Posts Tagged ‘Sexual Harrassment’

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

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Assumptions

November 5, 2012

Hi All,

I wanted to share what happened last Friday. I called the main VA in Iowa City, to set up my follow-up appointment. The woman who answered the phone had absolutely no personality, and acted like she was very irritated she had to answer her phone. Tip one for this lady, if you don’t like answering the phone to schedule appointments, get another job. Duh!

Anyway, she proceeded in the gruff tone, this is the conversation we had:

VA: NAME?

Me: B****

VA: What’s his last 4?

Me: 1234

VA: Oh this isn’t working, was that V as in Vern, or D as in Dog?

Me: B as in BOY

VA: What’s his first name?

Me: (I gave my first name, which could be considered androgynous)

VA: His middle name?

Me: CATHERINE

VA: Oh

Might I state there is no way anyone could ever guess I was a man on the phone, I most definately have a high-pitched, woman’s voice. She never went on to say she was sorry or anything, just seemed even more irritated that I was a woman. I did make the appointment, but did this whole thing just piss me off. I texted Joan and told her, she wasn’t too happy either. I didn’t read in the rule book, or the guides I got from the VA that ALL VETS ARE MEN. I swear, I put up with enough of that crap while I was in, I sure don’t need it now. And I am not all that thrilled to be going to the VA to begin with. I told my co-workers about her, and they were kind of pissed off too. I said with her personality, she was more like a grouchy old nun teaching school 30+ years ago.

Never assume anything. I am going to lodge a complaint when I have my next appt, maybe get her some sensitivity training or another job. I have figured out there are only a few times EVER that anyone is safe to assume the sex of the person the appointment is for. Setting up an OBGYN appointment, or a prostrate exam. Other than that, and you are at risk for making an ass out of yourself, which is what happens when we assume.

Change can’t come fast enough,

Brigid

Really Inconvenient Truths!

September 25, 2012

Hello Friends,

I am so glad to see that Jay’s blog is up and running!   His words are so wise and so true and I wanted to expound on comments that I made there. 

In his latest post Jay talked about this difficulty that we Survivors encounter in the VA and the VBA.  How hard it is to open up to a service officer about what we have endured – how, too many times, we are treated like we did something wrong.

I believe that we make them uncomfortable…very uncomfortable.  You see, we are an in their face reality check!  In their heads they can make up any little fantasy world they desire.  They can say things like, he/she probably asked for it or it was just a false accusation.  Then they have to look at the evidence – the destroyed lives, the damaged bodies, the ruined careers (ours…of course…not the perpetrators!)  Now their little world is shattered – and they have to look at the facts.  The facts are, some soldiers rape…they harrass…they abuse their power and they get away with it.  When they get away with it – they WILL do it again.

We are the really inconvenient truth!  (A thousand pardons to Michael Moore for stealing his movie title)

People want to have these ideas about good soldiers who serve with honor and with courage.  They want these pictures in their heads about band of brothers and idealistic bull shit like that.  Yes – there are soldiers like that!  There are people in the military who will always try to make the right choice no matter what it costs them.  They are good people.  Unfortunately, there are really ugly people out there!

Ugly people, horrible people.   They rape for the power and for control.  If they were civilians they would still be rapists.  They would still be the power and control freak boss that you can’t stand to be around.  The military culture just allows them to go as far as they would like to go.

This weekend I had an opportunity to do some special  duty with some guys in my VSO.  We enjoy one another’s company and we enjoy flipping one another shit.  In fact – it is one of the things that we do best!!

I left that day laughing so hard I nearly wet myself.  I serve with some really terrific guys!  I’m that “annoying little sister” they all have to put up with…so to speak.  It creates that warm, fun and enjoyable feeling of brothers  and that was why I loved the Army.  I was still laughing when I drove home.

Then I started to cry.  I cried for everything that I had lost.  For everything that was taken from me.  There was a time when sitting around with my Army buddies flipping one another shit was the best part of any day.  I felt warm, I felt protected, I felt like I was part of a family.  Then I was “shunned” and everything was gone.  The “family” turned their backs on me.

People will ask, “how long does it take to get over this?”  This isn’t something that goes away.  You don’t expect an amputees arm or leg to grow back, do you?  No!  It is an injury, it is chronic and they learn to live with it…but they won’t wake up one morning and discover it is “All Better” and they have two good legs.  PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injuries) are the exact same way.  You don’t wake up one morning and all of the problems are gone.

