Surviving Rape in the Military

By Evelyn Nieves Dec. 17, 2014

The issue of sexual assault in the military makes the news periodically, usually in articles with mouth-dropping statistics and official outrage.

Mary F. Calvert read such an article. It estimated that while 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces in 2012, only one in seven victims reported the attack and only one in 10 of those cases went to trial.

But Ms. Calvert, a photojournalist who documents gender-based human rights issues, often in the developing world, could not let the story go.

“Even though I’ve taught a workshop for military photographers for 17 years,” she said, “I had no idea that this was happening in my backyard. The numbers blew me away.”

She had previously done a project on rape as a tool of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebel groups were systematically raping thousands of women. “And, perhaps worst of all,” she recalled, “the Congolese National Army committed about a third of the rapes. The story had a huge impact on me.”

She knew she had to explore this issue at home in a way that would reach the public consciousness. So she decided to find survivors of what is officially called military sexual trauma and tell their stories.

Jennifer Norris said she was drugged and raped by her recruiter after joining the Air Force when she was 21. She sat with her service dog, Onyx, at a fellow military rape survivor's home in Biloxi, Miss.

Credit: Mary F. Calvert

Jennifer Norris said she was drugged and raped by her recruiter after joining the Air Force when she was 21. She sat with her service dog, Onyx, at a fellow military rape survivor's home in Biloxi, Miss.

Ms. Calvert, a former staff photographer for The Washington Times, found her first subjects close to home, on Capitol Hill. She attended a hearing on military sexual trauma — M.S.T. — in a nearly empty hearing room. There she met Jennifer Norris, who was testifying that her Air Force recruiter had raped her.

“Just like that,” Ms. Calvert said, “doors began to open. I photographed one of the women I met at a Senate hearing at her home in Virginia. Jessica Hinves was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic who lost her career when she reported being raped by a man in her squadron. Jess and Jen referred me to other M.S.T. survivors, and it just went on from there.”

After receiving the Canon Female Photojournalist Award, along with 8,000 euros, at the Visa Pour l’Image photography festival in Perpignan, France in September 2013 for this project, Ms. Calvert began traveling around the United States, documenting survivors. They were everywhere, in every branch of the military.

Their stories were horrifying.

Survivors who reported on their assaults say they have been harassed, shunned, ridiculed, drummed out of their regiments. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse. Many can no longer hold a job, even years after their assaults. Some cling to therapy dogs.

Whole families are affected. Ms. Calvert photographed Gary Noling of Alliance, Ohio, devastated after his daughter, Carri Goodwin, drank herself to death five days after she went home with a bad conduct discharge – having endured severe retaliation, she said, for reporting her rape to her Marine commander.

One survivor still on active duty in the Army, Specialist Natasha Schuette, let Ms. Calvert photograph her in uniform. Her assailant who assaulted her and several other soldiers is now in prison, a rare occurrence in the military, where such assaults are usually treated as breaches of conduct, not criminal offenses.

Jessica Hinves was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic when she said she was raped by a member of her squadron at Lackland Air Force Base. She held her baby, Marley, at her home in Hampton, Va.

Credit: Mary F. Calvert

Jessica Hinves was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic when she said she was raped by a member of her squadron at Lackland Air Force Base. She held her baby, Marley, at her home in Hampton, Va.

While the Army honored Specialist Schuette for her courage in reporting her assault, she remains a loner, Ms. Calvert said. “I attempted to get permission from the Army to photograph her at work,” Ms. Calvert said, “but my request has been denied several times. In fact, all of my requests to photograph sexual assault prevention trainings have been denied or ignored and my website is even blocked on at least two different Air Force bases in the U.S.”

Still, sexual assaults in the military made the news again recently. On Dec. 3, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that sexual assault reports were up 8 percent over 2013. The report also estimated the number of cases at 19,000, down from 26,000 in 2012. Mr. Hagel said that meant the military was making progress in its handling of sexual assault cases.

A year and a half into reporting this story, Ms. Calvert said, she believes the United States military is trying to stem the crisis. But it is still a crisis. She has received the 2014 Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant for the next part of this project, documenting homeless female veterans to show the downward spiral that M.S.T. survivors often face. She also wants to document male survivors of sexual assault.

“I hope,” she said, “that I can do my part to keep this issue at the top of our very finicky news cycle.”


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Critics say progress on military sex assaults is an illusion

Reports up, but few lead to prosecutions

December 13, 2014 Updated: December 13, 2014 10:14pm

In its latest report of sexual assaults, the Pentagon says it has made progress in reducing the problem, but figures from an independent survey of troops raised questions about the improvements, particularly in the Marine Corps.

The Marines reported that the number of troops who said they were victims of sexual misconduct dropped by about 1,000 over the past two years, while victims declining to use the military justice system also fell, from 16 percent in 2011 to 8 percent this year.

But a survey included in the report also revealed that women in the Marines were more at risk, with one in four saying they had been sexually harassed or worked in a sexually hostile environment. Nearly 8 percent of female Marines said they had been sexually assaulted in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

That was a higher level of harassment and assaults than in the Navy, Army and Air Force.

The survey also showed more than 4 percent of women in the Marines, a force with only 14,129 females, said they had been raped, also higher than in the other armed services.

Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said a future Rand survey for the military could show such demographic factors as age and educational level help explain the differences between the services.

But a veteran Marine boiled the trouble down to biology and his service’s warrior culture.

“You have a young, vigorous military service, and they see themselves as fighters and lovers and, amongst other things, they don’t think that there should be women with them because they’re out there to fight and they think they’re diminished by having women in their vigorous organization,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor said.

The controversy over military sexual assaults has raged since more than 30 basic training instructors were accused of sexual misconduct between 2011 and 2013 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

A series of incidents there and at other domestic and overseas bases recently renewed debate on a problem that has roiled the Pentagon since the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, in which at least 83 women were assaulted by drunken male Marine and Navy aviators at a convention.

Clashing statistics

In releasing the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response report two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sparked a new clash on Capitol Hill over efforts to overhaul a key part of military law.

He touted the report as proof of progress, but it was a mixed bag that gave ammunition to activists determined to prevail in an increasingly bitter standoff over reforms.

The Pentagon said cases had fallen from an estimated 26,000 in 2012 to 19,000 this year and that victims reporting to authorities had jumped 50 percent over 2012.

Overall, fewer women reported having unwanted sexual contact and being sexually harassed from two years ago, but the percentage of men surveyed was virtually unchanged.

A greater number of troops were court-martialed in 2014 and more investigations were completed, but the payoff appeared to be slim — 17 fewer convictions and 23 more acquittals.

Hagel’s report also showed the percentage of victims across the services who refused to be involved in the military justice system rose for the first time after four straight years of decline.

Critics were troubled by figures that showed 62 percent of female troops faced retaliation after they reported a sexual assault — a figure unchanged from two years ago despite a new law that makes retribution illegal.

“I’m very disappointed,” Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in an interview. “The (Defense Department), they want to give something to the president to say, 'Mission accomplished,’ and so they make a fancy chart and they say, 'Rapes down, reports up!’”

“But when you actually study it, you see instances of reporting where you’re willing to disclose your name and proceed to trial, and proceed to an investigation, actually went down,” she said.

Gillibrand and victims long have contended that a deep distrust of the legal system is hampering prosecutions, and that nothing has changed.

Greg Jacob, policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, noted that the number of cases that could not be prosecuted this year went up because victims refused to cooperate.

“Clearly all these numbers indicate the climate isn’t safe,” Jacob said.

Not everyone agrees.

“In the past, many of these reports would not have been made because of an ignorance of the fact that harassment is indeed an offense, and others because of a lack of confidence in the reporting process,” said retired Army lawyer Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.

“I think the numbers are encouraging,” said Washington attorney Roger Canaff, a former civilian special victims’ prosecutor who helped the Army with sexual-assault cases. “I am reasonably confident that the rise in reports represents not a rise in incidents but far more likely a rise in reporting because victims feel more empowered and more supported.”

Marines report progress

Conflicting numbers in the report only served to widen the fault lines in the debate, and that was especially the case with the Marines, a small, male-dominant force that remains the only branch to segregate its recruits by gender in basic training.

The Marines pointed to a drop in unwanted sexual contact among women from 10 percent in 2012 to 8 percent this year, but the mark nonetheless was the highest of any service branch.

The corps also said it has had an 89 percent increase in reports over the past two years, to 855 from 453 in 2013, and a rise in charges filed and cases brought to trial.

But more than 27 percent of female marines said they suffered sexual harassment and worked in a sexually hostile environment.

