Violence against women emerges as key campaign issue in Alaska


Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), left, and his Republican challenger, former state Atty. Gen. Dan Sullivan, at a debate in Kodiak on Oct. 1. Both candidates have spoken out on violence against women. (Nicholas Riccardi / Associated Press)

The woman was terrified her boyfriend would find her. He had beaten her up, torn her phone from the wall. He was after her. He had a gun.

So she pounded on her apartment manager's door. The 17-year-old who answered let her in and dialed 911.

"I remember what I said to this day," Democratic Sen. Mark Begich told a rapt audience as he campaigned for reelection last week. "I said, 'I'm in my apartment. I have a woman who's being beat. I have a gun. And I will protect her. You should show up.'"

Begich isn't the only politician talking about violence against women this campaign season in Alaska. A sex abuse scandal in the Alaska National Guard has reverberated throughout the Last Frontier, in particular hanging over the governor's race.

Incumbent Sean Parnell's once-sure victory is now in question; the Republican is commander in chief of the military unit, and he has been dogged by questions about how much he knew about the allegations of widespread sexual assault in the Guard.

Violence against woman is a regular topic on the campaign trail — a first in the state's 55-year history. Voters broach the issue at debates, town hall meetings and luncheons, like the one where Begich told of his brush with battering 35 years ago. Begich's opponent, Dan Sullivan, also has raised the topic.

Sullivan, a former state attorney general, spent a recent campaign stop at a middle school instructing eighth-grade boys. "You can't treat your girlfriend abusively," Sullivan said. "If you ever get married, you can't do that to your wife. It's not what men do."

The statistics paint a dismal picture here: Alaska leads the country in the rate of forcible rape, three times the national average. It has the highest rate of men killing women. It is among the top states for domestic violence.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Alaska No. 3 in the nation — after Oklahoma and Nevada — for the percentage of women who have endured "rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner." In Alaska, 44.2% of women have been victimized in their lifetime, compared with 32.9% in California and 32.3% in New York.

Nearly 60% of all women in Alaska have been victims of rape or domestic violence or both in their lifetimes, according to a study by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, whose researchers say the results could be conservative.

Last week the Alaska chapter of the National Organization for Women cautioned residents to vote online or by absentee ballot if they "live in hostile environments where, for safety, they avoid discussing or engaging in political matters." Translation: Even democracy can be dangerous for battering victims.

"Our rates of violence are so high up here that anyone who is considering running has to have a stance on the issue or there's no hope for them," said Amanda Price, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape, an Anchorage-based advocacy and victim services group. "It has not been this front and center before."

"The National Guard scandal has drawn some attention and required candidates to have a stance and a plan on how to minimize violence against women," Price said.

Reports of violence against women are regular fodder for local media. Last week there was the 26-year-old wanted on a felony warrant "for a probation violation stemming from a conviction for attempted assault of a minor" and the arrest of a 22-year-old wanted on multiple charges of sexual assault and sexual assault of a minor.

Details of the National Guard controversy crop up almost daily. Headlines blare: "National Guard documents detail chronic misconduct among recruiting leaders." "State senator wants hearing on National Guard problems."

Allegations of widespread sexual assault and official stonewalling in the Guard were first reported in the Anchorage Daily News a year ago, when a group of Guard chaplains disclosed that victims of sexual assault had been coming to them for years.

Many of the women said they had been raped by fellow Guard members. Some said they had been drugged and assaulted. The chaplains said they reported the allegations to Parnell in 2010, but nothing resulted from their conversations.

Melissa Jones came forward with information about being sexually assaulted in 2007. Jones, who was 27 at the time, was out after work with fellow Guard members when someone slipped something into her drink, she said in an interview with The Times on Monday. She said she was later attacked in her apartment.

After reporting the incident to her commander in confidence, she went on leave.

"When I returned," she said, "everybody knew. Even high-ranking officials were talking about my situation and knew about it when they had no business knowing. What was worse? What happened to me. But the re-victimization that occurred — the complete disregard for human decency and the betrayal — were more to deal with than I needed to deal with at the time."

Jones is now with the Illinois National Guard and is in the process of a medical discharge. The diagnosis? "PTSD," she said, "from the incident."

A scathing, 229-page report by the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations released in September found that complaints by some sexual assault victims before 2012 were not properly documented, that victims were not referred to victim advocates, that their confidentiality was breached and that, "in some cases, the victims were ostracized by their leaders, peers and units."

Parnell has been on the defensive since.

In 2009, then-Lt. Gov. Parnell became governor when Sarah Palin resigned the office, and he was easily elected in his own right in 2010. Today, he is fighting for his seat, and he cannot avoid his state's reputation for violence against women or the Guard scandal.

At an Oct. 1 debate sponsored by the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, a voter emailed in a question about the gubernatorial candidates' "plans to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide in Alaska."

Concrete plans to attack the state's long-standing problems were quickly elbowed aside by a particularly nasty exchange between Parnell and Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-independent who leads in the polls.

Walker: "When someone comes to my office as governor to tell me about sexual assault going on in the National Guard, I'll do an investigation immediately. I will not wait four years."

Parnell: "I was taught by my parents to address a big lie head-on, and so I'm going to do it head-on right now. Bill Walker just said that I did nothing in the face of sexual assault [allegations] coming to my office or me learning about them. It is an absolute falsehood.... I want to set the record straight."

The state's largest media outlets have sued the governor to obtain public records that are expected to reveal what Parnell and his administration knew about the scandal and when.

On Wednesday, Parnell released a six-minute video to outline his record of combating violence against women.

Asked about the timing and the impetus for the video, campaign spokesman Luke Miller said it came from the governor's office and was not a part of Parnell's reelection effort. Sharon Leighow, the governor's spokeswoman, did not respond to a request for comment.

On the video, a somber Parnell said that "in 2010 some allegations were made." They were serious, he said, and he followed up on them all.

Parnell acknowledged that, at the time, he turned for answers to Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, Guard commander and commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Katkus was forced to resign in September.

Efforts are underway to enact what Parnell called "complete reform" of the Guard. The perpetrators of the "atrocious acts" will be held accountable.

"Alaskans," the governor said, "you know me and my heart for helping people escape the nightmare of domestic violence and sexual assault. This is my life's work."

Twitter @marialaganga

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About 14,000 Men In the Military Were Raped Last Year — Almost None Will Report It

By Jack Fischl October 14, 2014

Most survivors of rape in the military are men. Men also develop post-traumatic stress disorder from rape at almost twice the rate they do from combat, according to a sobering in-depth report published in GQ last month. The magazine's in-depth look jump started a long-overdue conversation about an issue the mainstream has long been slow to respond to. The problem? Historically, very few male survivors report their assault, muffling an already egregious epidemic.

That tradition of silence, however, may be slowly changing, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of courageous survivors and advocates who are breaking down the institutionalized prejudices and macho mentalities that have for too long kept men specifically from coming forward with their assaults. 