In physical therapy an amputee can learn to live with his/her leg.  They can learn to live without an arm – how to tie shoelaces with one hand.  In Mental Health Therapy we can learn to live with PTSI – we can learn to get up in the morning, brush our little teeth and move out the door.  We can learn to deal with the nightmares, the flashbacks, the fear, the paranoia and the pain – but we can only tie that “shoelace” with half of ourselves – because the rest of ourselves was damaged or destroyed in that Invisible War we are Veterans of.  No one questions that in Combat PTSI – but they sure want us to get over the sexual assaults and harassment!  I don’t get that!

That is why we are a really inconvenient truth – we have been changed for life – we have been wounded for life.  We aren’t going to “get over it” and “move on.”  Sure – just like an amputee we can lead regular lives – but we will never just “get over it.”  That is what makes them uncomfortable.  You see – if we just “get over it” they can just forget about it.  That is what they want to do.  If we are in their faces – they can’t forget about us – and then they have to deal with us! 

And that – my friends – is a really inconvenient truth!

Peace

Joan

The War On Terror

September 11, 2012

I remember the exact moment I heard about the Twin Towers. I was at work, and someone had heard about it on the radio. I thought it was awfully late to be playing an April Fool’s Day joke on us. Then more and more people started talking about it, so I turned on my radio, because I was sure they were all messing with me. It was like a really bad dream. Shock, disbelief, worry, fear. That is what we all felt. Then some of my co-workers went to the fitness room to watch it unfold on the only TV in the building. I couldn’t will myself to go, I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to crawl into a ball and hide under my desk. How could this happen?

Then I thought of my daughter, and called the school. I suddenly wanted to leave work, so I could go and get her, and wrap my arms around her and hold her until we all woke up from this horrific nightmare. The school informed me that several parents had called, some had come to pick up their children. But they encouraged me to let her stay. They promised me the children were all protected from this news, that they felt it was the parent’s right to tell them about this attack. But what they didn’t know was my little girl was in the library, and they were watching it on the TV there. They were just as confused and frightened as we were.

Then President Bush declared The War On Terror. Those words have been drilled into our brains for more than a decade since the anniversary of 9/11. The War On Terror. What is that really? For me, I fought in my own war on terror. The nightmares, the anxiety attacks, the depression, anger, hoplesness. I fight the war on terror daily in my mind. I was terrorized for more than a decade by several of my fellow soldiers, long before this ‘war on terror’. Why didn’t someone come to rescue me, and stop my terror?

I don’t want to take a single minute away from all of our wonderful  troops (non-predators) who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I never supported this war, but always supported our troops. Think of all the resources we spent on this ‘war’ and how many lives were lost. How many lives were ruined due to injuries/trauma? What did we gain by fighting this war? I don’t think we did. I think we lost more that we can calculate. The predators really were working overtime these last 11 years. So many MST cases, so many VA Claims.

I just wish President Bush would have ended the war on terror in the ranks. He could have, being the Commander-in-Chief. So could President Obama. What is it going to take?

Praying for change,

Brigid

Playing the Claim Game

November 18, 2010

I know that my posts have been sporadic and far apart lately. I have to say, that filing my Comp & Pen claim took just about everything out of me. With all of the real life, day-to-day drama that is this fiasco I like to call my life, I just had nothing to give. So many emotions and turmoil, that I just didn’t know how to put it into words.

I have been in a serious depression/funk for weeks. Of course that is to be expected, but it is hard to deal with. My daughter officially moved out about a month ago, and I have been going through the Empty Nest Syndrome on top of everything else. I still haven’t been able to pack up her stuff, I just look at it and want to cry. My baby girl is all grown up, and making so many mistakes, and I can’t save her. I just have to let her make them, and be there when she needs me.

In the midst of all of this, I got a letter from the VA during the last week of October. They stated that they had received all of my detailed statements, evidence and medical records (256 pages worth), but they needed more information. Let me state again, they said they had received my statements, medical records, buddy statement, and medical records. And I do have killer evidence, if Joan does say so herself.