The Navy, where women make up about 17 percent of the force, said reporting was up, with one in five victims coming forward in 2014 compared with one in 17 two years ago.

No one can say for sure why the Marines have a larger problem then the other services.

“The percent differences aren't directly due to the small number of women in the Marines,” University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal said. “My guess, but it’s only a guess, is that both the assault incidence and the small number are reflections of the culture of the corps.”

Jacob spent 10 years in the Marines as an enlistee and officer in the infantry. Like Trainor, who fought in Korea and Vietnam, he believes warrior ethos in the corps is a factor in this year’s numbers.

“In the Marine Corps, this warrior culture is basically equated with men, this hyper-masculine culture, and it shouldn’t be because women are able to do the same jobs,” Jacob said, adding that females have proved themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“So there’s this notion that masculine equals warrior, that equals strength, therefore if you’re an other, if you’re a woman in this case, then you’re not masculine, therefore you’re basically equated to weakness,” he added.

Retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect our Defenders and a former prosecutor, defense attorney and judge in the Air Force, said he believed his service’s lower numbers in the military survey were linked to “higher-caliber recruits” and a culture more inclusive of women.

“It’s a cultural thing. Even though I think as an institution we value people more, we still have definitely pockets of misogyny throughout the Air Force; the other services do, too,” he said.

Spotlight on military justice

Whether reports of assaults are up because of greater confidence in a system that has undergone tremendous change isn’t clear.

More than three-dozen initiatives have been put in place by Hagel and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the past three years to improve reporting and increase prosecutions.

“I think it’s just as likely that … the women are coming forward more because they know that right now the spotlight of Congress is on this, the spotlight of the media is on this, and so I would anticipate that would embolden someone to come forward,” Christensen said.

On Friday, Gillibrand failed again to pass a bill that would remove the authority of commanders to decide on prosecutions — a step she and other reformers say is the only way to give victims confidence the system will work.

Some reforms have been made. One will take away the right of troops charged in sexual-assault trials to invoke the “good-soldier” defense in their sentencing. A co-sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said ending the defense would ensure “defendants are prosecuted based on the evidence and nothing else.”

But Baltimore attorney Susan Burke, a victim advocate, said there is enough evidence to jettison the role commanders have played in the legal system since the birth of the Army.

“That data establishes that the underlying military judicial system remains broken. It simply does not work. Alone among 52 judicial systems, the military allows people with personal bias, their own career interests, to exercise judicial authority,” she said.

“A person who is a victim of crime in the civilian community doesn’t go to his or her boss to complain about an assault committed by a co-worker,” Yale Law School visiting lecturer Eugene Fidell said, calling the system anachronistic.

“They go to the district attorney who doesn’t have a horse in the race, who is going to be indifferent to the identity of the alleged perpetrator,” added Fidell, who served on a Pentagon board that studied military justice in combat zones. “That’s a difference, and you can never get past that difference.”

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Military Sexual Assault Unresolved


By  DEC. 7, 2014

The surest measure of the scale of the problem of sexual assault in the military — and the failure of the Pentagon and Congress to deal with it — is that the Defense Department thinks it has really achieved something because the total number of rapes and other sexual assaults decreased to 19,000 in 2014 from about 26,000 in 2012.

That is certainly a large drop, which was discovered by an anonymous survey asking men and women in the military if they had experienced unwanted sexual contact including rape. Also, the number of people who reported a sexual assault to military authorities increased, to 5,983 for this fiscal year from 5,518 the year before.

“The importance of this upward trend in reporting cannot be overstated,” the Pentagon said.

Actually, it can be and it is overstated. The total number of assaults is too high by orders of magnitude and the incidence of reporting is far too low. Only a very small fraction of those who experience assaults are reporting them, and an even smaller number are sufficiently confident of their fair treatment in the military justice system to actually pursue an official investigation. As usual, only a tiny number of the complaints resulted in a conviction.

One of the most devastating findings — which the Pentagon, to its credit, expressed concern about — was that nearly two-thirds of those who said they reported an assault also said they experienced some form of retaliation. That is the same as the previous year, despite a new law making retaliation a punishable offense.

The latest accounting of sexual assault in the military coincides with a renewed push in Congress led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, with welcome help from Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky on the far right, to fix a key flaw in the military structure that thwarts evenhanded justice and contributes to the abysmally low prosecution rate. Under military law, commanding officers with built-in conflicts of interest and scant legal expertise have the power to decide which sexual assault cases to investigate and bring to courts-martial.

In March, the Senate defeated Ms. Gillibrand’s proposal to remove commanders’ authority to make prosecutorial decisions and put them in the hands of trained and independent prosecutors outside the chain of command. That measure won 55 votes, which was shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster led by Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri.

With the backing of Mr. Paul and Mr. Cruz, Ms. Gillibrand is seeking another vote on the measure, either as an amendment to the military authorization bill facing a likely Senate vote this week or as a free-standing bill.

Time is running out in the lame-duck session, and defeating a filibuster would be a challenge. But transforming the culture of the military to deal with the problem of sexual assaults is an important matter of justice and national security. It should be possible for congressional leaders to find a way to allow a vote without undue disruption of other necessary work.

This issue should certainly be aired during hearings on the nomination of Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

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AP sources: Military sex assault reports up 8 percent

 In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared sexual assaults as a "clear threat" to service members and he ordered a number of new initiatives. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The number of sexual assaults reported by military service members rose again this year, with an increase of 8 percent, officials told The Associated Press.

Details set for release Thursday and a new anonymous survey suggests victims are becoming far more willing to file complaints than in years past, they said.

The officials said there were nearly 6,000 victims of reported assaults in 2014, compared with just over 5,500 last year. The Pentagon changed its method of accounting for the assaults this year, and now each victim counts for one report.

Using last year's accounting methods, there were roughly 5,400 sexual assaults reported as of the end of the 2014 fiscal year on Sept. 30, compared with a little more than 5,000 last year. That increase comes on the heels of an unprecedented 50 percent spike in reporting in the previous year.

Based on those numbers, and the anonymous survey conducted by the Rand Corp., officials said that about 1 in every 4 victims filed a report this year, in sharp contrast to 2012, when only about 1 in every 10 military victims came forward.

Two years ago, the anonymous survey conducted by the Defense Department found that about 26,000 services members said they had been the victim of unwanted sexual contact — a number that stunned officials and outraged lawmakers, triggering a barrage of congressional hearings and legislative changes.

This year, that number dropped to about 19,000 — including about 10,500 men and 8,500 women — which officials said suggested that there was a trend of sexual assaults declining.

Officials discussed the latest reports on condition of anonymity because the survey results and sexual assault statistics have not been publicly released. Many of the numbers are preliminary and could change a bit as the reports are finalized.

Officials said the decision to change the accounting system to have a report for every victim, rather than one report for an incident that could have multiple victims, would provide greater accuracy. Using that system, there were 3,604 victims in 2012, 5,518 in 2013, and 5,983 in 2014.

Defense officials discussed the results with the White House on Tuesday and were expected to release the reports publicly on Thursday.

The reports come as Congress continues to press for an overhaul of the military justice system to change the way that sexual assault cases are handled. Lawmakers complain that the Pentagon has not done enough to combat sexual assault across the military and make it easier and more acceptable for victims to report harassment and assaults.

Victims had complained that they were not comfortable going to commanders to report assaults, particularly in the stern military culture that emphasizes rank, loyalty and strength.

In fact, one of the ongoing problems highlighted in the new survey is that more than 60 percent of the women who said they reported some type of unwanted sexual contact complained they also experienced retaliation. Most said they felt social backlash from co-workers or other service members.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a leading advocate for improvements in protecting victims of sexual assault, pointed to the retaliation figures as troubling.

"For a year now we have heard how the reforms in the previous defense bill were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime," she said. "It should be a screaming red flag to everyone when 62 percent of those who say they reported a crime were retaliated against — nearly two-thirds — the exact same number as last year."

Under fire from Congress, Pentagon leaders and the White House, the military services have launched programs to encourage reporting, provide better care for victims, step up prosecutions and urge troops to intervene when they see others in threatening situations.

"Pending the report's public release tomorrow, assuming news accounts are correct — reporting of assaults being up and incidents of assault being down are exactly the combination we're looking for. I'm sure there's more work to do, and I'm anxious to hear how victims feel about the services and support offered to them when they report an assault," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared sexual assaults as a "clear threat" to service members and he ordered a number of new initiatives, including the review of alcohol sales and policies. He said the review must address the risks of alcohol being used as a tool by predators to ply a victim with drinks before attacking.

