Archive for the ‘Rape in the Military’ Category

What I was Wearing Part 2

March 4, 2015

Hello, Friends,

Sorry I have been out of commission for a while. The winter weather, job changes, and some crazy stress have me living in the ruts right now. Of course – it is now March which means that I am starting to panic about the work I have to get done for Sexual Assault Awareness Month – but that is just the normal for me…I wouldn’t call it panic as much as I would call it worried excitement.

As you know – I am helping with an Art Installation project called, “What I was Wearing When I was Raped.” I have been thinking about what I would say – because I will be submitting a piece as well. This year’s theme is all about OUR voices – the voices of survivors – and I am really excited about that. Just to refresh you…here is the poem by Mary Simmerling and the purpose of the project is to do away with these ideas that what someone wears makes them “ask for it.”

What I was Wearing
by Mary Simmerling

was this:
from the top
a white t-shirt
cotton
short-sleeved
and round at the neck

this was tucked into
a jean skirt
(also cotton)
ending just above the knees
and belted at the top

underneath all this
was a white cotton bra
and white underpants
(though probably not a set)

on my feet
white tennis shoes
the kind one plays tennis in
and then finally
silver earrings, and lip gloss.

this is what i was wearing
that day
that night
that fourth of july
in 1987.

you may be wondering
why this matters
or even how i remember
every item
in such detail

you see
i have been asked this question
many times
it has been called to my mind
many times
this question
this answer
these details.

but my answer
much awaited
much anticipated
seems flat somehow
given the rest of the details
of that night
during which
at some point
i was raped.

and i wonder
what answer
what details
would give comfort
could give comfort
to you
my questioners

seeking comfort where
there is
alas
no comfort
to be found.

if only it were so simple
if only we could
end rape
by simply changing clothes.

i remember also
what he was wearing
that night
even though
it’s true
that no one
has ever asked.

What I was Wearing by Joan

What was I wearing when I was sexually assaulted?
Maybe I should ask you, which time?
However, that really doesn’t matter,
Because what I was wearing everytime,
Was a US Army Uniform.

There was supposed to be no gender in a US Army uniform and there was no such thing as race, color or religion. That is what I was told, I was a soldier, the person next to me was a soldier, and so was the person next to that person. We are all soldiers. One of the questions people would ask when I joined is; “What if you go to war and get captured and the enemy rapes you?” I always thought it was a funny question, no different than getting shot…right? However, it is a lot different than getting shot, because most of the time you are shot – it is by an enemy combatant. Everytime I was raped it was by someone who was wearing the same uniform I was.

That is my contribution to the project – that and the last uniform I ever wore. I had put it in a plastic container – rank still on it, sleeves still rolled, pen in the pocket, and the ear plug case still attached. The only thing I stripped was the belt. Now the uniform will have a home and maybe even a purpose.

Thank you to those who have sent me posts – they are more powerful than you may know. The stories are already ripping at the hearts of the people who are part of the system here. They show that we could be their sister, brother, husband, wife, child, or parent. They show that we are normal, average, every day people. We don’t wear little beacons that say, “rape me!” We are them.

I still wonder how long this is going to take to change. The 21 May 2013 issue of Marine Corps Times has a headline “Busted for ‘SAMMICH’ Jokes.” Although it states that Marine Corps leadership won’t tolerate this anymore, a short internet search shows that the Facebook pages F’N Wook and Just the Tip, Of the Spear are still active and posting. In 2015 it is perfectly acceptable to make inappropriate remarks about female servicemembers – including barracks mattresses and sandwich jokes.

“Oh, but Joan, it’s a joke – just a joke.” Really? Okay, let me rephrase a couple of these….(Trigger Warning – uncomfortable statements below – even more…horrible and disgusting racial remarks and I beg your forgiveness but I use them to make a point!)

There is a meme with Darth Vader pointing at Princess Leia and it says, “Sammiches, they don’t make themselves.”

Let’s replace Darth Vader with a white man and let’s replace Princess Leia with a black man. Is it still okay? A white man directing a black man to go make him a Sammich. Better yet – let’s go really overboard and have Former President George W. Bush saying that to President Barack Obama. Is it still okay?

