The long term affects of MST
Jasmine Black, a human resources specialist in the Army National Guard from June 2006 to September 2008 was raped by another soldier in her battalion when she was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She reported it to her Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and the Military Police, but the culprit was not brought to book.
After an early discharge due to MST and treatment at a PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (PRRTP) facility, she was raped again by a higher-ranking member of the air force in February 2009.
Administrator for a combat engineering instruction unit in Knoxville, Tennessee, Tracey Harmon has no illusions. "For women in the military, you are either a b*tch, a dyke, or a prostitute. If you sleep with one person in your unit you are a prostitute. If you are a lesbian you are a dyke, and if you don't sleep with other soldiers you are a b*tch."
Maricela Guzman served in the navy from 1998 to 2002 as a computer technician on the island of Diego Garcia. She was raped while in boot camp, but fear of consequences kept her from talking about it for the rest of her time in the military. "I survived by becoming a workaholic and was much awarded as a soldier for my work ethic."
On witnessing the way it treated the native population in Diego Garcia, she chose to dissociate from the military. Post discharge, her life became unmanageable. She underwent a divorce, survived a failed suicide attempt and became homeless before deciding to move in with her parents. A chance encounter with a female veteran at a political event in Los Angeles prompted her to contact the VA for help. Her therapist there diagnosed her with PTSD from her rape.
The VA denied her claim nevertheless, "Because they said I couldn't prove it " since I had not brought it up when it happened and also because I had not shown any deviant behavior while in the service. I was outraged and felt compelled to talk about what happened."
While it will go to any length to maintain public silence over the issue, the military machine has no such qualms within its own corridors. Guzman discloses, "Through the gossip mill we would hear of women who had reported being raped. No confidentiality was maintained nor any protection given to victims. The boys' club culture is strong and the competition exclusive. That forces many not to report rape, because it is a blemish and can ruin your career."
The department of defence reported that in fiscal year 2009, there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault, an increase of 11 percent over the prior year.
However, as high as the military's own figures are of rape and sexual assault, victims and advocates Al Jazeera spoke with believe the real figures are sure to be higher.
Veteran April Fitzsimmons, another victim of sexual assault, knows what an uphill battle it is for women to take on the military system. "When victims come forward, they are ostracized and isolated from their communities. Many of the perpetrators are officers who use their ranks to coerce women to sleep with them. It's a closely interwoven community, so they are safe and move fearlessly amongst their victims."
Her advice to women considering joining the US military?"The crisis is so severe that I'm telling women to simply not join the military because it's completely unsafe and puts them at risk. Until something changes at the top, no woman should join the military."
This is the first in a two part series on sexual harassment in the US military. The second part in the series will be published in the coming week.
Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.