My Duty to Speak

Navy attempts culture change on sexual assaults

“”They do say they want to change, but I feel a lot of it is lip service until we see a higher prosecution rate, until we see more rapists sent to prison for rape,” said Panayiota Bertzikis, executive director of the Military Rape Crisis Center. “The bottom line is a felony has been committed and they have to start treating it as a felony.”

read full article: ABC News



My Duty to Speak

Why I Support the STOP Act (H.R. 3435)

Jennifer Norris, United States Air Force

The STOP Act, Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, would establish an independent professional legal entity separate from the chain of command of the Department of Defense. Until very recently, sexual assault investigations were under the control of and conducted by the Commander. The Commander had the power to decide to pursue justice or not and to what level he elevated it. Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, has recently declared that he is taking the power to investigate out of the hands of the Commanders and giving it to an O-6 or higher in the Chain of Command. My initial reaction is that there is an automatic conflict of interest with that and that the investigation can still be stifled if kept within the Chain of Command. The STOP Act would help to provide a form of checks and balances and put the case in the hands of a professional so that the investigation is handled appropriately. It is imperative that these cases be handled effectively in order to prevent further emotional and physical harm to the victims of such crimes.

In my efforts to educate the public via mostly social media, my fellow advocacy peers and I have come across rape apologists. My initial reaction is that these vocal dissenters of justice are the perpetrators themselves but after seeing so many various reactions to the topic, I am led to believe that there is a widespread misconception out there about the crime, the perpetrators, and the victims of sexual assault. For some reason, the white elephant in the room is that most claims of sexual assault are bogus reports. Today I was reminded by a fellow soldier (not the norm) that victims of rape claim rape to avoid charges of adultery. Who would know about that aside from the rapists and those unfortunate victims who happen to get caught up in this web of destruction? I never would have imagined this kind of response to a person who had the courage to report this crime. My day was somewhat planned until I woke up to this kind of mentality once again.

Instead of turning the other way and doing nothing, I decided to take this opportunity to educate others about the issue since there really is no arguing with idiots. At this point, it isn’t about what the rape apologists have to say; its about the truth. The truth is that most reports of sexual assault are not bogus reports. If there are any cases of bogus reports, they are definitely not the norm and don’t even compare to the number of sexual assaults. By the DoD’s own estimates there are roughly 3,192 sexual assaults reported a year in the military. These DoD estimates are staggering. Although Secretary Panetta estimates that the number is closer to 19,000 a year; most of them go unreported. And for those who have been victims of sexual assault or rape in the military, you understand clearly why one would be hesitant to report. It has devastating effects on your career, and in some cases reporting this crime is a career ender.

Although I pressed charges against two of the four perpetrators I crossed paths with within the first two years of my career, justice was still not served. I thought at the time that justice was served but after seeing how things played out and learning more about the issue, I see that my case clearly falls into the typical way that sexual assault investigations are handled in the military. The threshold for punishment is one of pity for the perpetrator because of how the report might affect their career, therefore they are not dealt the punishment that fits the crime. I must preface by stating that my Commander handled the situation pretty well. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. I have read countless stories about military rape victims who have sought justice only to be met with disbelief. In addition, they are treated like the enemy afterwards and their lives become a living hell. Not only are they forced to work with their rapist but they are forced psychologically to handle a situation that no one would wish on their worst enemy. Imagine the psychological trauma that results from getting raped by a fellow soldier and then having to work with or for that individual the next day.

In my case, one of the men who was sexually assaulting me was my NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge). He was my boss therefore he had the power to tell me what to do and when to do it. I was an E-4 and he was an E-7. He had the power to make me a “warehouse manager” in an effort to isolate me so that he could prey on me when we were alone. If he told me to work in the warehouse that day, then I worked in the warehouse. If he told me to do anything, I had to do it because otherwise it was, “disobeying a direct order” or “disrespect to an NCO”. I knew that if I did not comply with him that he could affect the outcome of my promotions, temporary duty assignments, work responsibilities, and general overall health. I was totally enslaved to this man because I didn’t want to risk the harm that came from reporting a sexual predator to the chain of command. Eventually, I didn’t have a choice but to report but it was not until after I was completely broken.