Brian Lewis didn't keep quiet. He is the first male survivor of military sexual trauma ever to testify before Congress and is the current president of Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma.

Lewis told Mic via email that the stigma around reporting rape comes from the strong pack mentality in the military.

"Outing a shipmate is tantamount to treason," Lewis wrote. "Handling these things in-house 'on the deck plate' so to speak is the preferred way, and violating this unwritten code can still result in negative unofficial consequences." For Lewis, this included being ostracized by his command, being assigned duties below his rank and losing his entire support network.

That stigma is hurting a staggering number of survivors. According to the 2013 Department of Defence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Annual Report on Sexual Assault, about 54% of MST victims last year were men. (It is worth noting that while there were more male survivors overall, women were almost six times more likely to be sexually assaulted). That amounts to about 14,000 male victims, a staggering number, though most of us are in the dark about the scope of this problem: An estimated 81% of MST survivors never disclose their assault.

A culture that prizes stoicism in men and often doesn't believe that a man can be a victim of rape can shut down the average civilian male survivor of sexual assault needing help. In the military, couple that with an intense stigma against reporting sexual assault, along with a lack of useful resources and strictly enforced stereotypes about masculinity — all of which make it even more daunting for male survivors to seek the justice and support they need to recover.  

Image Credit: Getty

Being a victim contradicts stereotypes about masculinity that men have internalized since childhood.

"The stigma associated with being a man who is sexually assaulted remains so powerful and so pervasive that it is, without doubt, the biggest obstacle that male survivors contend with," David Lisak, a forensic consultant and board chair of 1in6, a support and recovery organization, told Mic via email.

Servicemen who report their trauma through official channels not only face retaliation for speaking out among their fellows, they also may become subject to official consequences of disclosure. A superior officer told Lewis not to report his assault to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Lewis was later discharged for having "a personality disorder," even though a psychiatrist on the naval base in Guam had concluded that Lewis suffered PTSD as a result of a sexual assault.

Unfortunately, the military has a history of discharging servicemen for personality disorders (31,000 from 2001 to 2010), allegedly to avoid the cost of treating PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. Many of these discharges may have simply been a way of removing MST survivors from the ranks.

Even when the military listens to male MST survivors, resources are slim.

"Asking male survivors to report the crime and then not having adequate resources to assist them in beginning recovery is detrimental at best to creating a conducive environment for reporting," said Lewis. "Why would a male survivor want to report if he is simply going to be told, 'Take these pills and there's not much else I can do for you'?"

There are clearly systemic problems with the way the military handles male MST, but more aggressive change may not come until more people realize how bad the problem is.

Image Credit: Getty

Chris Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor, has some ideas about how male MST survivors might feel more comfortable disclosing.

"First, I think there needs to be a lot more of a focus on getting the message out throughout all areas of our society that males are victimized and abused in vastly greater numbers than people have ever realized," he told Mic via email.

"Second, there need to be more men who come forward and talk about their experiences of being abused, and more importantly, how they suffered as a result of being abused, and how they have moved forward in their lives."

If one of the biggest barriers male MST survivors face is public ignorance, let's break down that ignorance with some facts.

Men can be raped. Men in the military can and do get raped by the thousands every year. Survivors of rape typically suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health challenges after their assault. Surviving sexual assault and suffering from it does not make a man less of a man.

Simply recognizing these statements as fact helps both male survivors and those around them.

Resources for male survivors of sexual assault:

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Army general, accused of sexual assault by senior adviser, retired quietly with demotion

Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, shown here as a one-star officer in Iraq in 2010, was fired from his position as the commander of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism task force based in Djibouti after a woman alleged that he sexually assaulted her. (Photo by Cpl. Daniel Eddy)

A two-star Army general who was fired from his job in Djibouti last year after allegedly groping a female adviser was allowed to retire quietly with a demotion in rank at the same time that a sexual assault case against another Army general received international attention, according to Army officials and military documents.

Then-Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, the former commander of the U.S. military’s counter-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa, was investigated by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command on allegations of sexual assault, according to the newly released documents. Baker retired in September 2013 as a one-star general, he said Wednesday.

An Army spokesman said Wednesday that Baker was given an administrative punishment at the time of the incident as well as a letter of reprimand — usually a career-ending punishment. Army Secretary John McHugh ordered that Baker be retired with the demotion to brigadier general because it was found he did not serve satisfactorily as a two-star general, the spokesman said. Baker also was fined an undisclosed amount.

Details of the case were disclosed in documents obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act. The move was made by senior Army leaders as the Pentagon grappled with a string of incidents in which senior officers were accused of misconduct and a sexual assault epidemic in the military that continues to receive tough scrutiny from lawmakers.

Baker denied in an interview that he assaulted anyone, but expressed regret for drinking too much the night in question. Several who saw the general that night later told investigators that he was drunk.

“I own the fact that I got intoxicated that night at a social event, and I regret it,” Baker said. “It was irresponsible of me. I can understand that in the position of responsibility I had, something had to be done about it.”

Baker, who served 31 years, retired as another senior Army officer, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, faced court-martial for alleged forcible sodomy, adultery and other charges in a case that embarrassed the service. He was later acquitted of the assault charges, but pleaded guilty in March to having a three-year affair with a subordinate officer and was forced to retire as a lieutenant colonel.

U.S. Africa Command disclosed last year that Baker was fired March 28, 2013, by Army Gen. Carter Ham, then the top U.S. commander for Africa, because of a “loss of confidence in his ability to lead.”

Two Army officials told The Post at the time that Baker was removed after allegedly groping a woman, but did not reveal the severity of the allegations or that the Army was investigating the general for sexual assault. The Army also never disclosed the circumstances of Baker’s retirement.

The alleged victim, a female senior civilian policy adviser, said that on July 22, 2012, she was part of a contingent of Americans who traveled to a private party in central Djibouti that included the U.S. ambassador to that country at the time, Geeta Pasi, and a one-star French general, according to military documents.

The woman said that Baker drank wine heavily, and pushed his hand between her legs afterward while they were sitting in the back seat of a sport utility vehicle on the way back to Camp Lemonnier, the task force’s massive headquarters. She resisted his advances, but was too embarrassed to mention what was happening to a U.S. soldier and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who were sitting in the front seats, she said.

“I grabbed his hand and held it on the seat to try to prevent him from putting his hand deeper between my legs,” she told an investigating agent in a sworn statement. “He responded by smiling at me and saying, ‘Cat got your tongue?’ I was appalled about what he was doing to me and did not know what to say.”

The woman, who is not identified by name in the documents, reported the incident to the Defense Department inspector general on Jan. 17, 2013, about nine weeks before Baker was removed from his position. His firing was one of the last acts by Ham as the four-star commander of U.S. Africa Command before he retired in April 2013. An adviser for Ham told The Post that he wished to let his decision speak for itself.