According to a Pentagon survey, some of that may be taking hold. Officials said an overwhelming majority of those who filled out the survey said they took action to prevent an assault when they saw a risky situation.

The services also created hotlines, plastering phone numbers and contact information for sexual assault prevention officers across military bases, including inside the doors of bathroom stalls. And they expanded sexual assault prevention training, hired victims' advocates and response coordinators, and have tried to curtail drinking, which is often a factor in assaults.


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The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault

By  NOV. 26, 2014

Kris, the only woman among 70 aviators in her squadron, was assaulted by another officer.

CreditAlec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times

Col. Don Christensen, the chief prosecutor of the United States Air Force, sat in economy class on a flight to Venice and studied the folder of the sexual-assault case that would ultimately end his career. It was August 2012, and he was en route to Aviano Air Base to try a court-martial. Looking over the case, he could see why the judge advocate general, or JAG, at the base had requested him. Christensen had prosecuted more sexual-assault courts-martial than any other lawyer in the Air Force, and this case called for someone with experience. There would most likely be generals testifying. The accused himself was a senior officer. Even Christensen had seldom handled cases involving men of high rank. There was a simple reason for this: Victims were reluctant to report such officers, who enjoyed their own set of rules in the military justice system.

The officer in question was Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, Aviano’s inspector general and a highly regarded F-16 fighter pilot. Five months before, following a U.S.O. concert at the base, Wilkerson, who was 43, and his wife, Beth, hosted a small party at their house. One guest, a 48-year-old civilian named Kim Hanks, was stranded without a ride home. She accepted the Wilkersons’ offer to stay in their guest bedroom. According to Hanks, she was dead asleep at 3 in the morning when she felt a sudden discomfort. Wilkerson was in bed with her, pawing at her body, digitally penetrating her. She was struggling with him when someone appeared in the doorway. It was Beth Wilkerson. “Get the hell out of my house,” the wife told the guest. Hanks scrambled out of the house and into the darkness without her shoes.

THE CIVILIAN | Kim Hanks's assailant was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned by his general.CreditDru Donovan for The New York Times

Thumbing through the folder’s contents, Christensen reviewed Hanks’s written statement. There didn’t appear to be anything obvious that would lead him to question her integrity. A physician assistant at the base, she had met the Wilkersons only that evening and had no reason to be defaming the pilot. Christensen found her credible and suspected that Wilkerson and his wife had not told investigators the truth about what happened that night. The prosecutor studied the transcript of the pilot’s videotaped interview with Air Force investigators, in which he insisted he never left his own bedroom. The prosecutor also had the results of Wilkerson’s polygraph, which he failed. As with most sexual assaults, there was no physical evidence to buttress the case against Wilkerson. Unlike most such cases, however, there was a witness: Wilkerson’s wife. Christensen read the statement Beth gave to the investigators. He knew that she would be the key to the case. After all, she had only one reason to be untruthful: to cover up her husband’s guilt.

Christensen was 51, very tall and bald, an intimidating presence with a raspy voice. But he possessed a shy, boyish smile and a soft handshake that suggested a self-consciousness about his own strength. He was a sixth-generation military man; his great-great-grandfather survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In 1991, Christensen began his own military career as a lawyer at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, 30 miles from where he grew up on a dairy farm. Though strippers no longer entertained at the officers’ club — as had been the case when Christensen’s father served at Ellsworth — at the time Christensen began there, it was still legal in the military to rape your wife. That year, 1991, was also when dozens of women reported that they were sexually assaulted by more than 100 Marines and Navy men at the Tailhook Symposium in Las Vegas, but the airmen at Ellsworth ridiculed the allegations as a tale trumped up by a bunch of female complainers.

Christensen’s early experience in a military courtroom was primarily as a defense attorney, with most of his early cases involving drug possession or use. During that time, he also represented nine men accused of rape. He won acquittals for six of them — the other three cases were thrown out before trial. Christensen developed an expertise in unraveling a victim’s testimony by, among other things, questioning her demeanor before and after the assault. He kept to himself how distasteful he found these moments — how he imagined taking the women aside after the whole thing was over and whispering, I believe you.

But his obligation was to his clients, and so he did what professional ethics demanded of him. The Air Force’s prosecutors and judges were inexperienced — moving on to other areas of the law after a few years — and seldom objected to Christensen’s line of questioning. The jury members, usually men of senior rank, had little sense of the counterintuitive behavior that victims often display. How she might go back to the house where a man attacked her to retrieve her sunglasses, so that he could not hold onto something of hers. How she might still talk to her attacker on the base, even with a smile, so as not to damage her military career. How her heart rate might have been normal during the medical examination following the assault, because, well, the body sometimes behaves strangely. Consistently he exploited the jurors’ ignorance on such matters to win acquittals of men he often suspected of being sexual predators.

Word began to spread: If you were caught assaulting a woman, your best hope was to request Don Christensen as your defense counsel. After one not-guilty verdict, the defendant, a huge man, wrapped Christensen in a bear hug and lifted the 6-foot-3 lawyer off the ground. Another soldier he set free vowed on the spot that he would be sending Christensen a Christmas card every year. The lawyer preferred to view his courtroom victories as testaments to his technical and persuasive skills rather than as possible miscarriages of justice — though his wife, Debbie, would tweak his conscience by asking: “Good for you. But what about her?”

Christensen often dwelled on the same question, and when the opportunity came in 2000 to switch sides, he took it. As a prosecutor, at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait, Christensen immediately felt a weight on his conscience slip away. Though his new job would include court-martialing thieves, drug dealers and murderers, he became especially drawn to cases involving men who had forced themselves on women (and occasionally men) they usually outranked without fear of retribution. Christensen proved to be an empathetic advocate for the women he once sought to defeat. “You have to gain the trust of the victim in order for them to be comfortable telling you the facts of the case and retelling them on the stand,” an Air Force lawyer who has worked with Christensen (and insisted he not be identified, for fear that it might jeopardize his career) told me. “Any lawyer can know the forensics. What you can’t get out of a book is how you interact with a victim. I learned by watching how he treated them.”

Over the next 12 years, Christensen personally tried roughly 40 sexual-assault cases and supervised the prosecution of another 300. His decision to focus on sex crimes was unconventional in the military. A JAG was expected to be a generalist — to learn about environmental and labor law, about contracts and medical malpractice claims — and to spend only a few years trying cases. But Christensen liked the challenge of helping victims who had no one else in their corner. He knew the base commanders often did not have their best interests at heart. Instead commanders worried that a court-martial could lead to the loss of a prized fighter pilot. It could create turmoil at the base and produce a blemish on their own records. These pressures, Christensen had come to learn, all conspired to upset the scales of justice. Time after time, he witnessed commanders demonstrating their support for the accused by sitting behind him in the courtroom; in one case, after a pilot was found not guilty of rape, the commander leapt from his perch and yelled, “Yeah!” Commanders selected the jury, which sometimes issued sentences far lighter than those meted out in civilian courtrooms. He saw one commander withdraw an airtight rape case days before trial, without explanation. He saw another commander testify at sentencing that the noncommissioned officer who had just been convicted of sexually molesting his daughter, a 13-year-old with a developmental disability, was nonetheless of great value to the unit and should therefore be retained. The judge granted his request.

And now Don Christensen would be trying to persuade a jury that a popular lieutenant colonel had sexually assaulted a houseguest and that his wife was covering for him. Still, the prosecutor was confident. When it came down to it, someone had to be lying, and he believed he could show that it wasn’t Kim Hanks.

After arriving in Italy the next morning, Christensen met with Hanks at the legal office in Aviano. She was calm and poised. She had reported the crime immediately and would be satisfied to see Wilkerson dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. Because Hanks was a civilian — as fully half of all victims of military sexual assaults are — Christensen explained how the military legal process worked. The case had already been referred for prosecution by Craig Franklin, a three-star general stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany who was the so-called convening authority over judicial matters at Aviano. In a couple of days, there would be a pretrial, called an Article 32 hearing, in which Hanks and others would testify and Christensen would make the case to the investigating officer that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a court-martial. Assuming the investigating officer and then General Franklin concurred, the case would go to trial. At the court-martial, Colonel Wilkerson would be present with his military counsel and a civilian defense lawyer, if he had the money (which he did). Hanks, who did not hire a civilian lawyer, was not entitled to military counsel — Christensen represented the government, not Hanks, and could not offer her legal advice. The jury members would be ranking officers selected by General Franklin. The court-martial itself would proceed more or less as a civilian trial would, but with two exceptions. First, the jurors were free to ask questions of the witnesses. And second, only two-thirds of their votes were needed for a conviction.

