Archive for the ‘Hostile Environment’ Category

Dominoes

May 29, 2013

Hello Friends,

The news just keeps rolling in.  Military personnel in high positions being removed from their positions, being reassigned  or resigning due to accusations of assault.  The root of the problem and just how high it goes is now being discussed among the general public.  “Military Sexual Trauma” is no longer an obscure term whispered with shame among the survivors. 

All in all – it is “good” news…as much as sexual/physical violence can be determined “good.”  The subject matter is horrible – the fact that these individuals are falling like dominoes is “good.”  The fact that people are talking about it is good.  The fact that the victims and survivors may no longer have to feel shame is good. 

I was listening to a radio commercial the other night and the announcer said, “are you one of those people who want something done….or are you one of those people who are willing to do something to change things?”

We, the survivors, are the voice of change.  Everyone who shares their story, publishes their blog, speaks out – even anonymously – is the voice of change!  We are the one’s “doing something” to make the world a better place – and to all of my fellow survivors…I thank you for your courage!  You are the light and the hope for a world without military sexual trauma!

Even the anonymous voices, like myself and Brigid, are important voices.  I have found that, in the real world, I can talk about MST and about the terrible things people experience and never tell that person that I am a survivor.  In fact, in some ways it is more powerful….because they aren’t wanting to hear the gory details or feeling pity.  Don’t pity me!  I survived and I am leading a full and happy life…I don’t want anyone’s pity…I want change!  I want justice for those who are being victimized!

Someone said to me this morning – “Well, you never have a bad morning…do you?”  Yup – she was being snotty.  She is someone who struggles with things and she prefers to live in her perceived “victimhood” than to make a choice to live another way.   I would share her life story and her trauma’s here – because she shares them with everyone else – but I will forgo that woeful tale.   A couple of years ago I did a presentation that she attended on Sensitive Practices and Public Law 103 in regards to MST treatment and compensation.  She ran around the area telling everyone that she was going to get an automatic 30% because she thinks she had MST.  I have never met an MST survivor who could go up to co-workers happy and sing-songing that she was going to get free money from the government.  Worried for her I pulled her aside and explained that it was a long, hard and stressful process and that I would be there for her.  I asked her if she needed help meeting the burden of proof…her response was, “I need to prove it?”  Yes, you will need to prove it and I started talking about methods to gain the proof. 

Her response – “Well, it was just five guys in a parking lot yelling cat calls at me…but it scared me.  I don’t have any proof – but I could really use the money.”

At that point I just about lost it.  I thought of the survivors that I know…whose lives have been shattered, who have lost their careers, many dishonorable discharged.  I thought about all of us with damage to our internal organs – or losing organs – because of our trauma. 

The money doesn’t change much in our lives.  In fact, for many of us it feels more like a slap in the face.  I know that when I first got mine my husband was understandably excited…we really needed a new roof.  All I could think of is how I earned that money…”on my back”…so to speak.  The money felt dirty – like the government was telling me what the Army had told me…that I was some kind of a whore.  Thankfully – I have found ways to overcome those feelings…but it took some time.  Watching those guys put the new roof on the house felt nasty.  That is why I always advocate to people to find something special that you really, really want and use some of the money to purchase it.  It doesn’t even have to be anything big – just something that brings you joy.  That way you can change your perception of the money…it worked great for me!  In fact, it worked so good that the last time I had to see SGT Jerk I rode my motorcycle out there.  Instead of feeling edgy and threatened I just reminded myself that in the end he didn’t win…I won! 

I don’t “win” because I have something I want or because I occasionally buy myself a new dress that I really like (something I couldn’t do after they ended my career because of the financial situation.)  I won because I choose to be the winner!

If I could share anything with my fellow survivors it would be that “Happiness is a choice.”  Choose joy!  Choose life!  Choose to be a force for change in the world.  It isn’t easy…sometimes it forces you to push and pull yourself away from dark holes and into the light of day.  There are days that all I want to do is bury my head in the covers and curl up with a cat and pounds of chocolate – heck…there are days that I do that 🙂  But they are rare.

Choosing to be happy is the greatest revenge of all – you see…when I was raped, when I was beaten, when I was assaulted…I had no choice.  They took away my right to choose, my right to decide, my right to say NO.  By God – I took it back!  It doesn’t cure anything – the PTSI, the depression, the panic, the fear…but it does make it easier to live with for me.

I know that all of the recent news is triggering for some – but try to be positive…try to think of it as good.  The dominoes are falling…and when they all fall down they will lead to something better at the end.  My hope is that they will lead to a world without MST.

Peace,

Joan

Advertisements

Conundrum

April 5, 2013

Hello, Friends –

What a crazy and confusing time it has been. I have found myself puzzled, perplexed and completely lacking sure direction.