I went from “superior performer” to I don’t give a crap. I went from I want to retire with the military to I want out of here as soon as I can. I went from being happy and energetic to being totally sad and completely wiped out emotionally. I never imagined in a million years how negatively this would affect my psyche. I now understood why it is illegal and considered a crime to touch another person’s body, force yourself on another person, and/or make derogatory, sexual, belittling comments to another human being. I felt like my hard work and efforts meant nothing. I felt like I existed mainly for the purpose of the perpetrators pleasure. I felt like no matter how hard I worked or how much I learned that none of it mattered. It was like banging my head against a brick wall. Others noticed how hard I worked but the one person that controlled my career just happened to be a sexual predator.

For those who have been in the military, you understand how important the Chain of Command is. You also know that it is required that you report to your Chain of Command and attempt to resolve all issues at the lowest level possible. So what do you do when the person who is assaulting you is in your Chain of Command? I was approached by a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (E-7), outside my Chain of Command, who noticed that I had changed. He observed that I went from loving the military to not caring about anything. After being approached by this professional man who genuinely cared, it opened the flood gates. I finally broke down after months of attempting to handle the situation on my own with no success and told him what I had been dealing with on an almost daily basis. I was scared of my boss and no longer wanted to be subjected to his abuse and assaults.

My NCOIC purposefully set me up to be alone with him. And, his predator ways escalated over time. After assigning me to tasks that put me in isolated positions, he would then show up and make his move. For example, I was the warehouse manager, so he assigned me to clean up and organize the warehouse. I welcomed the challenge of the work but dreaded the isolated moments that he took advantage of. He grabbed me, pushed himself on me, groped me, and tried to force me to be physical and intimate with him. I would fight him off and fight back. I professionally, assertively, and angrily told him not to touch me on numerous occasions. He would not take no for an answer and he would get angry with me after I rejected his advances. I was told that I should feel privileged that he was interested in me, that I was a bitch, and that he didn’t want me anyway because I had small tits. So in addition to having my body violated, I was belittled and yelled at because I would not comply with his demands. This didn’t happen once or twice. This happened on numerous occasions, if not daily at times. He escalated over time and became more angry, sneaky, manipulative, and forceful.

Had this man not had control over my career, I would have ceased the behavior sooner. But because I was trying to safeguard my career while politely (and not so politely) trying to reject his advances, I was always scared that he would abuse his power. He had the power to write me up, talk bad about me to leadership, and hinder promotion, in addition to taking advantage of me. I felt like I was under his complete control and I worked every day trying to be perfect so that he could not use anything against me. Unfortunately, because he started to escalate and exhibit his behaviors in front of others, and no one said anything, it made me feel even more alone. I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t turn to my Chain of Command because he was in my Chain of Command. I did not even think about reporting the sexual assaults to my Commander because the Chain of Command was so adamant about resolving issues at the lowest level possible. I also knew that if I reported this man for sexually assaulting me that my career would be over. And, in fact it was.

Everyone in my Chain of Command was informed after I reported the assault. It was protocol to keep my supervisor, the Chief, the Officer-in-Charge, and the perpetrator informed at all times. The Commander knew everything and it was his responsibility to keep the others in my Chain of Command informed with what was happening with one of their troops and the Superintendent of Maintenance. It was humiliating. And, instead of being supported through the process, I was judged, isolated, and basically run out. During the investigation, I was transferred out of the squadron. I agreed to the transfer because I could no longer handle being under the control of my NCOIC or in the same room with him. He had assaulted me on so many occasions that I was traumatized. I never knew when I was going to be put in a position where I had to fight him off. All I could think was why can’t I just come to work and work? Why do I have to deal with this? How do I make it stop?

The enacting of the STOP Act would provide me with a place to turn to, someone to advocate for me, and emotional help. Although my Commander did the best he could to investigate the situation professionally, it put all parties involved in a difficult position. Most crimes are investigated by professionals who went to school to learn the art of investigation, forensics, and crime scene analysis. Commanders have a full-time job with their existing responsibilities, let alone investigating a sexual assault claim. At the time, there was no help for me. It was so unbelievable to me that I would get assaulted by another in uniform, prove this, and not be offered any kind of mental health services. As a matter of fact, I had to pay for these services out of pocket. And because I was having such a hard time coping with the assaults, coping with the long, drawn out investigation process, and then coping with the retaliatory behavior by others in the Squadron, I was devastated. I had no choice but to turn to a professional for help. I had never been exposed to this kind of behavior and quite frankly didn’t even know what it was.