There are memes of women with bruised faces that are captioned, “She burned the bacon” and “I told you no mayo, bitch” and these are okay? Why is this okay?

Would it be okay if we posted these types of things with a white man beating a Native American woman and calling her a “Squaw”?

What about a White Man telling a Latino Man to “lay on your wetback – barracks mattress.” Is that okay?

NO – I say none of it is okay. If you are reading this and you are still in the military and you think it is okay – I dare you to walk up to a high ranking female NCO (such as a 1SGT or CSM or Gunnery SGT) and look at her and say “Go get me a Sammich.” If you are even braver – I suggest you choose a female of color and include a racial remark. Perhaps something like, “Oh, thank goodness, the head house n**** is here to bring me my sammich.” I had an amazing Female 1SGT back in the early 90’s and if you had said this to her…you would STILL be looking for your parts!!

These are not JOKES – a joke is two Jews walk into a bar…WAIT A MINUTE – that isn’t a joke either!! None of it is funny!!

A joke is something funny that when shared makes people happy – all the people – and it is something you can tell in front of your granny – that is a joke. “A toilet was stolen from a police station today…it is a pretty serious crime. The police have nothing to go on.” See – funny!

Women have become the new group to make jokes about and it is disgusting. In a world where one in three women in their lifetime will experience some form of sexual violence – it is unacceptable!

Peace,

Joan

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What cannot be raped

December 5, 2014

RAPE: an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: “the rape of the countryside”

I wanted to use this definition of “rape” for this post – because we all know that rape is so much more than “sexual intercourse through force.” Rape comes in many forms. Taking something that isn’t offered, violation of a person’s right to safety and privacy and the simple right to say NO, emotional and physical abuse. DESPOLIATION!

Despoliation – means to take something valuable by force. To spoil something.

I can tell you that my military career – something valuable – was taken by force. It was spoiled. “Professionals” want to run around and talk about trauma and talk about rape – but I think that this definition is so incredibly accurate! In fact, I believe that we need to replace all of the other definitions of “rape” with THIS definition. The definition above does away with several issues – 1) rape is about sex (NO – rape is about taking something by plunder, violent seizure or abuse) 2) Only women are raped (NO – anyone can have something plundered, seized, abused, spoiled or have their body violated) 3) Well – that is what happens when you put boys and girls together (NO – most of the world can be in a room together without anyone being violated!) I could go on and on with this – but this isn’t really the point of today’s post.

Most people know that I love my music! I have been having a couple of tough weeks. Severe nightmares, stuggling to get off the couch, being generally tearful, unhappy, agitated…ect. It also means that I really, really struggle to do anything at work! Happily, I can take a little time to get things ready for SAAM 2015 – so I can listen to some music – watch a few videos – just kind of think about what we might be able to use. I found something amazing today.

I am a grandmother who likes some of what Katy Perry sings. Yes, I admit it…I am a closet Katy Perry fan. Not all of her stuff – but who can’t love ROAR and FIREWORK. Those are two of my “go to” songs.

So I see this Katy Perry video on You Tube (just on the side where you can see just a picture – not the actual video) and I see a picture of Katy Perry in a Kevlar helmet and freakin camo face paint on and I am like – WTH! So I decide to take a risk and I click on it and the song is entitled Part of Me.

Basically – it is a video about a women who catches the boyfriend cheating on her, sees and Marine Corp bumper sticker and joins the Marines. However, the video struck me in a way that Katy Perry never planned. Hopefully the link works for you and you take the time to watch it.

I want to post the words to the chorus as well:

“This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
Throw your sticks and your stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows
But you’re not gonna break my soul
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me”

In the video – you see her doing all of those “military training” things that all of us did. (in some form or another) Then she is dancing in a uniform under the blue field of one of the huge stadium American flags singing the words in that chorus and I realized – she’s right!

Yes – they took my career through RAPE. Yes – they violated me, abused me, plundered my life, my career and they spoiled the life that I was proud of. But you know what…they CAN’T TAKE AWAY WHAT I DID! THEY CAN’T RAPE THAT!