Soldiers serving under Baker told investigators that he had a history of drinking heavily at off-base events and that they would “keep an eye out for him” when it happened, according to the documents. An Army sergeant added that on one occasion at Camp Lemonnier, a Navy officer, a lieutenant, asked soldiers to go into town and buy alcohol for the general. When they refused, the Navy officer went into town to get alcohol for Baker himself, the soldier told investigators.

Baker denied he drank to excess. No senior members of his command corroborated that he did so when interviewed, he added.

Army documents show the alleged victim discussed the night in question with an Air Force colonel who served as a chaplain in Djibouti, and later gave him permission to discuss it with authorities. The chaplain told investigators in a Feb. 21, 2013, interview that she had come to him “very emotional and upset” after the alleged incident and conveyed essentially the same story to him that she later reported to authorities.

The two men in the front seat of the sport utility vehicle during the alleged assault told investigators they did not remember any kind of attack occurring. But the soldier, an enlisted specialist, said that he remembered Baker asking “What, does that cat have your tongue?” The soldier said he did not know any context for the remark.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.

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Forcewide Sexual Assault Survey Underway

Deployed Base Honors Women's History Month With Fo

The Pentagon is inviting all military women and 20 percent of men to participate in a survey with explicit questions about sexual assault and their workplace environment. (Air Force)

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of service members saw an innocuous-looking email pop into their official inbox urging their participation in a “workplace study and survey.” Those who clicked the link found questions focusing on issues of sexual assault — in explicit and graphic detail. The official survey is part of a forcewide campaign to get fresh input on what life is really like in military offices and workplaces around the world. Here are five things to know:

1. You choose where to respond. The Web-based survey, launched in August, is designed so troops can forward the email invite to their own smartphone or home computer and complete it in a setting of their choice. The survey, commissioned by the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and conducted by the Rand Corp., is confidential and should take about 10 minutes to complete.

2. 550,000 asked to participate. Survey invites went out to more than 550,000 service members, including all women and about 20 percent of men selected at random. It was sent to enlisted members as well as officers up through the O-6 paygrade. Unit-level leaders are encouraging their troops to take it regardless of whether they’ve personally experienced a sexual assault. Service members who did not get an invite but want to participate can contact to request login information.

3. Questions are explicit. Many of the questions ask respondents to describe in great detail any experience they may have had with sexual assault or harassment. Questions reference specific body parts and aim to capture a full picture of the type and nature of sex assaults that may be occurring in military workplaces. Army Maj. James Brindle, a Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged that some questions “are of an adult nature,” but “identifying problems in the workplace sometimes requires frank and honest discussion.”

4. Future policy affected. The survey initially was requested by President Obama last year after he ordered Pentagon leaders to place a new priority on the issue of sexual assault. The results will likely influence future policy decisions and help shape efforts to prevent and respond to sex assaults. The goal, Brindle said, “is to discover gaps so we can reassess our efforts and ultimately solve problems that exist in the workplace.” Results will go to the White House in December as part of a broader report on the military’s sex assault response efforts.

5. Focusing on details. This is the Defense Department’s most far-reaching effort to date to get reliable data on the nature and prevalence of sexual assault in the military. Previous forcewide surveys have included limited questions. In 2012, for example, a “Workplace and Gender Relations Survey” asked whether individual troops had experienced “unwanted sexual touching” in the past 12 months. About 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men said yes. But that data was criticized in part due to the ambiguous wording of the question, which ostensibly ran the gamut from rape to an inappropriate slap on the butt.

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Michelle Monaghan Talks 'Fort Bliss' And Sexual Assault In The Military

Posted: 09/18/2014 11:58 am EDT 

In "Fort Bliss," Michelle Monaghan plays U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Maggie Swann, a woman who returns from a 15-month deployment and confronts the struggles many service members -- specifically women -- face when returning home from combat. To study for the role, Monaghan visited with female soldiers who'd been to war and back.

In an interview with HuffPost Live on Sept. 18, Monaghan said the prevalence of sexual assault in the military was a troublingly common theme in these conversations.

"First and foremost, something the movie tackles is sexual assault," Monaghan told host Ricky Camilleri. "And most of the women that I spoke to had incurred a level of that. That was really significant for us... We couldn't actually fully tell the full female experience in the military without addressing that in some stage. This is something that happens. That's a particular trauma that women come back with."

In May, a Pentagon survey revealed that reports of sexual assault in the military were up 50 percent from the year before. While it's likely that increased reporting signals greater faith among victims in the military to prosecute these crimes, the Pentagon survey states that of the 5,061 cases reported in 2013, only 484 went to trial, resulting in just 376 convictions.

In "Fort Bliss," Monaghan's character is sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, whom she considered a friend and who later passes away. Stories like these represent the complexity of prosecuting sexual assault in the military and the many dynamics at play, both institutional and emotional. Monaghan explained how she saw this reflected in some of the female soldiers she spoke to.

"One of these things I took from a lot of these women, in having had these experiences they had, whether they had been sexually assaulted or they had been in combat and witnessed some pretty severe trauma, was the way in which they related to it. The way in which they conveyed it," she said. "They're very matter-of-fact in the way that they express things. These women are very grounded. They're not necessarily asking when they're speaking to you for sympathy on compassion, they're asking for a simple acknowledgement and to be heard."

"Fort Bliss" is released Friday, September 19.

Catch the rest of the clip above, and watch Monaghan's full HuffPost Live conversation here

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Miss New York named Miss America for third year in a row

Kira Kazantsev was crowned Miss America 2015 Sunday night at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. The graduate of Hofstra University beat the competition with her unusual talent — singing Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ while banging a plastic cup on the stage — and her answer to the question of what issue women in the U.S. Senate should press upon their male colleagues.


Published: Sunday, September 14, 2014, 11:23 PM |  Updated: Monday, September 15, 2014, 1:06 AM

New York’s cup runneth over — again.

Miss New York was crowned Miss America 2015 Sunday night, marking the third year in a row that the nation’s pageant winner hails from the Empire State.

Kira Kazantsev, 23, of Manhattan, won the beauty pageant in Atlantic City after singing Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy” while banging a plastic red cup and seated on the stage cross-legged.

Outgoing Miss America Nina Davuluri sealed the New York three-peat by passing on her jeweled crown to the emotional Kazantsev, who strutted the stage to the iconic tune, “There she is, Miss America.”

Kazantsev, a graduate of Hofstra University, scored the victory with brains, beauty and her unusual talent.

In the all-important question category, which counted for 30% of the total score, Kazantsev was asked what issue women in the U.S. Senate should press upon their male colleagues.

“I really believe that sexual assault in our military is an issue these women have got to fight for,” answered Kazantsev, whose platform is raising awareness of domestic violence.

She beat out Miss Virginia Courtney Paige Garrett for the crown and a $50,000 scholarship.

The pageant was broadcast live on ABC from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

Kazantsev may be the first contestant to win the contest by playing a plastic cup on stage, topping rivals who sang, dance, played the piano, and even one, Miss Ohio, who performed ventriloquism while singing.

