For the brave women who suffer from MST and deserve to have their stories shared to a wide audience, I am asking upfront that you recommend this diary. We want to see Ballroom C at Netroots Nation filled TODAY at 3:00PM and your support can help do that. Netroots for the Troops will be hosting a panel on Military Sexual Trauma: The Women's War. I will be joined by Elizabeth Stinson, LMFT and Retired Colonel Ann Wright.
Elizabeth Stinson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with extensive clinical experience working with trauma and sexual assault survivors including returning veterans and military members who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Elizabeth is a contributor to the award winning documentary on military sexual trauma, The Invisible War, which will be showing at Netroots Nation on Thursday, 12 pm.
And, just in case you're wondering about me, I am Joan Brooker-Marks, a former television writer in Los Angeles. I currently teach writing and documentary filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. My most recent documentary, ‘The Silent Truth’, profiles the tragic death of Private LaVena Johnson and will be released this summer.Colonel Ann Wright served on active duty for 13 years in the US Army followed by 16 years in the Army Reserves. She continued to lead a distinguished career at the US State Department, earning the Award for Heroism in 1997. She later resigned from the State Department in protest over the United State's invasion of Iraq. Since then, Ann has been an outspoken anti-war activist and an advocate for women troops suffering from MST.
But here is what we really want you to know:
One in three women who serve in our military have been sexually assaulted.This figure only represents the assaults that have been reported. Knowing that rape is one of the most unreported crimes there is, the number is probably much higher. Additionally, rape in the military has a very low prosecution rate and an even lower conviction rate.
Below the fold, I would like to introduce you to three very special women and tell you more about MST.
Meet Carri Goodwin:
In 2005, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, created the office of SAPRO (Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response Office). This office is overseen by the DoD and its primary role is to track rapes and sexual assaults and release annual reports. It does not work with the disciplinary arm of the DoD. Additionally, SAPRO introduced a system of restricted reporting, which allows survivors of sexual assault to make confidential reports, so that they can avoid exposing themselves to a potentially hostile environment. While this has generated an increase in the number of sexual assault reports, it has not launched investigations into the assaults themselves. By allowing restricted reporting, the military has been able to sidestep the legal aspects of the crime and the rapists are free to continue roaming the community.In 2007, at the age of 18, Carri Leigh Goodwin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Her father, a former Marine was incredibly proud. While serving at Camp Pendleton, Carri was brutally raped and she reported it to her superior officers. Instead of being supported by her command, her allegations were not taken seriously. Similar to many survivors of military rape who report the crime, the blame of the sexual assault was placed on the survivor instead of the perpetrator. Carri was bullied by her command for her reporting and was eventually forced out of the Marine Corps, which claimed she had a Personality Disorder. According to an the investigation, her rapist was accused of another rape in 2006 at Camp Pendleton, however he was not charged and continued to serve. Carri's rapist did receive an NJP for her rape, but nothing more. He again continued to serve in the Marine Corps.
The day she was discharged her family picked her up from the bus station. They were not aware of her rape nor were they aware she was taking an anti-depressant. Five days later Carri, now 20, drank herself to death. To make matters worse, her sister, Misty Goodwin, was eventually charged with involuntary manslaughter and furnishing alcohol to a minor. Misty was convicted and served a ninety day jail sentence.
The courageous women that do report their rapists to their superiors, often find themselves the object of ridicule, punishment, and are routinely ostracized. They are frequently counseled to drop the charges, 'You don't want to ruin a good soldier's career', and so on. Additionally, until the case is is actually put into motion, many of the victims are forced to serve with their perpetrators until the case is adjudicated. This merciless process continues to victimize already traumatized women.
Meet Tina Priest:
The prosecutions of sexual assaults in the military are about eight percent, shocking in view of the number of sexual assaults that are not only reported, but are also unreported. In comparison, civilian courts prosecute sexual assault crimes at the rate of about forty percent.Private Tina Priest, 20, serving at Camp Taji, was raped by a fellow soldier in February, 2006. She reported the rape to her superiors. Eleven days later, Tina was found dead in her room by a self-inflicted M-16 shot, her death characterized by the Military as a "suicide". Tina's mother, Joy Priest, disputed the Army's findings. Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape, and while very upset about the assault, she was not suicidal. Priest continued to challenge the Army's investigative documents with a simple question. How could her petite, 5-foot-tall daughter with a short arm length have held the M-16 at an angle which would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest, who presented the Army contradictory evidence from an outside forensic specialist. The Army then claimed Tina must have used her big toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army never investigated Tina's death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.
Rape charges against the soldier, whose sperm was found on her sleeping bag, were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for 2 months, 30 days restriction to the base, and 45 days of extra duty.
Convictions rates in the military are equally low. According to SAPRO's 2010 annual report, of 3,158 reports of military sexual assault, only 529 perpetrators were convicted, while forty-one percent were acquitted or had the charge dismissed.
For cases that do make it to trial, sexual assault conviction rates are astoundingly
low. Approximately six percent of all defendants were discharged or resigned in lieu of courts-martial, which means that they were allowed to leave their jobs in order to avoid sexual assault charges.
Meet Hannah Gunterman McKinney:
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, MST is defined by U.S. Code (1720D of Title 38), as "psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training."Pfc. Hannah Gunterman McKinney, 20 years old, and the mother of a young son, was spotted in the headlights of a passing Humvee on a side road at one of the largest U.S. military camps in Iraq, again Camp Taji. She lay in the dirt barely alive. Her ribs were broken, her spleen ruptured, and there was the tread of a tire imprinted on her right side.
Her parents were told that it appeared their daughter was run over by a truck as she crossed the street. But as the facts of that evening slowly began to emerge, they revealed a very different story. McKinney's last hours were spent with a decorated reservist, responsible for junior enlisted soldiers. According to investigators, she left her post at the guard tower with her Sergeant--no one knows if it was voluntary or if she was coerced. According to reports, both were drinking and there was sex involved. There are differing accounts about whether the sex was consensual or an assault. The drunken Sergeant says she must have fallen out of the Humvee, that 'he didn't see her fall out', although he did hear a 'thump' as his Humvee rolled over 'something'. He pled guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving, and consensual sodomy with an underage, junior solider to whom he had supplied alchohol. A military judge ruled McKinney's death an accident, and the Sergeant was sentenced to thirteen months in prison, demoted to private, but not discharged from the Army. No longer serving, he is currently spends time on Facebook.
Yet while they acknowledge that MST exists, explain exactly what it is and who it happens to, offer counseling for those who have experienced it, nothing is written on their pages about prosecuting those that violate and harass or about preventing future incidents.
Please join us on 3:00 p.m. to learn more about MST, how our Armed Forces are addressing it, and what we as a community can do to change a culture that routinely turns a blind eye to sexual assault. We plan on live-blogging the event - look for a diary this afternoon at about 3pm!