They can’t “rape” what I accomplished. Basic training, AIT, my job, the awards and citations I earned – they can’t rape those. They can’t rape the memory of busting ass on the Confidence Course, or throwing grendades or firing expert on the M16 range. I did those thing – they can’t rape that. They can’t rape the values I tried to instill in my soldiers, they can’t rape the fact that there are a fair number of people who remember me as a good NCO. They can’t rape that.

No matter what was done to me – I always got back up. No matter how hard they hit – I got back up. Yes – my career went down in flames but I was fighting – I went down swinging – and you can’t rape that! That goes for every single one of you that are reading this – the very fact that you are reading this…that you are alive…that you get up in the morning and brush your teeth and live – they can’t rape that – YOU WIN!! Doesn’t mean we aren’t bloody from the battle (body, mind, soul and spirit) – but WE WON!! THEY LOST – YOU WON! It doesn’t always feel like that – but it is something we have to begin to believe about ourselves because one thing I can tell you is that every single time I look a fellow survivor in the eyes I don’t see a victim – I see a WINNER. If that is what others see in us – then we need to see that in ourselves. Maybe it is a one day at a time thing – cause I know I sure don’t feel like I have won much this week – but I made it!

Being a good soldier is a part of me they can’t rape – they can’t rape that – they can’t take that.
They can say all of the shit they want to say – but they can’t break my soul. They can’t break your soul. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t do some serious damage – but my soul is still my own.

I was a good soldier and they will never take that away from me and I will learn to be proud of that again – and you just can’t rape that!

Peace,

Joan

Triggering vs. Liberating!

September 24, 2014

Hello friends,

I have been taking advantage of the free time I have in my new job to start work on Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2015 here at my place of employment which we all know is the place that takes care of Veterans but I am not going to say it here.

Things that are driving me crazy is the topic today. Every year I prepare to hear the exact same stupid, freaking statement; “We don’t want to trigger anyone.”
I hate the word “trigger.” Oh – I know that it happens, it has happened to me on many occasions – but I find that people who don’t KNOW squat about MST like to use the word “trigger” to AVOID talking about the issue.

We don’t want to talk about RAPE – it is truly a 4-letter word. No, it is not a comfortable subject, it is not a happy subject – let’s just talk about happy things here and not actually deal with any issues.

“Good morning – welcome to your appointment – would you like to quit smoking? Do you drink too much? Good – here are your pills…have a nice day!”

Thankfully – that is NOT my experience with my Psychiatrist or therapist – but I know that it is the experience for many people.

For anyone who MIGHT be reading this that is not a Survivor – let me define what a “trigger” really is.

Trigger – an unexpected event that hits you upside the head, knocks you on the ground and leaves you with an overwhelming desire to crawl out of your skin and find a very dark room with a locked door that you can hide in. You want a large pillow, or music or television to drown out to voices in your head that are telling you how screwed up you are – how you brought this on yourself and how much you deserved it. The voices call you weak and crazy and stupid and ugly – they tell you that you are worth nothing. No, this isn’t the official definition – but for me…it fits to a T.

Liberation is the opportunity to say, “I SURVIVED!” I have made a life for myself – whatever that life may be – I have continued to exist…to be…to fight! Every now and again, just being alive is a fight. Every now and again getting up in the morning is a fight. Not beating someone senseless can be a struggle. I AM ALIVE! I WIN!
Celebration of Survival is a good thing. Acknowledging the struggle and the pain and saying, “You are so brave!” is a good thing! For those of us who are advocates, this is the most powerful thing we can do. It is important to normalize the experience of Rape, not because it is okay that it happens, but because in the end we all have the same feelings of anger, hatred, sorrow, disgust, shame and self-doubt. It is the only way to help the Survivors! For someone to listen, to understand, to believe is something that is so rare out there in the world.

People die from Rape every day. They die at the hands of the rapist and they die by their own hand because they can’t deal with the damn voices in their head. The voices that tell us that we are dirty, that we deserved it, that we brought it on ourselves. In addition to the voices is the unique experience of MST, where the very people we trusted who were supposed to be on our side are the same voices we hear in our heads. That is what they told us – so it must be true. We hide away and we believe the same lies that they told us then – the same lies that we hear now – and no one is there to call the liars out. So too many Survivors have given in to the depression, believed the lies and taken their own life.