This year’s outcome was a replay of last year’s, when Davuluri was presented the crown from Miss America 2013, the former Miss New York Mallory Hagan.

Hagan, who was raised in Alabama, was living in Brooklyn when she won.

Prior to Hagan’s victory, a Miss New York hadn’t won the contest since Vanessa Williams was crowned in 1984. But Williams was forced to give up her title when Penthouse magazine published nude photos of her.

Rounding out the final five contestants Sunday night were Miss Arkansas Jo Campbell, Miss Florida Victoria Cowen and Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn.

Originally from California, Kazantsev moved to New York to attend Hofstra, where she majored in political science, global studies and geography.

She’s already been accepted to attend Fordham University Law School.

In addition to playing a cup, she speaks three three languages fluently — Russian, Spanish and English.

A survivor of abuse, Kazantsev recently spoke out in support of Janay Rice for marrying former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he punched her out in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

“I want people to stop asking, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’” she told NPR. “Every woman is an expert in her own case, and there are so many extenuating circumstances that lead to a woman staying with her abuser.”

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“Son, Men Don’t Get Raped”

GQ Aug/Sept 2014 Graphic


Sexual assault is alarmingly common in the U.S. military, and more than half of the victims are men. According to the Pentagon, thirty-eight military men are sexually assaulted every single day. These are the stories you never hear—because the culprits almost always go free, the survivors rarely speak, and no one in the military or Congress has done enough to stop it.

A WARSHIPis like a city—sprawling, vital, crowded with purposeful men and women. But on a warship, as in a city, there are people who will see you not as their friend or their neighbor but rather as their prey.

After turning 25, Steve Stovey joined the Navy to see the world: Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Fiji, the Persian Gulf. His first year and a half as a signalman on the USS Gary was "the greatest time of my life," he says.

In late September 1999, Stovey was sailing to Hawaii, where he'd be joined by his father on a Tiger Cruise, a beloved Navy tradition in which family members accompany sailors on the final leg of a deployment. Parents and kids get to see how sailors live and work; they watch the crew test air and sea weapons. The Disney Channel even made a movie about a Tiger Cruise, with Bill Pullman and Hayden Panettiere. The West Coast itinerary is usually Pearl Harbor to San Diego.

On the morning of September 20, two weeks before the warship was due in port, three men ambushed Stovey in a remote storage area of the ship, where he'd been sent to get supplies. They threw a black hood over his head, strangled and sodomized him, then left him for dead on a stack of boxes. Stovey told no one. He was certain that his attackers, whose faces he hadn't glimpsed, would kill him if he did. He hid in a bathroom until he could contain his panic and tolerate the pain. Then he quietly returned to his post.

Stovey says he might have killed himself were it not for his father's imminent arrival. The timing of the visit was "almost a miracle," he says. "When I saw him, it was the most safe feeling I'd ever felt in my whole life."

Father and son spent the next five days on board ship, almost certainly being watched by the three attackers. "I just kept it inside," Stovey says in a low voice. "I couldn't tell him."



The moment a man enlists in the United States armed forces, his chances of being sexually assaulted increase by a factor of ten. Women, of course, are much more likely to be victims of military sexual trauma (MST), but far fewer of them enlist. In fact, more military men are assaulted than women—nearly 14,000 in 2012 alone. Prior to the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" in 2011, male-on-male-rape victims could actually be discharged for having engaged in homosexual conduct. That's no longer the case—but the numbers show that men are still afraid to report being sexually assaulted.

Military culture is built upon a tenuous balance of aggression and obedience. The potential for sexual violence exists whenever there is too much of either. New recruits, stripped of their free will, cannot question authority. A certain kind of officer demands sex from underlings in the same way he demands they pick up his laundry. A certain kind of recruit rapes his peer in a sick mimicry of the power structure: I own you totally. "One of the myths is that the perpetrators identify as gay, which is by and large not the case," says James Asbrand, a psychologist with the Salt Lake City VA's PTSD clinical team. "It's not about the sex. It's about power and control."

To understand this problem and why it persists twenty-two years after the Tailhook scandal, GQ interviewed military officials, mental-health professionals, and policy-makers, as well as twenty-three men who are survivors not only of MST but also of a bureaucracy that has failed to protect them.

photo description



The part that I remember before I passed out was somebody saying they were going to teach me a lesson.


I was coming in and out of consciousness. He kept saying, "You're going to like this."


I heard one of them say, "Get that broom over there by the lockers."


At first I thought he was playing around. He managed to wrestle me onto my back, and I started freaking out. He pinned my arm above my head and my knee in the crook of his arm and covered my mouth with his right hand and looked at me and said, "You will not make a noise."


When a gunnery sergeant tells you to take off your clothes, you better take off your clothes. You don't ask questions.


The way we socialize people probably has some effect on the incidents. We cut your hair, and we give you the same clothes, and we tell you that you have no more privacy, you have no more individual rights—we're gonna take you down to your bare essence and then rebuild you in our image.


I still don't believe I didn't bring this on. I keep telling myself, If only I hadn't had a few beers that night. If only I hadn't invited him back to my room. I tried to resist. He was just so fucking strong.


There's nothing I could have done, except never have joined the military.


I've told my psychologist, "Maybe it's my fault, because I'm gay." I was looking for friendship, companionship, some kind of emotional connection with somebody. They were predators. They knew what they saw in me that allowed them to be that way.


Afterward they started kicking the shit out of me and said, "If you ever tell anybody, we'll come back and get you." But it was like the angels were singing, because I realized I wasn't going to die. Later I wished I had.


I had actually let the assault go, because I didn't want it to interfere with my career. I wanted to be an officer, and I just said, "Bad experience, won't let that happen again." But there was some residual damage. A month and a half later, I was brought into a room with about nine officers and told, "You've tested positive [for HIV]." I was removed from the military and signed out within a day. It was a complete shock.


There's the fear that "if other people know this about me, well, then, my life is over. No one's gonna want to be around me. They'll know that I'm less of a man."


One of the doctors said to me afterward, "Son, men don't get raped."


I'm gonna have to cut this short. I'm not gonna be able to do this interview. This is really causing some flashbacks and triggers. I'm already having a panic attack. You're asking some serious questions, and I'd rather just cancel it here.

* Name changed.



An overpowering shame prevents many enlisted men from reporting an assault—a sense that they must somehow be complicit in what has happened to them. Straight men often question their own sexual orientation, while gay men may struggle to find intimacy in relationships because they don't trust other men (or their own judgment). Telling the secret ruptures families and friendships. So does not telling.

The rape of a male soldier has a particular symbolism. "In a hypermasculine culture, what's the worst thing you can do to another man? Force him into what the culture perceives as a feminine role," says Asbrand of the Salt Lake City VA. "Completely dominate and rape him."