Christensen and his two deputies filed into the Aviano courtroom on Oct. 29, 2012, to begin their case. It was easy for him to pick out Wilkerson’s supporters. The aviators stood in the back, arms folded across their chests, glowering at the prosecutors and the victim. Christensen proceeded through a litany of witnesses: other guests at Wilkerson’s house that night; individuals Hanks had called to try to get a ride home; and Hanks herself. After two days, the prosecutor rested his case. The defense then called Beth Wilkerson to the stand. She testified that her husband remained in his bed throughout that night. Two aspects of her testimony surprised Christensen. Previously the pilot’s wife said that she had thrown out Kim Hanks after being awakened by Hanks’s loud cellphone conversation. Her new story, created after Christensen handed over phone records showing no such call had been made, was that she had been awakened by Hanks’s pacing noisily around the room. Additionally, she originally told investigators that Hanks was very drunk that evening — which would mean that the pilot’s wife, known for her charitable spirit, had thrown an intoxicated woman out into the streets in the dead of night. Now her testimony was that the houseguest was sober. Christensen knew then that he was going to win the case.

During cross-examination, he asked Beth Wilkerson whether she had changed her story about Hanks’s condition that evening. Yes, she acknowledged. Had she also changed her story about what sound compelled her to go into the guest bedroom? Yes, she said. Christensen led her through several other instances in which the wife’s testimony was inconsistent with either her previous statements or those of her husband. The witness began to slouch in a posture of defeat, according to several people who were in the courtroom. The prosecutor concluded his 45-minute interrogation by standing over the pilot’s wife and asking, “Do you know of any reason Kim Hanks would have to falsely accuse your husband of having put his finger in her vagina?” Beth Wilkerson responded: “I don’t know.”

After three and a half hours of deliberations, the jury found Wilkerson guilty and sentenced him to a dishonorable discharge and a year’s imprisonment. Christensen saw the relief on Hanks’s face, even as groans of dismay pervaded the courtroom. This was not the place for the prosecution team to be celebrating. Christensen immediately ushered his deputies out of the courtroom.

Wilkerson was sent to jail in Mannheim, Germany, and Christensen returned to his family in Virginia. Over the next three months, the prosecutor began work on other cases while, unknown to him, dozens of letters — many from high-ranking officers — poured into the office of General Franklin, not only attesting to Wilkerson’s character but also claiming that Christensen had suppressed key evidence and that Hanks was a liar. On the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2013, Christensen was returning from lunch with a deputy at Andrews Air Force Base when an email appeared on his BlackBerry. It took him a moment to comprehend what he was reading. General Franklin, the commander stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, had overturned the verdict: Wilkerson was to be released from prison and reinstated at full rank.

Christensen was stunned. He knew that the military justice system allowed Wilkerson to request clemency from Franklin, the convening authority. He’d seen cases in which sentences were reduced or benefits reinstated. And he knew that under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the convening authority even had the power to dismiss the sentence entirely. But he had never heard of that happening. It hadn’t occurred to him that a commander might simply ignore a jury’s verdict. But Franklin did. Amid Christensen’s astonishment, one thought took shape: The general’s brazenly autocratic decision would not pass unnoticed in Washington.

It took a day before the legal office at Aviano could locate Hanks and get her on the phone with Christensen. The normally composed woman sobbed as he delivered the bad news.

“Kim,” he grimly told her, “I have no explanation. The only thing I can tell you is that you’re about to become an agent for change. This will never happen again.”

A month later, the prosecutor met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at Hagel’s request. At that meeting, Christensen recommended that Article 60 be modified so that commanders could no longer overturn jury verdicts. Hagel — who recently announced that he was stepping down as Defense chief — urged Congress to do so, and a measure was signed into law by President Obama last December. (Wilkerson was subsequently forced to retire from the Air Force at reduced rank after another investigation revealed that years before, he had a child with another woman.) Several other reforms passed as well during that time. Those who accuse someone of a sex crime would be given their own military lawyers, known as special victims counsels. Accusers could immediately request a transfer from the base after reporting a sexual assault. Convicted rapists would be either dismissed or dishonorably discharged from the military.

The looming question today is whether these changes have actually reduced the number of sexual assaults, encouraged victims to come forward and ensured justice when they did. In December the Pentagon will release to the president and Congress the 2014 gender-relations report — a biennial in-depth and anonymous survey that is supposed to capture true numbers of sexual assaults. Military officials hope it will reflect significant improvement resulting from last year’s reforms. But several vocal skeptics on Capitol Hill doubt that these measures will prove sufficient. Many of these lawmakers are women — Representatives Niki Tsongas and Jackie Speier and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Claire McCaskill and Barbara Boxer — who became engaged with the issue after viewing “The Invisible War,” a revealing 2012 documentary on the subject, as well as having numerous private meetings with women and men in uniform who had been sexually assaulted. The stories the military officers have told tend to feature a common element — namely the favoritism that commanders exhibit toward the accused and a lack of sympathy toward those who report such offenses.

For this reason, Senator Gillibrand has led a legislative effort to remove prosecutorial authority from the military in sexual-assault cases and place it instead with an independent body. After consulting with Christensen, among many others, she wrote the Military Justice Improvement Act earlier this year; it came within five votes of passage in the Senate in March. Gillibrand expects that the new Pentagon statistics will persuade more senators to reconsider their trust in the military’s ability to police itself.

“For the past 25 years, going back to when Dick Cheney was defense secretary, we’ve had the military telling us that there’s zero tolerance for sexual assault,” Gillibrand said in October in her Washington office. “And all we’ve seen is zero accountability.” Gillibrand pointed out that the last gender-relations survey from 2012 indicated that there had been 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rapes and unwanted sexual contact in a year’s time. Only 3,300 of them were actually reported, roughly one in eight. “And so when you speak to the survivors, they’ll tell you they won’t report because they don’t believe the chain of command will do anything or they fear witness retaliation. Of the brave souls that did report these crimes, 62 percent were retaliated against. So you have a culture where rapists go free, there’s no accountability for sexual assault, there’s a climate where everything is shoved under the rug and people are actually punished for reporting sexual assault.”

THE PROSECUTOR | Don Christensen has worked on more than 300 cases of sexual assault in the Air Force.CreditAlec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times

Proposals like Gillibrand’s bill are viewed by military officials as intolerable, a subjugation of a commander’s authority, which they say would erode order and discipline within the ranks. The Pentagon has countered with an onslaught of new programs designed to lend comfort to victims, to discourage predation, to keep commanders better informed and, above all, to prove to lawmakers that the military understands there is a problem. In May, Gen. James F. Amos of the Marine Corps vowed to a House subcommittee, “I’m determined to change our culture.” Earlier this year, Army Secretary John M. McHugh told an audience of military-sexual-assault experts that they were “changing the culture.” Not long after, the director of the Pentagon’s sexual-assault-prevention efforts known as Sapro, Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, also promised new programs that “will make a difference and change the culture.”

When I visited the prevention and medical facilities at Fort Bragg a few months ago, a senior officer involved in the sexual-assault-reform effort also assured me that things were different. “There is a change going on, quality and quantity — and soldiers are getting it,” the officer said. Fort Bragg happened to be the same Army base where Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair underwent a much-publicized court-martial earlier this year. Sinclair acknowledged a three-year adulterous relationship with a female subordinate but denied her claims that he twice sexually assaulted her. The general also confessed to using his superior rank to direct two other young female officers to furnish him with naked photographs. Ultimately Sinclair pleaded to lesser offenses and was allowed to retire at reduced rank. During roughly the same period, Defense Secretary Hagel ordered a systemwide “stand-down day” devoted to sexual-assault-prevention seminars. I later spoke with a seminar attendee, a female lieutenant who told me she was sexually assaulted on an Army base two years earlier.

“The presenters asked us if we felt things were improving,” she said. “We all laughed. Sinclair was happening then. He proved that it was a joke.”

Critics in Congress are skeptical too. In May 2013, two months after General Franklin dismissed Wilkerson’s verdict, Representative Jackie Speier complained to Hagel about a Facebook page apparently put up by Marines called “F’N Wook,” depicting women being tied up, beaten and shot. The Marines assured Speier that the situation was being investigated but would not say whether anyone had been disciplined. In September, an Army drill sergeant pleaded guilty to sexually abusing several female trainees at Fort Leonard Wood, the same base where the Army was teaching its criminal investigators the latest techniques in identifying sexual predators. Lawmakers like Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill expressed particular alarm at the allegation made by one trainee, who testified at the court-martial that the women were warned that they might not graduate if they reported any assaults. The Army responded that it had investigated the matter but would not disclose its findings.