The STOP Act will hold perpetrators accountable, investigate the crimes, prosecute fairly, and provide checks and balances in the system. If this felony crime wasn’t so devastating, we would not have to create a special office to handle it but it is. It is not only devastating to the victim but to the Squadron or Unit as a whole. Morale was turned upside down after I reported the crime and the Commander launched an investigation. It was a small unit and the rumor mill started almost immediately. I was so ashamed of what had occurred that I was not interested in talking about the situation with anyone. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing and I wanted to put it behind me and move on. Unfortunately, others became fearful of me because they were not aware of what truly occurred. They were told that they had to be careful around me, that I was a troublemaker, and that I was a traitor. I never expected that response. I never expected that I would be betrayed in that way.

I would have preferred that the investigation be handled outside the Squadron. I would have preferred that the case be handled discreetly. I would have preferred that I was offered mental health services. I would have preferred that both of us leave the squadron to prevent one or the other from talking about the circumstances in order to gain support. Removing the investigation from the Chain of Command would have changed the entire dynamic of the situation. The STOP Act emphasizes an importance on human rights, discourages criminal activity, encourages professionalism in the investigation, ensures the best possible outcome for a conviction that holds up, and prevents others from becoming a victim of that perpetrator as well. Criminal investigations are handled by the professionals in the civilian world, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be handled by professionals in the military as well. The STOP Act would create a legal entity that specializes in the investigation and prosecution of these predators. The STOP Act would hold predators responsible and accountable for their criminal activity. Sexual assault and rape is not only a felony crime but it is a human rights issue. The STOP Act will protect our defenders too.

Jennifer Norris currently works with the Military Rape Crisis Center as its Maine Director.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guardswoman raped, beaten May 2012.

Anonymous, United States Coast Guard

I was raped in May of this year. My rapist and I were both drinking. I am 20 years old and he is 19. I woke up naked and in a lot of pain in my shipmate’s room. There was a used condom on the floor. I asked my rapist if we had sex and he said yes. I went back to my room and looked in the mirror and saw my black eye.  I also had bite marks on my neck and scratches on my arms and neck. On my stomach it looked like a knife was used to carve out symbols.  I broke down in tears and called a friend. I was off duty that day. Later that day I started puking and felt very weak. I am not sure if it was related to the rape but it was certainly much more than just a hangover. My friend took me to the doctor in town that asked about my injuries. I told her that I was not sure how I got them. I told the doctor that I drank a bit too much and that I don’t remember. She questioned me about my drinking. When she found out that I only had two beers I was tested for roofie which came back positive. I also had an entire rape kit done. I was given the morning after pill which only made my vomiting much worst.

I do not exactly know what happened. I was slipped a roofie. While I was passed out my own shipmate not only raped me but physically assaulted me as his personal punching bag and etching canvas.

I reported the rape to the Officer in Charge, a Senior Chief, and he immediately wrote me up for under age drinking. I was threatened with a Captain Mast if I chose to go forward with reporting the rape. I still live next door to the man that raped me. There is nothing that can be done about it.

My Duty to Speak

Veteran sexually harassed at Detroit VA

Michelle, United States Marine Corps

I was raped while serving my country. This is my story. This is an update about MST treatment at the Detroit VA.

I have been in treatment at the Detroit VA and Vet Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that resulted from Military Sexual Trauma. I am currently rated at 100% for PTSD. The Vet Center in Detroit is great. I have zero complaints about them however the Detroit VA is absolutely in need of a complete do over. It is simply not a safe place for women veterans.

I try to stay away from the VA as much as I could often dealing with pain and illnesses alone without going to see a doctor. What I can not get away from is medication to help with PTSD, depression and insomnia. For that I have to  see a psychologist at the VA every few months for medication. I usually take off at least two days from work because; one to go to my appointment and one to stay in bed to cry from my appointment at the VA.