But shame isn't the only reason these men so often say nothing. Another is fear—of physical retaliation, professional ruin, social stigma. Research suggests that the military brass may have conspired to illegally discharge MST victims by falsely diagnosing them with personality disorders. "The military has a systemic personality disorder discharge problem," write the authors of a 2012 Yale Law School white paper. Between 2001 and 2010, some 31,000 servicepersons were involuntarily discharged for personality disorders. It is likely that in many cases these were sham diagnoses meant to rid the ranks of MST victims. "If they want you to be schizophrenic," says Trent Smith, an MST survivor currently fighting his discharge from the Air Force, "you're schizophrenic." These diagnoses also spare the government the costs of aftercare: The VA considers a personality disorder to be a pre-existing condition, so it won't cover the expense of treatment for PTSD caused by a sexual assault.

Above all, MST victims keep quiet because they do not believe their attackers will be punished. And they're almost certainly right. The conviction rate in MST cases that go to trial is just 7 percent. An estimated 81 percent of male MST victims never report being attacked. Perhaps it should astonish us that any of them do.

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I guess I feel okay telling you because you don't know who in the hell I am, and I don't know who you are, and you can't see me.


I wasn't "afraid" to report it—I was ashamed and disgusted. Guys aren't supposed to be raped. I didn't want to tell anybody about it. I didn't want to say anything.


I didn't talk about this for nearly fifty years.


He was a senior aide—he had a direct line to the top. Being invited over to his house, I just took it as I should go. Looking back, I ask myself, Why didn't you do anything? It wasn't like he held me down or tied me up. I didn't want to cross him. I really didn't feel like I had any choice. I had just turned 19. It could be my career. I froze and went along with it.


Hell no, I didn't report this. Who was I going to report it to? He had serious rank over me. After they ordered me to return to work with him, I stabbed myself in the neck so I could go home.


No commanding officer wants to have to pick up the phone to his or her boss and say, "I've had a sexual assault aboard my command."


That's basically admitting that you can't control your men.


[Let's say] I'm a company commander and I've got this sergeant first class who's done a great job of getting my company ready for combat. Then this private I don't know from Adam comes in and says, "Sergeant X assaulted me last night." I don't believe that private. I don't want to believe that private. I can't imagine that Sergeant X would do such a thing. Is there a natural bias that would say, "Can I make this go away?" That's probably a very typical reaction.


I was starting to hallucinate that people were coming to get me. I barricaded myself in my room in the barracks because I heard a key in the lock and thought they were coming in. It was my roommate, but I was screaming, "Don't hurt me!" They took me to the hospital, and that's where I finally told the psychiatrist what had happened. It was a huge mistake. I was put into a mental ward out of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The doctor would say, "You enjoyed it, didn't you? Come on, tell me the truth."


I have very little memory of my time in the psychiatric ward, because I was so heavily drugged. I stopped eating. I became suicidal, and I made three attempts. They gave me shock treatments against my will. The diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. I bore that label for forty years before the VA finally admitted they had misdiagnosed me.


There were about seven assaults. I got to the point where I just didn't want to live anymore. Not that I had a plan; I just got reckless, and my command took it as a signal I was suicidal. They said I had "Personality Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified." They said I was being discharged for that.


The discharge for personality disorder—that's a problem. If you've talked to twenty different victims and twelve of them say, "I was discharged for a personality disorder and I was railroaded," I would not deny that in many cases a personality discharge would have been issued. It's not right.



Navy, 1988-89

"The two main guys—their nickname was the Twin Towers. They held themselves like they were God and untouchable. They were both six feet five or above, 250 pounds. I weighed maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. As soon as the Twin Towers came near you, you instantly wanted to pee yourself.

The main attacks were at night. When you're being dragged out of your bunk literally by your ear, you can't fight, because they're doing these funky things with your fingers, twisting them, and they're ripping your mouth open, and then they got another guy that has his fingers in your nose or in your eyes to make you open your mouth. That's what always used to bother me: I'm screaming, yelling, fighting, and nobody is even moving their curtains to look.

I went AWOL; I couldn't take it no more. I tried hanging myself. I was living in the streets, and I got arrested shoplifting, and they sent me to the brig. Then I got sent back to the same berthing area, where they started terrorizing me again. The final straw was, I was taking a shower and these guys beat me up and raped me with a toilet brush. Medical told me I probably had a hemorrhoid. I went AWOL again, then turned myself in a couple of days later. Finally my executive officer came back [proposing] I take an other-than-honorable discharge.

To this day I don't know why they did it, because they had beautiful girlfriends. I just happened to be one of their victims."

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Men develop PTSD from sexual assault at nearly twice the rate they do from combat. Yet as multiple research papers have noted, the condition in men is egregiously understudied. This is because so few men tell anyone. Those who do often wait years; many male participants in therapy groups are veterans of Korea and Vietnam. At Bay Pines' C. W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Florida, the country's first residential facility for men suffering from MST, the average patient is over 50 years old at admission.

Military sexual trauma causes a particularly toxic form of PTSD. The betrayal by a comrade-in-arms, a brother in whom you place unconditional trust, can be unbearable. Warrior culture values stoicism, which encourages a victim to keep his troubles to himself and stigmatizes him if he doesn't. An implacable chain of command sometimes compels a victim to work or sleep alongside an attacker, which can make him feel captive to his suffering and deserving of it.


I'm terrified of men. I'm gay and I'm terrified of men. I can't even get an erection, especially since I got sober. I isolate. I don't go to movies, I can't handle concerts. I have horrid nightmares. Last Christmas, I went to dinner with some friends, and at one point I started panicking so bad I had to get out of the restaurant. I was shaking. I never even told anybody about this until last July. Do you know what it's like to live with this for thirty years?


My first sexual experience ever was being raped by these guys. It screwed me up: That's what sex is supposed to be—anonymous, painful. The nightmares never went away. I started getting really bad with alcohol and an addiction to anonymous sex. Having a relationship with somebody has been extremely difficult.


The hardest thing for me was the fear to be looked at as being gay. I went through a lot of women. I went through several marriages. I wasn't a loyal husband. In college a couple guys brought up to me that they had an opportunity to make some serious money. I became an escort, and I did it for a good eleven years. It erased my thoughts.


I'm afraid to go outside. I hate dealing with people. I hate being in crowds. I go grocery shopping at three in the morning, because there's nobody out. I drive a hundred miles to Walmart to pick up my meds, because one of my friends works there and I can get in and out comfortably.


No supervisor was ever going to have me alone in his office again. If a supervisor was to call me into his office, I was done. I can't tell you how many jobs I went through over the years because of that.


I just couldn't handle working around men. I've done masonry work, but I'd last only a couple weeks. I would have outbursts. Sometimes sexual jokes would trigger me. I'd be like, "Listen, you perverted scumbag..." When things upset me, I yell [my attackers'] names out to people. The guys would just look at you like, This guy is crazy.


