I faced in the Military.

I too have been under psychiatric care since 1981. I am a mess emotionally and selfishly attempted suicide. I have night terrors and have tried to file for compensation and It is never brought up. To this day I live a nightmare. I seldom leave my home unless for VA appts. I have no friends and at times live in my SUV to avoid contact. I was referred to a rape crisis for female veterans in 2003 and was told that I should have gotten over this by now. I’m going to be 65 and I still suffer. I truly hope things have or are going to change for the young women now. As negative as this may sound I have this saying to keep some sense of sanity, “NOT ALL SOLDIERS ARE HEROES”.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guard’s continues attack against members that report rape.

In the latest rounds of attacks against Coast Guard members that reported rape, a Coast Guard veteran that reported a rape while on Active Duty was barred from entering a Coast Guard base. She was never given a reason why.

HS2 Federico Sanchez  first reported to the rape survivor that she was banned. The survivor tried to access the base after receiving an invitation to attend an on-base meeting. HS2 Sanchez was not able to tell the survivor why she was banned, instead, he told her “you know why” while keeping her out in a rainy and cold February in Boston and treated her like a criminal.

Retired Coast Guard members rushed to the survivors’ side, including a retired E-10, to offer her support and guidance on what to do. Several retirees, including a Chief and a CWO also took it upon themselves to help the survivor ban to be overturned but without much success. The survivor and others has since been trying to receive answers on why she was banned from the base and have been given the runaround without anyone really knowing why aside from she reported a rape. Calls made throughout District 1 and BSU Boston to gain insight on why a rape survivor was barred from entering a military installation despite being invited in was unsuccessful. Nobody at the time of publishing this article was willing to take accountability for this victim-blaming act. was able to find out that the rapist that committed this felony crime against this woman is allowed to go on base as long as he has a sponsor and proper ID.

Reporting a rape should not ban a survivor from entering a Coast Guard base if they are otherwise on an approved guest list for a meeting on base.

The only ‘zero-tolerance’ against sexual assault that the Coast Guard has shown is against those that report rape.

written by MO