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Walt Whitman wrote this poem for us – in many ways – the Survivors of this experience called Rape. He even answered the question.
YOU ARE HERE! LIFE EXISTS! YOU HAVE AN IDENTITY THAT WILL NEVER EXIST IN THE WORLD AGAIN! We have the ability to change the world with our voices. Many of you who read this blog are fellow Survivors and fellow Advocates. Your verse is your courage to speak out when others stay silent. The nice thing about cyberspace is that nothing is ever really gone once it is out there. The young service member may find your words 5 or 10 years from now and decide to LIVE!

I continue to lead the fight in my little corner of the world. To teach that we need to CELEBRATE survival, HONOR courage and provide HOPE for the wounded. To teach that we can talk about these things – we MUST talk about these things – that it may cause someone to FEEL something is not a bad thing.

Feeling something is what we push away – we keep it bottled down inside of us and hide it from the world. Pretty soon, you feel numb to your own pain, to other peoples’ pain, until suddenly it breaks like a weakened dam and spreads everywhere. We have to help Survivors understand that it is okay to feel the feelings, to express the feelings and then to let them go. When they come back we start again, feeling the feelings, express the feelings and then let them go. Anything else is just a tragedy waiting to happen. If I have to feel the anger every 10 minutes – say FUCK THEM – and then move on…that is what I have to do. If I have to tell to voices in my head to shut the fuck up every 5 minutes – then that is what I have to do.

Celebrate your Survival! Celebrate your strength, your courage, your resiliency! Most important – Celebrate that you are living your life with HONOR! They didn’t – they gave away their honor the moment they touched you. However, HONOR is something that they cannot take from you! Your HONOR – the most important thing we have as service members – your HONOR is above reproach!

Blessings and Peace,
Joan

Working Out

February 2, 2014

Hello, Friends –

Sorry I have been out of the loop for a while. There have been a lot of things going on here. Please keep Brigid and her family in your prayers and thoughts.

I served with this guy in the National Guard. He was a bit of a Forrest Gump character, not the smartest guy, but he was a good soldier. Actually, if you take Forrest Gump and give him a lot of speed…that was TR.

TR had this trait of always wanting to help out his fellow soldier. He could run like no one I had ever seen! In fact, we all used to shake our heads at the PT Test. He would complete his two mile run…usually around the 11 min mark…and then turn around and start running back the other way. Someone would yell – “Hey, were are you going.” His response was always- “Mark my time…I’m going back for everyone else!!” He did, too. He would run back and bring groups or individuals back across the finish line and then go out for other people. He would encourage them, run with them, push them to pass their test. He was something to behold!!

I have been very frustrated lately – I have also been struggling with my depression. I feel like I keep running back trying to help others out – but the race is hard. The Survivors of MST, we all stick together – but those who can make real change…they refuse to see what is going on.

TR is the kind of person I want to be – the one who never leaves anyone behind. So often I feel that I am going it alone right now. Brigid is always by my side – but getting others to understand the urgency, the need – that is often very hard.

I have gone Congressional on the issue of Women’s Peer Support at VA Hospital facilities. I am now working with two local Congressman. It is so important that Female Veterans and all MST Survivors have access to peer support for MST and for Female issues. I have been trying to stress that the two groups are separate. I don’t believe that a Male Survivor would really want to speak to a Male Peer Support Specialist about rape and sexual assault. However, the leadership at my VA doesn’t seem to grasp how many of us there are and how much we need one another! I was hopeful that by breaking down the two issues – Women Veterans AND MST Survivors – that I might get somewhere. I was told that Male MST Survivors have access to Peer Support. Yes, they do – to Males who don’t have any experience with MST! Knowing one of the people they hired – I see him as more of a Perpetrator that as a Peer.

I want to thank everyone out there doing the same work that I am doing. It keeps my heart warm to remember that there are many of us who are fighting the same fights, feeling the same feelings and trying to leave no one behind.

Blessings,

Joan

Triggers

September 2, 2013

Hi all, Prodigal Brigid here. I feel the need to share something that has happened to me, and set me way, way, way back in my recovery. I thought I was doing really well. Even the review board didn’t want to give me the full 30% I was entitled to for the MST I suffered for over a decade. They said I was too well adjusted. Too well adjusted, but not able to drive 50 miles to see my best friend. Too well adjusted, but I deadbolt my door the second I get home, and check several time throughout the day/night to make sure it is locked. Too well adjusted, that I will not open the door for anybody, period, unless the text or call me and let me know they are coming over and when. Too well adjusted.