Your certificate of discharge, form DD-214, says very clearly your reason for discharge. But if you [tell a prospective employer] the psychiatrist misdiagnosed you, the perception is, "Oh, he's lying. He's a troublemaker, and we don't want to hire him." So you either have to own up to it or you basically don't get a job. You essentially have to tell a prospective employer you were sexually assaulted.


It wasn't until I got my records that I learned about the codes on the DD-214. Employers who offer benefits are not going to hire anyone with a pre-existing condition such as schizophrenia. I've spent many years just spinning my wheels trying to get jobs that I'm not gonna be allowed to get.


To this day, I still cut—arms, legs, stomach—with a hunting knife or a razor blade. It gives me a sense of control, endorphins, relief. The nightmares just play over and over. They're so real I can feel the broomstick going up inside me.


I drank myself crazy and did street drugs—methamphetamine, codeine, morphine. At night I still have four or five drinks of vodka. It helps me relax.


I can turn off my love for a person like a light switch. If my current wife made me distrust her in any way, I could walk out the door and not miss her. My kids told me my head was always in my work. Which was true. I don't feel any loss of not being part of their life.


I'm emotionally numb all the time. I'm not feeling love. I don't feel.


As a man, I can't perform the way I used to. I just feel damaged. All I remember, along with the pain, is the slapping sound of being raped. I try to make love to my wife, but I can't—I'm triggered. I'm traumatized by that sound.

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"In infantry training, I tore ligaments in my ankle. It wasn't a visible injury, so I was accused of faking it. After I was assigned to base, three individuals started singling me out. They would intentionally bump into me. When I was asleep, somebody punched me in the face. A month later, I was pulled out of the shower. They kicked me and beat me with a plunger, and I don't know if I lost consciousness or not, but the next thing I remember is my wrists were taped to the bedframe and they were holding a knife to my throat. Then they took turns sexually assaulting me.

As the company clerk, part of my job was to sort the mail, and I started stealing magazines, Christmas cards: I'm the one that's in charge, you only get your mail when I decide. After the military, I worked undercover security for department stores. I would go in the back room and steal cash before it went in the vault—not just fifty bucks here and there but $2,000 in one night. They couldn't prove it was me, because I'm the one controlling where the cameras go. Later on, working at a small business, I would print up high amounts of postage [on the in-house postage meter] and sell it—over seven years, probably $30,000 worth. I got more daring, and I finally stole a couple checks. I got caught for that and was sentenced to a year in jail. I was able to serve on house arrest, and I sought help from the VA. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The high for me was getting away with it, being in control."

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Men who have been sexually assaulted avoid treatment for the same reason they avoid so much else in their lives: because it makes them feel threatened. "We're asking them to talk about the one thing they'll do anything to keep other people from knowing about them," says Asbrand. The irony is that PTSD is highly treatable, even if the damage it does over time to families and professional lives may not be.

Unfortunately for male victims, the VA's facilities for MST focus largely on women. In fact, the statute that establishes these programs makes mention only of female victims. Interviewees for this story indicate that the quality and availability of outpatient treatment for men is spotty at best. Some men report being denied care altogether.


Come to my VA, they don't have counselors for men. There's no standard across the VA.


The questionnaires are designed for women. They were asking, "How many times were you violated in your vagina?"


You see us in group, it's like we're each individually wrapped in a burlap sack. We don't want to touch anybody. We're all just very leery of each other.


I don't want to discuss in a room full of women how there's nerve damage to my prostate from the attack, and I'm sure they don't really want to discuss their reproductive organs in a room full of men.

Whistle-blowers have alleged that the VA's regional offices routinely destroy veterans' medical records in an effort to escape a massive systemic backlog. Nearly 60,000 new patients have been made to wait ninety days or more since 2004, with some 65,000 others never getting to see a doctor at all. At least twenty-three veterans have died while waiting for care. In May, Eric Shinseki, the head of Veterans Affairs, resigned under pressure.


When I first got out, I tried to seek treatment with the VA. It became an issue where every time I came back, it was a different person; they had interns filling in. Every time, I had to relive telling the story again. It just became too much. It's a joke.


There was a period of years where I wanted to die on a daily basis, every minute of every day. The VA's pill cocktails simply did not work.


I take a handful of Skittles every fucking morning—for the anxiety and the nightmares and the insomnia. Taste the rainbow, dude.


The VA has a real quality problem. They say they have a 90 percent accuracy rate [in processing claims], but we do their quality checks, and the error rate in the last year was over 50 percent. In over 70 percent of all appeals, the board reverses or remands the VA's decisions. No one understands what the VA is doing.


I went to the VA from 1994 to 2010 for severe chronic PTSD due to military sexual trauma. But one day I was denied service, and I'm like, "What the heck?" My VA rep said I had slipped through the cracks—they were never supposed to have seen me in the first place, because I have an other-than-honorable discharge [for repeatedly going AWOL to avoid being attacked]. I go to this lady's office: "You guys are not denying that I was sexually assaulted, but now you're telling me I can't see an MST counselor?" She says, "That's correct."


I've got a PTSD diagnosis from my doctor. I've written my testimony down, filled out the paperwork, and sent it in, and it got denied. It just feels like another betrayal.


I've been turned down several times. There's this wall that says, "That couldn't have happened to you—you're a man."

In March, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York sought to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, a bill that would strip commanders of the power to determine whether to prosecute sex assaults. The MJIA would instead delegate that power to independent military prosecutors. The bill won a narrow majority in the Senate but fell short of the votes required to beat a promised filibuster.

At the same time, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri offered a competing bill that MST-victim advocates attacked because it seemed to reaffirm the status quo. Worse, it didn't address victims' fears of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that, to put it mildly, deters reporting. "You know McCaskill's bill ain't gonna work," says MST victim Michael Matthews, "because the Pentagon likes her bill."

For commanders, it's a nuanced matter to decide whether or not to refer a rape case for trial. The decision requires judgment calls about consent. It demands empathy for a victim who has been made to feel profoundly unsoldierlike. It calls for unsparing scrutiny of one's own complicity, because the failure of "good order and discipline"—a canonical 239-year-old military concept—is the commander's own failure. MST-victim advocates argue that people with specialized training should be making these decisions, not commanders.

McCaskill's bill was passed unanimously and currently awaits action in a House sub-committee. Gillibrand has vowed to revive the MJIA later in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of reported sexual assaults rose for a third consecutive year. The Pentagon interprets this to mean that a greater proportion of victims are reporting. Veterans believe it just means there are more victims.

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It's funny. Even people who have the most horrific experience, at some stage in their life—it may take them till they're 75 years old—the best memories of their lives will come back to [their service time]. I can't tell you exactly why. The brotherhood, the camaraderie, goes deeper than the worst trauma.


I can't blame the whole military for what one person did. I liked the structure—having a sense of I knew what I was doing, what my job was going to be. I would go back in a heartbeat, even after everything that happened. I would love to.


I liked the routine. I liked the work. I liked the benefits. I liked the freedom of being young and not under my parents' rules anymore. I wanted to travel and to go up in rank and to store away money for an education when I got out. It only takes twenty years. I wanted to stay in the military.