Lack of transparency is not the only reason that the military’s promises of change have been hard to accept. It’s difficult to be sanguine when the supposed enforcers of change have themselves exhibited bad conduct. In June, the Army’s top sex-crimes prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, received a reprimand after molesting a female officer at a sexual-assault-prevention conference. That same month, the Air Force’s sexual-assault-prevention director, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was also reprimanded for drunkenly fondling a woman in a bar against her will. When the civilian authorities declined to bring charges against Krusinski, Don Christensen strongly recommended to his superiors that he be court-martialed. The convening authority in the matter elected to keep Krusinski in the Air Force.

Christensen comes from a long line of blunt-talking men, going back to his great-great-grandfather, who openly accused some officers of having been drunk on the battlefield at Little Bighorn. But over the years, not everyone has appreciated such candor. One superior who admired Christensen would warn him, “Don, when I do this” — dragging a finger across his throat — “you shut up.” Though younger lawyers have revered him for his acumen and frankness, those above him have been less appreciative of his direct assessments. Christensen has continued to make them anyway.

In February, on a flight from Frankfurt to Baltimore, Christensen noticed a familiar face on the airplane. It was Gen. Craig Franklin, the convening authority in the Wilkerson case. After his verdict reversal caused an uproar on Capitol Hill, Franklin was forced to retire as a two-star general rather than a three-star general, and he was now on his way home. Upon clearing customs in the airport, Christensen approached Franklin and asked if he could have a word with him.

“You blew it,” he told the former commander. “Wilkerson was guilty. Everything you wrote in your memo was wrong. I would have told you — you should have called me.” Christensen added that the victim, Kim Hanks, had been needlessly retraumatized by the ordeal.

Franklin, noticeably startled by this outburst, replied that the outcome had not been rosy for him either. “I lost a star,” he said.

Christensen left the airport and gave no thought to whether it had been imprudent to scold a general. Nor had he reflected on how his now-frequent visits to the Hill to discuss his views with legislators and their staff would be viewed by his superiors. And though he was surprised and offended to learn some months before that Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe, had condemned the prosecution of Wilkerson while addressing several hundred officers, Christensen did not worry that his career was in jeopardy.

But a month after his run-in with Franklin, Christensen says he received his annual performance review and found that he was downgraded for the first time. His superiors informed him that he would soon be assigned to be a judge on the appellate court. Christensen nearly laughed when he learned of this “promotion.” The appellate court was widely understood to be the Air Force’s dumping ground for JAG misfits.

The veteran prosecutor had no intention of submitting to such a fate. As he thought about what might come next, he threw himself into one last sexual-assault case — involving an incident near Ellsworth, the Air Force Base where Christensen began his military career.

On Friday, April 12, 2013, about two dozen male officers of the 37th Bomb Squadron gathered at a strip club just west of the base. After spending less than an hour there, they took a bus to Sally O’Malley’s and then to Joe’s Place. At Joe’s, an officer named Kris — the only woman in a squadron of 70 aviators — caught up with them. She was a major, a lean and athletic B-1 weapon-systems officer in her mid-30s who had flown nearly 2,000 hours in combat zones, more than anyone else in the 37th. Often the others referred to Kris (who requested that her nickname be used to protect her privacy) as “one of the guys,” which she took as a point of pride, and it was only later that she would wonder whether, in simply rolling with the daily macho crudeness in the Air Force, she herself had been part of the problem.

Kris was just coming in that night from a nearly monthlong assignment at another air base. Her squadron greeted the major with high-fives and hugs, she said, and told her that she had some catching up to do. She drank two shots of tequila and put on a pub crawl T-shirt like the others were wearing. Then they left for another bar, and then another. It was getting close to 2 in the morning when the bus headed back to the base, but four officers — Kris and three men — decided to close down one last bar. She was quite drunk by the time they hailed a cab. While she slept in the taxi, the other three determined that they had enough money among them for only two stops. One airman, Capt. David Brooks, volunteered to take her back to his place and drive her home. Kris had flown sorties with him, and they were professionally cordial, though they rarely socialized. Without Kris noticing, Brooks snatched her iPhone and sent some crude texts to a squadron buddy who had left earlier, including one that used symbols to apparently replicate an erect penis.

According to Kris, she had not been inside Brooks’s apartment for more than a few minutes when he suddenly pushed her onto the couch. Stunned, she jumped back up, then promptly became sick. The reaction took Brooks aback. He cleaned up the mess while she staggered to the couch and fell asleep. Perhaps two hours later, she woke up, feeling not quite right. Her pants were undone. She felt hands groping inside her underwear, touching her vagina and her anus. It took her a while to understand what was happening. She could feel someone breathing heavily into her hair. The groping continued. Kris, now awake, reached down and pulled up her pants. Brooks stumbled away from the couch and retreated to his bedroom.

For hours she was alone. She had no cab money and didn’t know what address to give a dispatcher anyway. When Brooks finally emerged, late in the afternoon, she asked him to take her home. “See you at work,” she found herself saying as she got out of his car.

For weeks, Kris tried to get over it. She kept seeing Brooks at the unit. It seemed to her as if he were everywhere, bossing people around, strutting about as if nothing had changed, as if what he tried to do to her was a triviality, something he could repeat whenever he so chose and she would simply have to accept it. She could not. Rage consumed her. Six weeks after the assault, she filed a report. The base investigators interviewed her and had her write a statement about what occurred. Then they asked Kris to call Brooks, and they listened in while she confronted him for the first time about what he did to her that night when she was passed out. Brooks immediately apologized but said that he had been drunk himself and had no memory of doing such a thing. The investigators filed their report, which eventually made its way up to the Government Trial and Appellate Counsel Division at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington and landed on the desk of the division chief, Don Christensen, nearly a year after the incident.

What Kris encountered since reporting the assault was the same kind of cold-shouldered skepticism on the part of her commander that Christensen had seen in a vast majority of sexual-assault cases — behavior that was supposed to have changed with the military’s recent vows to support those who reported sex crimes. After Kris reported Brooks, the commander, Lt. Col. Stuart Newberry, who also was there during the night of drinking, issued a no-contact order specifying that Brooks stay at least 300 feet away from Kris — a standard procedure, except that the commander also issued the same order to her, which was something Christensen had never seen happen. Newberry agreed to move Brooks out of the squadron office where Kris worked, then decreed that out of fairness, Kris would have to be reassigned as well — though he backed down when she tearfully argued that this would be universally interpreted as punishment for having said that she had been assaulted. Still Brooks continued to show up in the office. “I need him here to do his job,” Kris said the commander told her. More than once Newberry told Kris that, just as in corporate America, his hands were tied. “If this were IBM, they wouldn’t be able to move him,” he said. When Kris told Christensen what Newberry said, he told her that Newberry’s analogy was wrong: It was hard to imagine a modern-day company in which someone accused of sexual assault would be permitted to continue to work alongside the woman he was said to have attacked.


Newberry, she said, also told her, “It’s illogical for you to think that there won’t be negative consequences to your reporting.” What the commander had not done was warn the rest of the 37th Bomb Squadron that he would not tolerate “negative consequences” for her. Instead, during one meeting, Colonel Newberry volunteered that throughout his experience in the Air Force, he knew of only one report of sexual assault, and it turned out to be false. (Newberry declined to comment for this article.) From what Christensen had seen over the years, this behavior was depressingly common. As he put it, “Commanders would much rather believe they have a woman who’s lying and crying rape than that there’s a sex offender in their midst.”

The judicial proceedings at Ellsworth proved routine in ways both satisfying and dispiriting for Christensen. He exploited holes in Brooks’s story. Kris was persuasive. It took the jury less than two hours to find that Brooks sexually assaulted her. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, along with forfeiture of two months’ pay and dismissal from the Air Force. The case would, Christensen knew, be seen as a success story for the military — as proof that the system worked. A sexual-assault victim had displayed the confidence to come forward. During the court-martial, she had a special victims counsel by her side. Her attacker was tried and found guilty.

UNILATERAL CLEMENCY | Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, left, was found guilty of sexual assault, but Gen. Craig Franklin, right, used his authority to overturn the jury’s decision.CreditThe United States Air Force

But Christensen knew that the story did not end for the victim even after a guilty verdict. In August he returned to South Dakota to attend a discharge-board hearing in which Brooks petitioned to be reinstated into the Air Force. Several officers came to testify on his behalf. And though Colonel Newberry had recently left the unit to accept a one-year fellowship at Harvard, he testified by speakerphone on behalf of Brooks. Christensen’s disgust was evident. The prosecutor reminded the board that Brooks was now a felon who had lost his security clearance. Did the Air Force intend to keep him around as a mascot?