Every time that I go to the VA I get hit on like crazy by creepy older male veterans some who are old enough to be my dad. I am not even what you consider pretty. I’m a heavyset black girl to put it in the nicest possible way.  I complained to the patient advocate to the point that they no longer return phone calls. Last time I talked to a patient advocate she told me to dress less provocative. I am usually in sweats so not exactly sure what they want me to wear short of a burka.

The Women Veteran Program Coordinator is aware of the problems but she does not know what to do. I was told to report to her when I get harassed but usually I don’t even know the name of a fellow Veteran that hit on me in the hallway or in a waiting room. Due to HIPAA even if she knew who I was talking about she can not tell me a name so that I can report it and she can not legally report it for me. It is a Catch 22. I was also told that I can go directly to the VA Police but like most with MST I do not trust law enforcement and the last thing that I want to do is sit in a room with a male cop to tell them that I was sexually abused. No way am I going to put myself through that again.

I do not have any other options but to be sexually harassed when I get my treatment for rape. My job does not offer me insurance and I can not afford it elsewhere.


My Duty to Speak

Wall of Shame: United States Coast Guard Shawn M. Wren

Shawn Wren was hired by the United States Coast Guard to assist all sexual assault and rape survivors and also to develop training programs to prevent sexual assaults in the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, many survivors feel that she failed in her position.

Rape survivors came forward that phone calls to Shawn Wren has not been answered during time of crisis. Several service providers, including staff from the Military Rape Crisis Center reported that multiple attempts to work with Shawn Wren to improve the sexual assault response program has been denied. Shawn Wren chose to not work with service providers that are on the field helping Coast Guard rape survivors 24/7.

Shawn Wren ignored multiple requests from the taxpayers. Over 580 people signed an online petition requesting an immediate investigation against a Chief for his role in a rape. Shawn Wren ignored the 580+ requests and chose to not advocate on behalf of the rape survivor to receive justice. The rape survivor was never interviewed for an investigation against the Chief. The Chief is still serving even after two Coast Guardswomen came forward with allegations against the Chief.

Shawn Wren allowed further victimization of rape survivors including verbal abuse against women that came forward with rape, kicking out rape survivors from the service and even knowingly were aware of at least one rape survivor that is banned from entering a Coast Guard base even after being invited back in. In all those incidents she chose to not get involved to help the survivor

Shawn Wren allowed the following victim-blaming act to be committed by members of the United States Coast Guard:

1. Shawn Wren was aware of rape survivors being called “crazy”, “liars”, or told that they deserve to be raped by members of the United States Coast Guard. Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the multiple rape survivors or even contact the rape survivor to offer assistance!

2. Shawn Wren was aware of Coast Guard members inviting Coast Guard rape survivors back on to a Coast Guard base for the sole reason to further abuse and humiliate them by banning them from even entering the Coast Guard base! Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the rape survivors.

3. Shawn Wren was aware of E-6s and above and O-4s and above publicly posting victim-slandering (see 1.) statements on public websites which includes but not limited to, and yahoo answers. Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the multiple rape survivors.

If the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator  (SAPR) is not going to be there for rape survivor then who is? The Coast Guard has an epidemic of sexual violence, often said to be much worst than the four other branches of the military. Part of this epidemic is the rape culture that is thriving within the Coast Guard with what seems like zero attempts to prevent it.  Rape survivors should not be verbally abused for coming forward or banned from entering a Coast Guard base because they reported a rape.

Our Coast Guardsmen and women deserve better. For not being there for rape survivors and service providers Shawn Wren is on the My Duty to Speak Wall of Shame.

My Duty to Speak

Solider recalls surviving multiple assaults, harassment and domestic violence.

Anonymous, United States Army

I wanted to join the military since I was about 12, although no one in my family had ever joined. I had been enamored with it after seeing the Navy women in my hometime in their beautiful uniforms. The Army got me, instead, after being convinced by the Army recruiter. That should have been my first clue…the recruiter!! On a trip with him for some documents, he attemtped to coerce me to have sex. I said no, I screamed no, but was so very scared because I didn’t even know where I was…some other town he’d taken me to. The powers that be were looking out for me that day since when I began to get out of his car, to walk, who should be driving down the road but a police cruiser.