I just wanted to stay in the Air Force. Being in the Air Force makes me happy. I didn't want him to take that last thing away from me. I feel like this is where I really belong. But obviously it's not an option.



Army, 1976-80

"I was from the Midwest, and they said they hated "Yankees." At night they'd pull the covers over me and beat me with a bar of soap in a sock. They would push me out of my bunk onto the floor. They would mess up my locker during inspection.

One night I was getting ready to go into my room in the barracks when a blanket was put over my head. I heard five different male voices, which I recognized, because I had heard these voices when they harassed me every day. They beat me down onto the floor and forced my legs open. Then they took the end of a broomstick and forced it into me again and again. Each time it felt like my insides were coming out. The blood was a blessing, because it seemed to lubricate the broomstick.

In order to heal, I'm supposed to forgive; I've been told that many times. But how do you forgive somebody that's done that to you? You tell me that. Could you? I know the identity of the ringleader, and two of the others came back to me a year ago. I searched online, and there was no trace. There's millions of people that have those last names.

My thought of what I would do to them is, I would first tie 'em down to a table. Then I would take a blowtorch, and I would slowly roast them from their toes to the top of their fucking head. You know how long that's been on my mind?"

NATHANIEL PENN (@NATEPENN) is a GQ correspondent.

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Military base cancels Cee Lo Green performance over rape comments

In an attempt to deal with its own sexual assault crisis, the military is holding the musician accountable

by  via Salon on FRIDAY, SEP 5, 2014 12:44 PM EDT

Military base cancels Cee Lo Green performance over rape comments

(Credit: AP/Jack Plunkett)

After issuing a series of tweets rejecting the fact that it is possible to rape an unconscious person (and that, unfortunately, it happens quite often), followed by a sorry-not-sorry-style apology, followed by an implicit denial of ever posting the offending tweets in the first place, musician Cee Lo Green has been cut from the line-up of an upcoming concert at a Washington, D.C. navy base. In an effort to grapple with the military’s own massive sexual assault crisis, officials seem to have concluded that implicitly condoning messages like “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” might not be the best course of action.

According to a statement issued by the Naval District Washington via Facebook, Green will no longer perform at a September 20th concert at D.C.’s Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Event organizers have made it clear that the decision comes in direct response to the former “The Voice” judge’s rape-related comments:

We seek a Department-wide culture of gender dignity and respect where sexual assault is completely eliminated and never tolerated, where sexual assault victims receive compassionate and coordinated support, and where offenders are held appropriately accountable.

Unfortunately, one of the performers we signed for the JBAB Freedom Live show on 20 September recently posted comments on social media that we consider to completely inconsistent with Navy core values. Regardless of intent or context, the lack of sensitivity towards an issue that is one of the great challenges facing our Navy is unacceptable.

As a result, we have made the decision to pull CeeLo Green from the Freedom Live event on 20 September. Little Big Town, the main attraction for the event, will still perform as scheduled. We will announce as soon as possible a replacement opening act of the high quality that you expect and deserve.

Jezebel reports that at least one veteran filed a complaint with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Department of Defense after Green’s offensive tweets came to light, and the base has been lauded for its decision to boot the performer from the line-up. The military’s response, even if it comes from just a single base, indicates some much-needed cognizance of the armed forces’ endemic culture of sexual abuse. Still, with recent increases in the number of sexual assault reports and a climate that engenders a fear of speaking out, there is clearly a lot more change needed.

Jenny Kutner

Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sex, gender and feminism. Follow @jennykutner or email

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Watch This Former Marine Take Down Military Rape Jokes in Less Than Two Minutes

By Julianne Ross via .Mic August 29, 2014

watch, this, former, marine, take, down, military, rape, jokes, in, less, than, two, minutes,

Watch This Former Marine Take Down Military Rape Jokes in Less Than Two MinutesImage Credit: NowThis News

Trigger warning: sexual assault, explicit language

"Roses are red, violets are blue, be my f***ing Valentine or I'll rape you." That's just one comment former U.S. Marine Brian Jones read on a Facebook page denigrating women in the military.

"It's hard to believe that in 2014 I have to tell my fellow Marines — my fellow veterans — that they shouldn't make rape jokes about the women they serve with," Jones' says in his powerful new video for NowThis News, which focuses on the continuing, pernicious problem of gendered hate speech directed at servicewomen on social media.

Jones, who is also editor-in-chief of the veterans' news website Task & Purpose, spent weeks following various derogatory Facebook pages that "propagate harmful stereotypes that all women in the military are sluts, and that they only achieve rank through performing sex acts," and was distressed by the apparent lack of effort made by military leadership towards shutting down these pages for good.

In under two minutes, Jones makes an incisive point about the hypocrisy of the "free speech" arguments used by his fellow armed forces members to justify these offensive pages' existence. "The Marine Corps censors free speech in all sorts of ways," Jones says in the video. "You aren't allowed to wear flip-flops in Walmart, for instance. And so for the Marine Corps to then say 'We respect freedom of speech' when it's bigoted hate speech that's specifically targeted at one person, then there seems to be a really big issue in terms of priorities there."

Watch the video here.

Jones delves more deeply into the issue of social media sexism in an extensive post for Task & Purpose, writing, "This sort of conduct and permitted subculture threatens the readiness and capabilities of the Marine Corps, and by extension, America's national security. The military needs to diversify its ranks with talented, dynamic, highly trained women. [...] But those women need the respect of everyone in their military units. The culture propagated on [these pages] dramatically undermine that possibility."

Jones notes that those who criticize or report these pages may become targets of harassment themselves, and that "it will take a comprehensive effort from senior military leadership" to put an end to this subculture. Unfortunately, in the weeks his site spent monitoring some of the pages, "no intervention from the Marine Corps [was] visible."

Given what a huge problem sexual assault in the U.S. military is, it's disheartening to see military brass acting relatively nonchalantly toward a kind of gendered commentary that would be immediately condemned as part of rape culture in the civilian world.

An estimated 26,000 such assaults occurred in the military over the past year, and the vast majority of survivors do not file reports. Of those who do, only a small fraction ever see a trial. While it certainly will take more than removing offensive Facebook pages to fix the problem of military harassment more generally, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to curb gendered hate speech. As Jones points out in the video, not taking these pages seriously contributes to an environment in which it's "okay" to sexually harass and mock women in uniform.

Jones is brave for speaking out about this problem; hopefully those in power — and those who denigrate their fellow service members — will listen.

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Academy adopts strategy to prevent sexual assaults

By Stephen Losey via Air Force Times

Aug. 26, 2014 - 05:42PM  

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Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson has asked coaches to take a bigger role in preventing sexual assaults by talking with athletes about the issue. (Mike Morones/Staff)

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — The sexual assault scandals that have rocked the military — and their academies, where officers are trained in a campus-like atmosphere — have challenged leaders to come up with new strategies to prevent sexual assault.