The board sided with Christensen and issued Brooks an other-than-honorable discharge — the maximum it could assign, because the court-martial jury declined to issue the more punitive dishonorable discharge.

Christensen stayed behind with Kris. She had just returned from deployment in Qatar, but her eyes conveyed a weariness deeper than jet lag. While Kris was gone, the wing commander visited Brooks in jail, as had several of his squadron buddies — a show of support that the victim herself had not once received. Kris was told that there had been an “all-operators” meeting in her absence, in which the operations commander informed the squadron that Brooks was found guilty and sentenced to jail time. But, the commander added, there were two sides to every story, and people could continue to believe whatever they wanted, regardless of the jury’s verdict.

More important, Kris told Christensen that after years of glowing performance evaluations, she had recently been downgraded — Newberry wrote that she needed to keep her “emotions in check.” There was nothing Christensen could think to say. He had done his job. But this was not justice. As he would later remark: “When the commander is so obviously supporting the accused over the victim, it sends a clear message that it’s O.K. not to believe her and to shun her. And so why would a woman come forward, knowing what Kris has gone through?”

That question invites a related question: Is there a remedy, legislative or otherwise, for an ingrained culture that reflexively punishes victims when they report sexual assaults? When I asked Senator Gillibrand about this a few weeks ago, the author of the Military Justice Improvement Act acknowledged that removing prosecutorial authority from the chain of command “isn’t a silver bullet.” She added: “It’s just a step in the right direction. It’s the kind of tool you need to help people have faith in the system.”

Efforts like Gillibrand’s bill to reform the military judicial system, and the resistance by the military to those efforts, have produced sharply differing reactions in Congress. One group of senators, consisting of pro-defense stalwarts like Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Carl Levin, the Armed Services Committee chairman, responds to each sex-related scandal with momentary dismay followed by strong words of support for the Pentagon’s efforts to self-police. At the opposite end are hard-charging reformists like Gillibrand and Speier, who do not even pretend to trust the military on this issue; as Speier (who has sponsored a bill in the House similar to Gillibrand’s) puts it, “The Pentagon brass is really good at coming up to the Hill and saying, ‘Zero tolerance,’ which is completely meaningless when the conduct continues.”

In the middle are two other distinct factions. Senator Claire McCaskill, an early denouncer of General Franklin’s decision to overturn the Wilkerson verdict — but also a crafty Democratic survivor of electoral trench warfare in reddish Missouri — has staked out the moderate, cautiously optimistic position that, thanks to Congress’s vigilant oversight in the past two years, the once-intransigent military is now chastened and reform is already occurring. She told me that the top levels of military leadership understand this. “Americans want to be proud of their military but can’t be when we allow these crimes to go unpunished,” she said. “I think they’ve come to the realization that they have to go after this a different way.”

McCaskill has emerged as the most vocal critic of Gillibrand’s approach to reform. Her alternative bill, the 2014 Victims Protection Act, keeps prosecutorial authority within the chain of command but establishes various review processes. It passed unanimously in the Senate just after the defeat of Gillibrand’s bill and was subsequently sent over to the House in March, where no action has yet been taken.

Above all, McCaskill and military leaders contend that commanders require such prosecutorial authority, both to maintain good order and discipline and to make sure that accusers will have their day in court, even in a losing cause. “Prosecutors are more interested in getting convictions than in cleaning house,” says McCaskill, a former county prosecutor.

That position is rejected by the fourth camp, led by the Republican senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who are more trusting of the military than Gillibrand and Speier but less confident about the reforms in place than McCaskill. Cruz told me that he assumed the military was acting in good faith. “But what they’re doing hasn’t been working, and we need to take more serious steps. I approach this from the perspective of a father who has two young daughters — and I ask myself, When they come of age to join the military, what rule would I want in place to protect them from acts of violence from their fellow soldiers?”

A BROTHERHOOD | After Capt. David Brooks, left, was found guilty of sexual assault, Lt. Col. Stuart Newberry, right, and others from his squad unsuccessfully petitioned for him to be reinstated.

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Inside One Victim’s Military Sexual Harassment Investigation

Katie Rapp, a soldier who reported sexual harassment while she was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011-2012, recorded her four-hour interview with a sexual assault investigator and provided it exclusively to BuzzFeed News.

Katie Rapp

Katie Rapp was surprised when she was told to go to a Perkins restaurant outside Cincinnati to discuss the investigation into her claims of sexual harassment.

Rapp, a member of the Ohio National Guard, sat in a corner booth trying to fend off a panic attack as she described her experience in Afghanistan. A Beyoncé song blasted in the background.

“Everything I went through in [the] country was hard. It really sucked,” Rapp told BuzzFeed News. “But my investigation was the hardest four hours of my life.”

It’s been over two years since Rapp was sent home from Afghanistan and 19 months since her investigation interview in March 2013. In about 30 days she will learn if she will get her wish to receive an honorable medical discharge from the military, or be required to stay until her contract ends in 2018. She had been distracting herself from thinking about the case by attending classes in biochemistry at the University of Cincinnati, but has since taken some time off due to the medical board evaluation process.

Rapp’s case was assigned to Lt. Col. Lisa Gammon. The National Guard and Gammon would not comment on how many previous military sexual assault cases Gammon had investigated, but, according to her LinkedIn profile, she had been working with the Ohio National Guard since 2008.

Rapp had already become disillusioned with the National Guard by the time she met with Gammon. Rapp claims that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by men on her unit, both while deployed in Afghanistan and also during basic training in South Carolina. She said that after reporting the incidents, her captain transferred her to a different platoon, rather than punishing her alleged harassers. She was sent to a mandatory psychological evaluation, diagnosed with an “adjustment disorder,” and sent home.

“I learned that nobody believes you unless you can prove it,” said Rapp. So she decided to record her interview with Gammon, just in case the meeting didn’t go well.

In her words, “It was four straight hours of victim-blaming.”

While Rapp’s investigation is only one example of more than 5,000 annual reported sexual misconduct cases in the military, the audio recording she took and provided exclusively to BuzzFeed News gives the public a glimpse into exactly what happens during that process.

Katie Rapp

At the restaurant, Rapp and Gammon were joined by Kori Cioca, a survivor of military sexual assault whom Rapp had met just days before at a screening of the documentary The Invisible War. Cioca, who is one of the film’s subjects, attended the event and stayed for a Q&A after the film.

“I knew I had to stay there and talk to her,” said Rapp. “I wanted to know when people would start taking what I said seriously, if it would get any better. I told her I had an investigation hearing in the next couple days, and she said she’d come with me. She said I didn’t need to go alone.”

The Perkins wasn’t too crowded that morning. After getting their coffees, Gammon and Rapp sat in a corner booth, away from the hordes of people ordering food and chatting with friends in line. (Although the noise from the restaurant makes the recording difficult to hear at times). Cioca remembered a family sitting just a few tables away. A waiter only interrupted them once or twice during the lengthy interview.

“Katie’s investigation really reminded me of my own,” Cioca, who was raped seven years ago and given an honorable misconduct discharge, told BuzzFeed News. “That’s why I knew she needed a tape recorder. She didn’t have one when I got to the restaurant, so I downloaded one on my phone and I recorded the whole thing.”

At the start of the recording, Gammon is criticizing the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC)’s involvement with the case.

“We already have a problem with the investigation,” Gammon told Rapp during the first two minutes of the interview. When she first opened up a sexual harassment case with the Ohio National Guard, Rapp sought the help of a member of SARC, Lieutenant Karista Myers. According to Cioca, Myers “wanted to make real changes within the military.”

In the recording, Gammon said she had problems with Myers’ report and that she wanted to “start from scratch.”

On Myers’ efforts, Gammon says, “She has really overstepped her boundaries. She’s a first lieutenant who hasn’t got a clue how to do her job.” She continues to make a racially charged comment about Myers’ qualifications, which is audible about 30 seconds into the recording below.

Since the March 2013 interview, Myers has been promoted to Captain, Rapp said.

Myers declined BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. Numerous emails and phone calls to Gammon were not returned.

Gammon discusses why SARC officer Myers should not be involved in Rapp’s case.

Due to the location of the interview and the recording device, the audio is at times difficult to hear.

Gammon’s first question regarding Rapp’s case was about whether she took any medication and how it affected her memory.

“Are some details foggy?” Gammon asked.