First of all – I received word from the National Guard – who was asked by the Governor’s office to review my records. I have copied the letter below – which is addressed directly to the Governor – they couldn’t even bother writing one to me. Please know that names have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent and the stupid!

Dear Governor X:

This letter is in response to your email message on behalf of Joan. Joan was formerly a member of the XXXXX of the XXXX Army National Guard.

Joan alleges that a hostile work environment and discrimination occurred in the XXXX during the years XXXX through XXXX. Contained in the several pages of documentation she provided to my Staff Judge Advocate, she states that the XXX Army National Guard failed to address her issues; and as a result, she voluntarily resigned from the Active Guard and reserve Program.

Joan requests that the XXXX Army National Guard learn from its past mistakes, the mistreatment she received, and change her status to indicate she is retired. I can state with assurance that the XXX National Guard has a much lower tolerance for the kind of workplace discrimnation and harassment alleged by her. The Amry’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program (SHARP) promtes an environment free from harassment of any kind as a means of providing all Soliders a workplace in with they may excel. It is beyond the ability of the XXX Army National Guard to affect Joan’s status. However, she may seek relief through the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. The Legal Assistance Attorney in the Office of Staff Judge Advocate can assist her in the regard.

I appreciate the opportunity to look into this matter…blah blah blah.

Respectfully
A complete ignorant Major General – who should have probably waited until HE was sober before writing this letter!!

This letter was received at my house on 04/03/2013. I sent the original information to the National Guard at the request of the Governor’s office – that was sent to them on November, 5th of 2012. If it had not been for my repeated phone calls – I would have gotten no response at all.

I supplied the JAG with copies of a counseling statement, written by MY supervisor, stating that I am working in a hostile environment. (Thanks – Ready Man – it has come in very handy 🙂 I also supplied them with a copy of the EEO Claim that I filed that was signed by my supervisor, delivered to the commander and never signed or forwarded beyond his desk drawer. However, I am thrilled to learn that I must be totally friggin nuts because – “I can state with assurance that the XXX National Guard has a much lower tolerance for the kind of workplace discrimnation and harassment alleged by her.”

See – that makes me feel so much better that his “assurance” is worth more than solid, documented fact! I continue the fight!! I now have a call back into the Governor’s office, to the staffer listed, who has not yet received or seen a copy of the letter. HMMMMMM interesting! Next step will be to go through one of the larger action groups and go to my media contacts – after I see what the Governor’s office decides to do. I also have some state political contacts that I can use. However, gotta go one step at a time.

In addition to this craziness I interviewed for a new job. I was completely honest and told the truth – which I don’t believe the individual in charge appreciated very much. I just have this thing that I no longer want to maintain silence. Silence breeds shame. I did nothing wrong!

I’m tired of people forgetting to love one another. Let’s just put aside all of the bullshit and start loving one another, respecting one another. We don’t all have to agree on everything – but we can be civil human beings and still disagree. I’m tired of who is right and who is wrong and what is ‘legal’ and what isn’t.

Because of the nature of the job, old parts of my life are an issue. The individual at the top wanted “plausible deniability.” What the hell is that?! So in order to be of “service” I have to be a liar? Don’t they know that it is “silence” that has got us where we are today!! Don’t talk about the bad things, don’t tell anyone what happened, don’t rat anybody out, don’t ruin HIS career. Keep it silent. I am not blaming this individual and he was not mean – he is really a nice person – I understand that I have left him in a conundrum too. I just no longer want to live a lie because it might make someone “uncomfortable.”

It hit me very hard this morning through – the idea of silence. I stood in the shower crying. I think part of why it has hit me so hard is because this is the second anniversary of a friend’s suicide. So to that end I would like to share the following:

Elle G – Newsboys

Thumbs out on a desert road I am told
Leads to nowhere
Any shade is as good as the next
If your shadow doesn’t go there
Week seven, did you really assume
I’d find some solace from the letter in your room?
Next life, could you kindly refrain
From throwing yourself at the mercy of a train?

Silence all, nobody breathe.
How in the world could you just leave?
You promised you would
Silence that evil with good

Hear me out, I have the floor
I’ll give you my tears, I’ll listen more
You promised you would
Overcome evil with good

Maybe this world is a barren place for a soul
Prone to get lost
But heaven still hounds from the smallest sounds
To the cries of the storm-tossed
Week nine: I am writing in the sand
Any little clue that could help me understand
Every whispered secret, every muffled sigh
Every half-truth that was added to a lie

Silence all, nobody move
I’ve got to know now what you hoped to prove
You promised you would
Silence that evil with good

Shame feeds guilt, guilt needs release
You took it to god
You made your peace
And swore that you would
Overcome evil with good

Every old demon playing back the crime
If they needed blood, I’d have gladly given mine
A child of the kingdom; still an invalid
Forgive her, please father
She don’t know what she did

Silence all, now go to sleep
The water’s free, the well is deep
How can we return
That which we never could earn?