I’ve got news for them. I am not well adjusted. I am a blubbering mess, terrified, out of my head. And back in therapy again, and all my meds have increased, some doubled. I am also on Worker’s comp now, and am possibly taking an intermittent leave of absence. Can’t go to the grocery store. Can’t sleep. Can’t make it a day without crying. And why? Triggers.

Here I am trying to help others, and now I am just a big ball of jello. Never thought I would be susceptible to this, but here I am. Once a very strong, brave, indestructible woman, and all the doctors and authority figures just keep on asking me if I am suicidal, or want to do harm to myself. Uh, no, harm was done to me. But the thought started crossing my mind a few days ago.

Long story short, I got molested by a woman at work. I have no idea who she is, I never saw her. And I froze and panicked after she whispered in my ear, to make sure I knew she had done this intentionally. That one single incident has set me back, almost worst than when I was gang raped 25 years ago. I can’t explain it, but this one single stupid incident has me terrified. Is she going to do it again? She would be a fool to do so, because I will harm her if I figure out who she is. Mt therapist says it was a case of bullying. My employer states even if they find her, it will be my word against hers. 

But the biggest surprise through all of this, my employer is paying for all the meds and therapy, to help me get somewhat back to normal. And they actually are being very decent to me. Maybe there is some hope. 

My psychologist is going to test out a new PTSD therapy on me, one she has never done before. It will be long, and painful, but hopefully will help me never to react like this again. In the meantime, I can only pray for strength. 

Please pray for me,

Brigid

 

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

Fixing Rape in the Military

May 16, 2013

Yes, Friends….here we go again!  This is a second case involving a Sexual Assault Preventation and Response unit NCO.  Apparently, he is accused of running a little prostitution ring and with having sexually assaulted a Private First Class. 

Can you hear us now!!!???  How many more do you have to see – how many more accusations? 

Everyone keeps talking about “how do we fix this?”  Well, I am going to share my thoughts on the “fix.”  No, it will not be easy – but nothing good is easy!  This year shows 26,000 new “club members.”  Leaving it alone is NOT an option!

1.  Replace “military” SAPRO with “prior-service” civilian contractors.  Prior service allows them to understand the military system.  Civilian contracting takes them out of the military’s sphere of control.  SAPRO should answer only to the Secretary of Defense. 

2.  All Civilian contractors working for SAPRO must be certified in peer support or social work.  They must have an understanding of trauma and recovery, as well as, training in the criminal justice system.  They also need medical training and they must be trained in rape crisis intervention!

3.  ALL physical examinations done after an assault MUST be done by a civilian facility if possible.  IF this cannot be done a SAPRO representative MUST be present and take possession of the rape kit.  NO rape kit should EVER be placed in military hands!

4.  Commanders and 1st Sergeants who fail to contact a  SAPRO representative IMMEDIATELY in a sexual assault or a reported rape will be removed from their post pending an investigation.  This goes for ALL leadership.  If the Commander reports it and the Battalion Commander doesn’t follow through – then the Battalion Commander is held responsible and removed.  If it is the Squad Leader – that goes for them, too.  ZERO TOLERANCE mean ZERO TOLERANCE!  If my career comes down to “him/her or me” believe me…I am reporting “him/her.”  (remembering that rape can be committed by either gender)

5.  All military sexual trauma cases should be turned over to civilian authority.  Both the accuser and the accused should have an attorney – civilian – and both should have a military attorney to act as an advisor. 

6.  Oops – I almost forgot about the Special Victims Units.  Also – Civilian contractors with prior military experience who are trained to work with assault victims.  They need to be contacted before the SAPRO rep.  They take over with the victim…the MP’s can deal with the accused.  This allows for a “second look” and both groups to work together.  If the accused is innocent – then that will be proven.  However, false reporting of “rape” is very rare.  Especially knowing that it will currently end the career of the victim!