“It’s not that I don’t remember,” said Rapp. “It’s just that I’ve retold the story so many times. I’ve pushed and pushed. … My therapists call it PTSD.”

Several minutes into the interview, Gammon asked Cioca about her own experience with sexual assault. All three of the women then discussed the double standard of women in the military. Gammon pointed out that women in the military need to work twice as hard as men. “If you can understand that concept, you’ll understand what you’re up against,” she stated matter-of-factly.

Gammon cracked a joke that about 80% of women in the military are “sluts.” Rapp also called a woman on her unit a “slut” during the interview, saying, “One specialist asked me why I didn’t like her, and I told her it’s because she’s a slut and her actions were going to get me hurt. I was one in 12 women going over [to Afghanistan] with over 300 guys and no female leadership, and don’t you realize, to them we’re all just females?”

Gammon, Cioca, and Rapp discuss the double standard for women in the military.


Around an hour and 20 minutes into the interview, Rapp described the harassment she says she experienced. She described one instance where a soldier cornered her in the dark “in between her legs” and made sexual comments about her.

At 1:18, Gammon defended the men on Rapp’s unit:

You have to understand, this is an all-male unit; they don’t know how to deal with women. … He’s a guy, he’s thinking from a guy’s perspective.

Rapp continued describing being sexually harassed, detailing lewd comments the soldier made to her, and at 1:28, Gammon asked: “Why didn’t you push him?”

Rapp told Gammon that it was because of his ranking. “He was my first sergeant,” she said.

Seemingly defending Rapp, Gammon replied, “By virtue of his ranking, he created this situation. He might not have realized it, but it was inappropriate.” Then Gammon described what Rapp could have done differently to prevent the harassment. “Did you ever talk to him about the way you felt when he behaved like that?” she asked.

Later, Gammon brought this up once more, asking, “[When he was harassing you] why didn’t you tell him this was inappropriate or uncomfortable?” (2:50)

Rapp describes an incident of harassment and fields questions about it from Gammon.

During the investigation, Rapp told investigators that her squad leader, SSG Stephen Ritchey, was one of her only friends in her unit.

“Be honest with me, did you sleep with him?” Gammon asked Rapp during the investigation.

“No,” said Rapp, who was engaged at the time. She said he was the “one person looking out for me.”

Both Ritchey and Rapp said they have repeatedly been forced to defend their friendship to the National Guard. Ritchey, who was also interviewed by Gammon for Rapp’s investigation, told BuzzFeed News that he was asked if he had sexual relations with Rapp.

“Even if we did have an inappropriate relationship,” Ritchey said, “it would not have changed anything about people sexually harassing Katie. I think Gammon had just been in it for a long time and came into the investigation like, ‘I’ve seen all this crap before.’”

He added that because Rapp did not claim she was raped or physically assaulted, her case was harder to prove.

“People who have legitimate complaints about sexual harassment have been hurt by a system that doesn’t believe harassment claims are consistently legitimate,” Ritchey said.

Gammon questions Rapp about another incident of harassment.

There are other moments of the investigation Rapp felt were inappropriate. Gammon asked Rapp whether she had sex with her husband while she was staying at basic training in South Carolina. At one point later in the interview, Gammon questioned her about being a dancer at a strip club years before ever joining the military. “Did they [your harassers] know you were a dancer?” Gammon asked.

When Rapp — holding back tears — asked to take a break, Gammon denied the request. About an hour later, Gammon suggested they “take a breather” and the women stop the conversation for several minutes.

Three hours into the interview, Gammon suggested that Rapp wanted to leave the military after having only “one bad experience.”

I’m seeing somebody who really wanted something, and had one terrible experience, and the system for whatever reason is stacked against you. … This is a business, no more different than a car business. You have one bad experience, and then you tell everybody what a bad experience it was. If it was a positive experience, maybe you’ll tell one or two people, but if it’s a negative experience, then you’re going to tell a lot more people. So can we do something to make this a more positive experience for you?

Rapp and her niece on her last day of basic training. Katie Rapp

Rapp grew up dreaming of a career in the military. She was eager for deployment. She joined the National Guard in 2008, but was injured during training the following year and was told she could get out on a medical discharge.

“I didn’t see the military as a short-term thing for me. I wanted it so badly,” Rapp said. So she went back to training and finished in 2011. When she first volunteered for deployment, she was disappointed she wasn’t selected. A few months later, however, a commander called her and said she was being deployed to Afghanistan.

The harassment started during pre-mobilization at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, Rapp said. Her husband lived nearby, a detail that Rapp’s harassers allegedly noticed. The alleged harassers would ask her details about having sex with her husband, often while making sexual advances toward her.

Sitting in a plane months later headed to Afghanistan, she was terrified — not only of entering a war zone, but also because the men who had been taunting her were part of her unit.

“I was hoping the women would band together,” Rapp told BuzzFeed News. “But it didn’t happen.”

Rapp endured the alleged harassment for weeks before reporting it to her captain, Todd Kaiser.

“Capt. Kaiser told me that if I didn’t cut the crap he would charge me with disobeying a direct order in a war zone,” she explained. “He went on to make sure I fully understood that the penalties were as high as being punishable by death.”

Ritchey elaborated that had it “been handled differently by Capt. Kaiser, it never would have gotten so out of hand.” After reporting the harassment, Rapp was reassigned to a different platoon. Her harassers were given a “stern talking to,” Ritchey said.

When Ritchey asked Kaiser why he moved Rapp instead of her harassers, Kaiser denied that it was about the sexual misconduct reports. He allegedly told Ritchey she was transferred because he had heard that there was an inappropriate relationship between Rapp and Ritchey, he recalled.

“I said I would welcome that investigation and he should open an investigation about that if he was worried about it,” Ritchey said. “But instead he moved her.”

After moving platoons, Rapp was sent to see a military doctor who diagnosed her with an “adjustment disorder.”

One woman on Rapp’s unit, Shannon Kinney, said that Rapp never had psychological issues. “She’s a smart lady,” Kinney told BuzzFeed News. Rapp said that her only psychological problem is PTSD from her harassment and the way she was treated by the military leadership. After her medical diagnosis, Rapp was ordered her to return home and was accompanied out of the country by Kinney.

Rapp and her mother on the day she was deployed in 2011. Katie Rapp

After the meeting with Gammon, Cioca and Rapp took the recording “right to the commanders,” said Cioca. “And it started a fire.”

“Everybody was scared of me when they found out I recorded the investigation,” Rapp said. “I finally had proof that my claims weren’t being taken seriously.”

Later, Rapp played the recording for her commanders and generals, including Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Moore, the battalion commander, who Rapp said was supportive of her and helped her bring the case to the attention of the Ohio National Guard chief of staff.

“LTC Moore told me that he was proud of me,” Rapp recalled. “He said recording the interview was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”

Rapp’s alleged sexual harassers are still active in the military, Ritchey said. He also said Kaiser has since been promoted to major.

Numerous emails and phone calls to the Ohio National Guard and Moore were not returned. An Ohio National Guard captain who wished to remain anonymous told BuzzFeed News that Rapp’s investigation was not “typical,” but the source also admitted no previous involvement with military sexual assault investigations.

Gammon left the National Guard in April 2014, the Ohio National Guard confirmed to BuzzFeed News. The reason for her departure is unclear.

Rapp is now waiting to hear if she will be able to leave the military. Gammon had suggested that Rapp be deployed again but with a mostly female unit, so that she could have a more positive experience. Instead, Rapp hopes she can receive an honorable discharge.

“I don’t want to wear the military’s uniform anymore,” Rapp said. “It makes me sick.”

Contact the reporter:


Rapp was engaged during her deployment in Afghanistan, not married. The first alleged instance of harassment was at pre-mobilization in Mississippi, not during basic combat-training in South Carolina. Nov. 12, 2014, at 11:45 p.m.


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NCAA criticized by NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for allowing sex-offender to play football at Alcorn State


Tuesday, October 28, 2014, 5:20 PM

Jamil Cooks was one of two players dismissed from the Air Force football program in a sweeping investigation aimed at eliminating a culture of sexual assault at the U.S. service academies. Gillibrand told ABC News that convicted sex offenders shouldn't be allowed to compete in the NCAA.

Alcorn State football player Jamil Cooks (pictured here in his Air Force Academy uniform) is a registered sex offender in Mississippi.


Alcorn State football player Jamil Cooks (pictured here in his Air Force Academy uniform) is a registered sex offender in Mississippi.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is leading a chorus of voices calling for the NCAA to prevent a sex-offender from playing college football.