He begged me to get back in the car, that he would take me straight home…I complied and he did take me home. I never saw him again…a few days later when I went to report it, I don’t know what the truth was, but I was informed that he’d retired? When I’d shared with my mom what had happened, she said she’d warned me she didn’t think it was a good idea to join the service. After that incident, I didn’t want to go on active duty anymore, not fully understanding what I was getting myself into, but the new recruiter lied to me, saying I could not get out of the delayed enlistment program. So, I shipped out.

We were some of the first women recruits that trained with the men. It was an experience not expected by me, or many of the other women, but training had nothing to do with it. I was used to a lot of guys around me, having nothing but brothers, male cousins, and male uncles around while growing up. Additionally, I considered myself as a tomboy, so I had no trouble with guys. Yet, basic was like nothing I’d been exposed to. So many men, so many troubled men, at least in our company. For the most part, most of the women were sexually harassed (we didn’t know it was called that then), including from the training personnel. I made it through basic, moving on to AIT, but know what? The harassment continued. Sheesh, you’d think we had some statement written on our foreheads…leer at me, touch me, grope me, stalk me…NOT!! I was so ready to be done with the whole training time, but little did I know that even in permanent party, the end was not to be.

While living in the barracks, asleep on my cot, whence my roommate left our door unlocked, an unknown to me soldier attempted to rape me as he gained access to the women’s side of the barracks. I woke up at that time, fighting him off, chasing him out of my room, down the exit stairway, never knowing who he was, surmising he must have been on guard duty and knew about that door many times left with a wedge by some of the women, so as to make it easier for them to gain access to the barracks without having to go all the way around the building. Bad idea, even worse place for me, never felt safe in the barracks after that.

Eventually, I moved out of the barracks, marrying a fellow soldier who had been a charmer while we were dating. Who would have known? Not me…not even a clue!! Some say one doesn’t really get to know a person, until one lives with them. I dare say that can be so true, certainly was true for me!! I had no idea, so unexpected. The first weekend after we married, I learned who he was, really. It took a knock down, being shocked by it, to realize that I was in trouble. He was devious, very much so, waiting until the weekend, so he could terrorrize me the entire weekend, which left me without seeming able to figure things out. Something happened to me that weekend…no longer that brave young woman…I had lost something…seemed to have become immobilized by fear!!

Nobody knew what was happening to me, on a routine basis, whenever he was around. He always made sure the bruises were not visible, bruises always hidden by the uniform, or other clothing. I honestly did not know how to make it stop, nor what to do about it, still keeping it to myself. I became a shadow of who I’d been, but kept a low profile at work, stayed away from people I knew, so nobody would notice, and nobody ever did. Eventually, I told my mom, my dad, and my best friend back home, but nobody in the command, or near, knew how I was being terrorrized.

Eventually, I felt so beaten down, became very depressed, always in an anxious state, just waiting for the next hit, the next threat, the next sexual assault by him. It took the final of three days when he pulled a rifle on me, threatening to kill me, after he’d humiliated me sexually, threatening to dismember me to get away with it, that I took myself to the medical dispensary in such a state of despair, depression, and anxiety, besides a headache that I now had after getting knocked upside the head by him, yet again. I was still too scared, shamed, or I can’t even explain it, but I did not tell what had been happening to me, just that I was depressed and in a nervous state. Guess what they did for me? Nothing!! The woman medic that saw me did not even explore anything, nor sent me for an evaluation with the PA, just gave me meds for the headache, even as she wrote the symptoms in my medical records. Hindsight is 20/20 as is said, but at that time, I still did not tell. I requested a transfer out of the country, just to get as far away from my soldier husband as I could get, but it was denied because we were short on personnel. So, I trudged on, continuing in the daily routine of abuses, until my discharge from the service and my divorce from him.

I had to leave the state to get away from him. I made a new beginning for myself, eventually remarrying a good man, but the memories from that awful time in my life never left me, neither did the fears, or my reactions. I have been in mh treatment for more years than I’ve been alive. Yet, I still wake up in a sweat, being chased, when I awaken from the throes of those nightmares. I have not found healing yet. I managed to carve out a good life for myself, and my family,even as my children grew up with a mother whose pain they did not understand because I put myself somewhere else in my mind, so that I could take care of them. My boys are all grown men now,finally know my story, and I still have a very good life, but the memories still haunt me…