Let the law be the law – the police be the police and the judges be the judge – don’t allow Commanders or NCO’s to affect what is happening.  Remove BOTH parties from the unit. 

7.  Return to segregated Basic Training.  I know that sounds weird – but it removes the male/female interaction that distracts from the initial training.  I have spoken with several females that went through co-ed basic and they were “pushed aside” to train the “real soldiers.”  I was trained in an all female company – although we did have male cadre and drill sergeants.  The females had a real opportunity to bond and to be trained.  We received the same training and we learned how to do things in a way that could overcome our physical differences from the men.  I was very lucky – our male drill sergeants were truly the best of the best!  Using this system means that you are integrating “soldiers” into AIT – not a bunch of high school kids!

It all seems so “hard” but it really doesn’t have to be!  Yes – things are going to be harder in a combat zone…the war makes life very different.  But there are people who seem to say, “This is what happens when you put men and women together.”  That is just bull!  I work with men all day long.  I spend more time with the men I work with than I do with my own husband…we all do.  However, no one is running around here raping their co-workers!  I work with both an MD and an RN who have “authority” over me and who are men – and both of them are complete professionals.  I am never afraid to be alone in a room with one of them and none of them are pushing me against desks and trying to grope me!  They don’t make sexually inappropriate statements, they don’t have porn hanging in their offices, they don’t behave in disgusting ways. 

Why is it that we don’t need to segregate the civilian workforce by gender to prevent rape?

I will tell you why – most of us are “professionals.”  Not everyone is…of course…but, by in large,  we treat one another with respect.  If an accusation is made – there are people to handle it – and they do handle it.  My boss can’t go to the police or to the “judge” and overturn an accusation, they can’t stop the process and they can’t fire me if I make a complaint.  They don’t want to pay the consequences of a lawsuit.  However, the military doesn’t seem to mind because there are no “consequences.”

It is long past time to do something to stop this!  Yes, it will be painful.  Yes, it will be a powerful change for the military.  NO – it will not reduce military readiness!  If anything, it will improve readiness because we won’t have to worry about rape in the ranks!  It will help the military recruit and retain good people.

The military is supposed to be a “professional organization” – let’s start acting like it!

Joan

The Interview

May 6, 2013

Hello, Friends,

I am stopping in to ask a huge favor! I am in need of your prayers, positive thoughts and happy energy! After years of being “stuck” in my current job…I have an opportunity for a big interview…BIG – I mean really B…I…G!

For the last year I have been exploring the Peer Support certification and receiving formal training for a lot of the work I already do with my VSO and here at EitW. Many of you know that this blog began as a way to digest my own therapy…make sense of my own trauma and as a place to spew into the WWW everything I am feeling or thinking.

As time has gone on…and as more people have taken to reading this blog – we have reached out to others as a kind of a “support group.” We are not alone. Our experiences are different – but we have a choice…we can live or we can die. I don’t necessarily mean a physical form of death…but that happens, too….but a psychological death where the bastards win. I have chosen to live.

In just a few days I will be interviewing for a job, at my same employer, that will allow me to continue doing what I love doing…helping others to find their way out of the darkness. I would be doing Peer Support on a full-time paid basis! My tail is wagging! My tongue is hanging out drooling!!!! There are no words to describe how bad I want this job! I want this job so bad I am prepared to fall down on my knees and beg!

I am good at helping people – that is what I have been told. I love to encourage people and to lift them up. I was a “bullied child.” Constantly, every day – someone would bully me. I was pushed, punched, slapped – I was sexually violated. That hurt – but what really hurt were the words. “You are stupid, worthless, a nerd, a dog a squirrel. You aren’t good enough. You aren’t smart enough. You are a failure. You bring it on yourself – ya know…you squirrel. You’re fugly, ugly, four-eyed freak.” Even writing them sends a chill down my back…I can hear them – those taunts still ring in my ears. Sometimes…it still affects me. When I feel isolated from a group, or different – I can feel the little girl in me curl up and try to hide in the corner.

I had a few close friends. Not many. I had a couple of great teachers I really liked – they liked me too! We spent time together. One of them got me through Chemistry class with a C…since I can’t do math that was a huge accomplishment!

