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.