God, I long to see her face
We haven’t a hope
Beyond your grace
I know that you will
Overcome evil
For good

Read more at http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/81235/#68xfO0gb28y7yyMB.99

I miss ya, Wen.

Joan

A Poor Definition

December 28, 2012

Hello, Friends.

I have found myself recently in several locations where I have to attempt to define “military sexual trauma.”  The official VA definition according to US Code is below:

It is “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.” Sexual harassment is further defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”

Wow – talk about a mouth full!  Believe it or not – I was actually my unit’s EO person when I left the unit.  I know…the EO Rep being the one who was victimized is pretty crazy…to say the least.

When I taught EO and Sexual Harrassment I tried to do it in a way that was fun and interesting.  No dry, boring slides for me!!  I believed that if there was an interesting dynamic – that there would be more willingness to listen.  I always started with a inappropriate joke – one that would upset the men and one that would upset the women.  Then we would discuss why they were “offended.”

There are really two types of sexual harrassment:  Quid pro Quo and Hostile Environment. 

Quid pro Quo is literally – this for that.  I see a whole lot of this in the military – and sometimes, because the victim “gained something in return” they don’t really feel that they were assaulted.  Sometimes it is sexual conduct in exchange for better duty, rank or things of a similar nature.  Sometimes it is sexual conduct just to survive!  Servicemembers pressured into sexual contact just so that they can live a normal life.  In some ways I refer to this as the “protective rapist.”  Because you “belong” to someone in the unit – usually of higher rank – you are no longer a target for guys looking for a hookup.  You are off limits.  However, being in an inappropriate relationship isn’t necessarily “rape.”  After all, we control our sexuality by our own choice. 

Hostile Environment is a different matter.  This is when the area that you are working in is completely and totally offensive to you for either your gender or your unwillingness to engage in sexual behavior.  This can be anything from the nude catalog on the wall in the platoon room (yes, males can experience this too – maybe they are offended by a group of women with naked men hanging in the workplace!)  Hostility towards your rank or your position and deliberate attacks on your or your job.  Poor NCOERs when you have done nothing to earn a poor rating.

Perhaps it is easiest to define what sexual harrassment/MST isn’t.  First of all – this is very individually specific at times.  So let’s look at one example.

You are out on a smoke break at the picnic table with members of your platoon.  One of the NCO’s starts telling a dirty joke.  You sit and listen and then complain because you were offended.  Is this sexual harrassment?

No – it’s not.  You could have gotten up and left.  There was nothing holding you there.  It may be an example of “hostile environment” if it reflects the deeper culture of the unit – but sometimes a joke is just a joke.

Let’s look at the same situation in another environment – like a platoon formation.  Now you are bound to stay and listen to the dirty joke.  You cannot leave.  This is that hostile environment that reflects the unit’s culture – if leadership believes it is acceptable to share offensive material to a captive audience.

That isn’t necessarily a male/female thing either.  It can be a religious preference of the person.  Their personally held beliefs cause them to find it offensive.

I have come to believe in the “comfort factor.”  If you are having “creeped out feelings” then you are probably heading into a bad situation.  Don’t be afraid to chronicle the things that are going on.  You will probably never find “justice” from the military – but those supporting documents will give you a leg up with proving your claim at the VA.

Don’t be afraid to speak out, either.  Even in uniform.  Not all leaders are pigs.  For the purpose of this post – I will say not all men are pigs.  Talk to them, quietly and out of the range of others.  They may not even realize they have been offensive! 

I had a similiar situation when I was EO.  Both the female subordinate and the male leader were friends of mine.  The male leader was actually a pretty good guy – he used to make jokes every now and again that he kept me around for “Hot coffee and clean tent floors.”  I was never offended by those jokes because it was a “private” joke – not spoken in front of strangers – and his behavior toward me never indicated that he saw me as less of a soldier than a man.  Well – I will be danged if he didn’t make the same joke to my female friend who had just gotten transferred into the platoon and it seriously offended her.  Of course it would – it was just bad timing and she had never really worked with him.

He truly wanted to make it right.  He apologized profusely to both her and her spouse who was also in the unit.  He explained that it was really meant to be funny and that he was really, really sorry.  It worked itself out.

Was that a “hostile environment?”  I think it was – from her point of view.  But it was not on purpose – it was just a careless word that was later regretted. 

I was so proud of her for stepping forward and making an issue of it.  She set her boundaries – that was good!  Luckily – this leader was a good one – and saw the mistake he had made and took responsibility.  They worked together fine after that.

Unfortunately – not every story ends like that.  It is really too bad.  Of course, this post has nothing to do with rape, but I hope it helps some readers better understand the problems.

More to come!

Joan