I like to make people feel good with words. All of the people that I have met through this blog have been such an inspiration to me! They push the envelope, they reach out, they open their hearts. They have encouraged me to do the same. I was at a VSO event this weekend and this woman walked up to me and said, “you are Joan…right? I hear you help veterans – can you help me?” Of course – of course I can help. I will do anything to help.

This feels like my shot, my chance – the one thing that will make everything okay. I recently turned down a “dream job” with my church. The money was good enough…but I called my priest and said…”Father, I’m sorry. The job is perfect for me…but something is wrong! I don’t think I am supposed to leave the VA.” He laughed…and then he agreed with me. He thinks I would be perfect for the job – but he is concerned that it would require me leaving the VA – he thinks God has a purpose for me right where I am.

We both had the same concerns. We both had the same worries. You know I always say…there is no such thing as a coincidence!

Three weeks later I get an interview for a job that would allow me to do nothing but encourage and lift up my brothers and sisters who are living with mental illness. A chance to offer support to their families..I know what it is like to be a mother of a mentally ill son who has a drug problem. I know what it is like to be a homeless Veteran with three young children. To live in a domestic violence shelter. To fight with the system for benefits, for help, for support. I know what it means for just one person to believe in you. Just one.

It isn’t about money, or paychecks or benefits. That isn’t why I work at the VA. I’m not saying the VA is perfect – I can tell you a long list of bad experiences, horrible flaws, ugly days. It doesn’t even have to be the VA – I can tell you about horrible people and experiences in private medicine! Expensive medicine with bitchy, mouthy, hateful people working there.

I’m far from perfect – but I try to give every patient one thing…a smile and a kind word. That may be the only thing I have to offer in a day. Maybe something to laugh about. A moment of respect, a moment of understanding or just a squeeze to their hand to let them know that I care. Every place that serves customers is built on one thing and one thing only – the people that work there. You can have the most beautiful facilities, the best equipment and state of the art systems – but if the people spend their days sucking on sour pickles…it doesn’t mean anything. People will forget what you did and what you say – but they will never, ever forget how you make them feel.

I have had some really terrific success stories drawing blood. I know, clerking and drawing blood doesn’t sound like much – but it is where the rubber meets the road. A link in the chain for how people “feel” about the time they spend here. I told one gentleman, who served in Vietnam, that I felt that he was a “hero.” Three months later he came back with a beautiful letter for me. It said that no one had ever called him that, no one had ever thanked him for his service like that. He was driving one day and it just hit him and he bawled so hard he had to pull off the road. We stood in the clinic hall crying our eyes out. I have that letter and I will never, ever part with it.

Let’s face it – the one thing that all of us have in common, as MST Survivors, is the way the perpetrators made us feel. The way the military made us feel – like we are worthless, nothing, that we are the crazy ones! They all made us feel like we were dirt…rags…something to be used and kicked aside. Then – they told us we were crazy, we were nuts! I was diagnosed by a civilian shrink as a “borderline personality disorder with Cluster B traits.” Talk about nuts. Cluster B traits essentially mean that you are a “drama queen” and that everything revolves around you. Like I was paranoid and accusing others of things that didn’t happen.

You know what is funny – “borderline personality disorder with Cluster B traits” has many of the EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Paranoia…check, worried that people are going to hurt you…check. It is partially defined as: extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm and impulsivity.

In other words – he was saying…”you know, you are bringing a lot of this on yourself.”

What did the VA therapist, psychiatrist and comp and pen people say about it…because I asked my therapist outright!!! She said – no, Joan…you are not borderline personality disorder with cluster B…you are a classic PTSD. Although it took me a really long time to describe myself as having PTSD.

That was quite the moment – I must say. The moment when I realized that it isn’t my fault. That I didn’t “ask for it” or “bring it on myself.” The moment that I realized that I was “normal” – as normal as anyone else that survived this shit. They were the screwed up ones. I’m okay – they are pieces of shit!

Wow – I hope the staff interviewing me doesn’t see this 🙂 Might be the end of the job interview :-)!!

Actually – I’m not afraid of them seeing any of what I have ever written. I care. I care about the Vets I serve. I care about making things in the world right. I may not be able to do much…but I can make it right for the few people I see in a day. Please keep me in your warm thoughts!

Peace,
Joan

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