At the Air Force Academy, where 45 sexual assaults were reported between June 2012 and May 2013, cadets are now part of discussion groups that begin with a less- threatening topic: dating.

“The only time we talk to cadets about sex is about sexual assault,” Teresa Beasley, the academy’s sexual assault response coordinator, said in a July 23 interview at the academy, referring to the previous training. “That seems to kind of be an unbalanced way of talking.

”Called bystander intervention training, the new program enables smaller groups to more easily engage in dialogue and act out role-playing scenarios that are based on actual cadets’ experiences but have been changed slightly to protect those cadets’ identities. So far, the entire rising sophomore class has gone through this new training, and incoming basic cadets have gone through a class on healthy relationships and dating.

The smaller groups of cadets first talk about what dating is like for them, how they meet people, and how they communicate with potential romantic partners — conversations, Beasley said, that are less threatening and intimidating than leading off by defining sexual assault. After the conversation is rolling, Beasley said, the groups segue into a discussion of what are healthy boundaries, and then move into talking about sexual assault and what is unhealthy.

“That way, we’ve connected with them, we don’t scare them, and we engage with them,” Beasley said. “And it’s fun. And nobody’s really talking to them about this. I’m not sure they’re getting this at home, or at [high] school, because those funds have been cut.”

Beasley said the academy is taking a cue from nearby Colorado College, which is talking openly about healthy sexuality as part of its sexual assault prevention strategy. The new strategy has been in the works for nearly two years, she said.

Latest scandal

Sexual assault has plagued the Air Force Academy for years, and has just hit the headlines again. The Colorado Springs Gazette on Aug. 3 published a lengthy expose into drug use and sexual assault among academy athletes at parties dating back to 2010, which led Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson to call for the inspector general to investigate the athletic department and the “troubling past behavior.” The Gazette reported that the Office of Special Investigations in 2012 planned to throw a party with informants in the crowd as a sting operation, but canceled it because it feared women would be raped there.

The IG review “will help in eliminating subcultures whose climates do not align with our institutional core values,” Johnson said in an Aug. 3 statement.

Johnson also has told athletic coaches to take a bigger role in preventing sexual assaults. “I was frank about the need for them to help the institution enforce our standards,” she said in an Aug. 13 interview with The Associated Press. “I was frank about what happens, the complexity of sexual-assault prevention.”

Reported assaults at the academy dropped to 45 between June 2012 and May 2013, lower than the high of 52 the previous year. The academy accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 70 reported sexual assaults at all service academies in the most recent report. Statistics for June 2013 to May 2014 are not yet available.

Johnson said in a July 21 interview with Air Force Times that sexual assault is an area “where we can never declare victory.” But she is seeing progress. After taking the reins of the academy last year, Johnson said she aligned offices that deal with sexual assault prevention and response across the air base wing, the cadet area, athletics, and other facets of the academy, so they could work better together. To recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the academy held a Take Back the Night rally April 17 on the terrazzo, during which Johnson lit a bonfire.

“That in and of itself doesn’t change something, but it does change the awareness, to understand what the challenges are,” Johnson said.

The academy invited educator and author Jackson Katz, who focuses on gender violence prevention education in schools, sports and the military, to talk to the athletic department in April about preventing violence against women. He was scheduled to return later in August. Also in August, the academy planned to bring in a group called Sex Signals — a program that combines improv comedy, education and audience participation to examine dating, sex and date rape on college campuses — to help cadets understand what others are saying about sex and what signals they themselves are sending.

Shift in strategy

The shift in strategy is the academy’s attempt to not come off as “preachy” and to avoid “message fatigue” — the risk that cadets will begin to tune out their message on preventing sexual assault — and keep things fresh and innovative, Beasley said. The large group training and PowerPoint didn’t work, she said.

The academy’s new program has also been tailored specifically for its cadets. Previously, the academy has used national programs that were for a more general audience.

And that’s important, because the academy has a different culture than nearly every other university in the nation. The students are the same age as most college students, but tend to come from more culturally conservative backgrounds, Beasley said. And the academy has rules against fraternization and bans against sex in the dorms.

So from the start, after basics arrive, the academy begins discussions about boundaries such as not dating upperclassmen when one is a freshman, and about what cadets are comfortable doing once they do start dating. Cadets often don’t think ahead about how far they’re willing to go until they’re in a situation, Beasley said, and then they have to make an on-the-spot judgment.

Beasley said most of the sexual assault the academy sees is defined as “coercion.” Under that type of sexual assault, a victim is repeatedly pressured for sex, despite saying no, until the victim finally gives in. The academy is trying to teach cadets that when someone says no, that refusal should be respected.

The bystander training also addresses a “quid pro quo” type of sexual assault — where someone in a position of authority threatens to, for example, put a cadet on a lousy duty or withhold a plum assignment if the cadet does not agree to sex.

Most rapes don’t occur out of the blue one day, Beasley said. Perpetrators typically start with comments, and over time move on to uncomfortable touching, and later try to strongly persuade someone to have sex or demand a quid pro quo. Beasley said the academy is trying to stop sexual assault at the beginning of those interactions.

Cadets also discuss and learn how to intervene to prevent a potential sexual assault when they see something going wrong in a bar or other social scene — without themselves getting hurt.

“They’ll say, how do I know it’s a bad thing?” Beasley said. “You trust your gut. If you get that gut feeling that something’s wrong, there’s probably something wrong. And then the next thing you need to consider is, how can I intervene safely?”

A safe intervention at a bar could be female cadets stepping in and asking a potential victim to come to the bathroom with them, Beasley said.

The program also uses scenarios to try to get across that having sex with someone who is intoxicated and can’t consent is unacceptable.

“You don’t need to know their blood-alcohol content. It’s just not a good idea,” Beasley said. “We want to prevent them from becoming a perpetrator.”

Even though academy cadets are more conservative than most of their peers, Beasley said, they’ll still talk about sex and dating more openly than previous generations did. So to adjust to that different culture, those leading the program have to use the same language they do.

“What does it mean when you’re talking to somebody?” Beasley said. “I’m not even sure they know. Talking means pre-dating, and then you go into dating. We used to call it going steady. There were very definite rites of passage when you were dating somebody, and now it’s more iffy. The boundaries are different. We talk about boundaries, and how do you know you’re in a relationship, and will you have the talk? What’s the talk? How do you know if you’re OK with something and your partner’s not? Once you get them talking, they’ll talk your ear off.”

But academy leaders also can’t show surprise when a cadet uses a franker word or concept than they’re used to. If someone shows shock, Beasley said, the cadets will shut down and no longer be willing to engage further. So the academy trains officials such as cadet squadron commanders and trainers on how to talk to cadets about sex.

“They want to talk to them, that’s their first- line supervisor,” Beasley said. “But it’s hard to talk about it, because these are conversations that parents should have had with them, in an ideal world. A lot of times, we are in that parenting role in having those conversations. But someone needs to have it with them.”

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