So, what was it they needed further from me? They wanted a detailed statement, giving all of the details of the MST, and how it caused the PTSD, anxiety and so forth. Did I mention they said they already had this? They wanted any evidence I could give in regards to the rape in Ft Gordon, but she told me on the phone she already had all of that. Then they wanted my medical records, that they stated they already had. They wanted detailed accounts of how all of the episodes of MST had affected me, and it would be beneficial if I had ever been reported for child abuse/neglect or been committed for substance abuse or anything of that nature. That was honestly in the letter. Luckily for me, my dad and sister DID try to have me committed for substance abuse long before I had my daughter, but they were unsuccessful in that mission.

Joan told me to calm down, and just write another statement, answering the 3 page letter point by point, and warned me not to take a tone. Oh she knows me too well. So, on Halloween, I set aside the entire day, and responded, point by point. It took me 6 hours, and it was about 6 pages when I was done. The life was just sucked right out of me after that. I am sure there will be more letters, and more repeating myself in return statements, but that is the price I have to pay.

But the thing that really got me, and it got Joan too, was when a harsh guy from the American Legion in Des Moines called, and left a horrible message on my answering machine. I need to explain that Joan is my 1st power of attorney in dealing with the VA, the Legion is secondary, but they bypassed her. The message was asking for Mr Brigid (you would understand if you knew my real name, but that is my secret). Then the message went on to state that they were calling, because the VA wanted to know why it was I was filing a claim. I listened to the message 4 times, and each time I got more angrier. I called Joan, played the message for her, and she got even more mad than I was. She called him the next day, faxed him her copy of my POA, and explained that in the future, he needed to be sure of the sex of the individual. And also, due to the ‘extreme sensitive nature of the claim’ that his message was very disturbing to me. He immediately caught that I was an MST survivor, and felt like a cad. Joan was very kind to him, and educated him to make sure he also checked what the claim was about before attacking the next poor soul. THANK YOU JOAN.

My therapist is gathering all of my 10+ years of treatment records to send to the VA, and I have now requested all of my oncology records and hospital records. We decided to add the cancer to the claim, as the stress factor contributed greatly to my cancer, and reduced my chances of survival, so I need all of those records as well. The nice part about that is in those records, it references my suicide attempt while I was in chemotherapy (which is also in my military medical records).

My therapist decided that it was time to send me to a hypnotherapist, because I have had severe intestinal issues since February, and all tests have been done that can be. It is stress, but is debilitating at times. As luck would have it, the hypnotherapist is just like me, it is like talking to myself. Just imagine, 2 of me in the world? SCARY! This woman does what is called medical hypnosis, which is used as pain management. I will reiterate that I am not on any medications for anything, those pesky little paradoxal side effects do kind of scare me too much to try anything.

Would you like to know what my hypnotherapist does as a side job? You won’t believe it, because I couldn’t. She does Comp and Pen analysis here for the VA. Of course, she can’t do mine, because it is a conflict of interest, but the VA has already contacted her about a female MST victim in the community who recently filed a claim, and wanted to set up an appointment with her. We are fairly certain that would be me. Much to both of our chagrin, she can’t do it, but she said if she could, I would get full benefits if it were up to here. That is somewhat comforting and promising.

That is about all I have to say right now, I was just feeling a little guilty for not posting lately, but it was just too painful. I promise to post more regularly, and try to go into greater detail of this Comp and Pen process. But I ask for your patience if I slack off again.

Brigid

Thank You, NOW!

October 29, 2010

I don’t know if you have been following the campaigns – but I have been getting really sick and tired of all of the crap some of the female candidates have been taking.

Apparently, there was a big tabloid news article about some guy confessing to having had a “one night stand” with Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  Wow!  Isn’t that breaking news.  Aren’t these some of the same people that defended Bill Clinton for getting a blow job?  (Joy Behar – who likes to call women candidates she doesn’t agree with  “sluts”)

NOW, the National Organization for Women, is not a group that I would say that I agree with on a regular basis.  I am conservative in my principals and beliefs.  But I have to stand up and applaud and cheer for their President, Terry O’Neill!  To paraphrase, she stood up publicly and said that even though NOW does not endorse Ms. O’Donnell and does not agree with her politics, they also don’t agree with people calling her a whore.  Ms. O’Neill called it “Public Sexual Harrassment.”

When are we just going to learn to take time to respect one another and one another’s feelings.  You know, if there was a little more respect I bet we would see a little less hatred in this world.

“Beloved – let us love one another.”  (to quote the Bible) and it doesn’t go on to say – “but only those we agree with.”

Thank you, Ms. O’Neill.  I appreciate your courage in this matter.