Jamil Cooks was one of two players dismissed from the Air Force football program in a sweeping investigation aimed at eliminating a culture of sexual assault at the U.S. service academies. A total of 15 other cadets were dismissed as a result of the controversial probe,ABC News reported.

Cooks, now 23, has enrolled at Alcorn State in Mississippi and is emerging as a key playmaker for the Braves, something Gillibrand, an Albany Democrat, objects to.

“If you’ve been convicted of sexual assault or rape you shouldn't be allowed to play on the team,” Gillibrand told ABC.

Football player Jamil Cooks from Alcorn State in Mississippi pictured here on Mississippi's Sex Offender Registry.


Football player Jamil Cooks from Alcorn State in Mississippi pictured here on Mississippi's Sex Offender Registry.

The NCAA currently has no rules in place preventing student-athletes with criminal records from competing. Cooks was convicted of abusive sexual conduct but was found not guilty of sodomy and aggravated sexual assault, ABC reported. As a condition of his conviction, Cooks must register as a sex offender.

An Alcorn State spokesperson told ABC that the school “had no issues with Cooks’ enrollment,” but wouldn’t say if the student body was made aware of his status. Cooks’ attorney, Richard Stevens, said that his client’s accuser came forward because she was “upset and angry that he didn’t want a more serious, committed, and public relationship with her.”

Combatting bad behavior at the nation’s service academies has become a point of emphasis in recent years. This week, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported that 20 West Point cadets were disciplined for a booze-fueled recruiting escapade where Army football players set recruits up on dates with female cadets and had cheerleaders make out with each other on a party bus.

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Seeking a Level Playing Field

Kirsten Gillibrand and Julianna Margulies Share More Than Fame


When Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the actress Julianna Margulies met at the Crosby Street Hotel recently, the talk turned quickly to such serious subjects as body shaming, sexual harassment in the military and rape on college campuses.

But first there were a couple of sartorial adjustments to be made. Ms. Margulies, 48, a three-time Emmy-winning actress (two for her starring role in “The Good Wife,” including one this year, and another for “ER”), leaned over to straighten the lapel of Ms. Gillibrand’s navy suit jacket.

“Hang on a second,” Ms. Gillibrand said a moment later, as the photographer began to shoot. The junior Democratic senator from New York, 47, an upstate representative to Congress before that, and the author of the recent best-selling memoir “Off the Sidelines,” tucked back a stray lock of Ms. Margulies’s hair. “I want her to look her best.”

And then, over coffee and sparkling water, the conversation began.

Philip Galanes: The first things I found, researching both of you, were these sexist comments about your bodies. Remarks by various congressmen to Kirsten, “I like my ladies chubby,” or calling you fat when you were pregnant.

 ‘We can teach our boys that girls may be different, but those differences are good.’ - Kirsten GillibrandCreditJolie Ruben for The New York Times

Kirsten Gillibrand: And he was trying to be nice. This congressman said to me: “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

PG: She was eight months pregnant.

Julianna Margulies: My God! How did you react?

KG: I just smiled and thought, “This is crazy.” But it didn’t affect me. I was a member of Congress.

JM: That is why I could never be in politics. My industry is tough enough.

PG: That’s what I thought until I Googled you the day after you won your Emmy and found an Internet frenzy about your arms being too skinny. “She must gain weight!” What’s at the root of this craziness?

JM: The most important thing is not to go on the Internet — because I didn’t know any of that until you said it.

PG: Oops. Sorry.

KG: But this issue affects all women. In politics, studies show that when women’s looks are commented on in a campaign, it undermines their credibility — even if the comment is positive. It makes us seem less qualified. When I ran my first campaign, my opponent started with: “Oh, she’s just a pretty face.”

JM: Meaning: You couldn’t possibly be smart, too?

KG: Exactly. And he followed that up with these ugly photos of me, washed in green, so I looked too crazed and power hungry to be elected to Congress. It’s a challenge we all face.

PG: But men don’t.

JM: Right. You don’t hear these things about men.

PG: Why are we so free to comment on women’s bodies?

KG: I don’t know the reason, but I know it makes women feel undermined. When I was a young lawyer, I worked for months on this case. I worked weekends, gave up vacation, worked until midnight. And at the celebratory dinner afterward, my boss says: “Let’s thank Kirsten for her hard work. And don’t we just love her haircut?” It was heart wrenching. I thought, “After all that work, you’re commenting on my hair?”

JM: I would be a fool to read what people write about me online. What I’m wearing, how I look, who I’m dating. I refuse to let strangers affect me. But when I see teenage girls, just coming into adulthood — all of a sudden they have breasts and hips — I know those comments will affect them.

KG: Self-esteem is a huge issue.

PG: And tearing down women’s bodies ...

JM: But it’s not just women’s bodies. People feel free to rip down anything, and it’s not new. Take Gloria Steinem. People told her, every step of the way, that Ms. magazine would fail. But she said: “I don’t care what you think. This is what I’m going to do.” It’s back to the basics of Buddhism: It’s not what people say, it’s your reaction to it.

KG: But we can still call out unfairness to women. The fact that we’re only paid 70 cents on the dollar shows that we aren’t valuing women’s work. We can demand equality. We stop defining women on how they look, but on what they say and do.

PG: The ironic thing is that most interviewers missed the point of your fat-shaming. You were trying to shine a light on women’s experiences, but they were focused on who, who, who.

‘I know the landscape for men is complicated these days because women are strong. But we still love a compliment in a loving manner.’ - Julianna MarguliesCreditJolie Ruben for The New York Times

KG: They wanted to talk about which guy was the jerk. [Although Ms. Gillibrand does not name any men in the book, published reports have since identified one of them as Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who died in 2012.]

PG: After a while, does it start to feel like sexism is baked into everything?

KG: Look at the N.F.L. Look at sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. What you see is institutions propping up the favored person, the favored star, the favored student. They close ranks to protect the status quo, and in the process, they victim-blame and undermine the people who are trying to speak truth to power.

PG: Which brings me to your strong kinship: advocacy for survivors of sexual assault and preventing it. How did you get involved?

JM: Three years ago, I met Erin Merryn at a Glamour magazine Women of the Year dinner. Erin was sexually abused as a child for years, and she hid it from her parents and teachers. She was so ashamed. She thought there was something wrong with her. Kids are so scared in that situation. Abusers often say: “We’ll kill your parents if you tell.” So now, Erin is trying to give kids the tools they need to stop the abuse, to teach them how to speak up.

PG: This would happen in schools?

JM: One hour a year, less time than we spend on fire drills. And it’s age-appropriate, so it won’t scare the children. “Erin’s Law” has passed in 19 states, and Erin will not stop until all 50 have it. Until we give every kid a voice.

KG: That’s incredible.

JM: It’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we teach kids to say: “Mommy, this is what happened”?

KG: This is what excites me. Julianna is using her voice for something she feels passionate about. I’m inspired by that. I want to help.

PG: Well, she needs your help, because Erin can’t get the law passed in New York.

JM: And I’m such a proud New Yorker, I felt ashamed when Erin told me that.

KG: I’ll work to change that. We’ll work together.

PG: This idea of listening to people who aren’t typically heard, is that what drew you to sexual assault in the military?

KG: The stories of the survivors just overwhelmed me. They were so heartbreaking. As soon as I watched the documentary “The Invisible War” [about sexual abuse in the military], I knew I had to do something.

PG: It’s a shocking film. To watch the military victimize the survivors — women and men — all over again.

KG: You hear that story over and over. The survivors say: “I could survive the rape. What I couldn’t survive was my commander turning his back on me — telling me it was my fault or that he wasn’t going to do anything about it.”

PG: It’s like sexual assault on college campuses: one in five women assaulted during their college careers.

KG: The cost of a college education should not include a greater likelihood of being raped than if you don’t go to college. Let me tell you about two brave women, Annie and Andrea, who came to my office and said they needed to see me. They told me about being brutally raped on campus. But when they told the administration, they were disbelieved, blamed and retaliated against for telling their stories.

JM: It’s unbelievable that in 2014, we could tell a woman that rape was her fault.

KG: So, they went from campus to campus, talking to other young men and women, giving them courage to hold their schools accountable. And thanks to their determination, we now have legislation in the U.S. Senate that’s going to change how colleges deal with this.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announcing legislation to curb sexual assaults on college campuses. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

JM: That’s testament to you for taking that meeting.

PG: How do you choose which issues to take on, Julianna?

JM: I look for the ones that affect me personally, so I can put my heart and soul into them. The ones that affect the world I’m showing my child: gun control, saying no to sexual abuse, stem cell research that could help Parkinson’s disease. My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s.

PG: Speaking of children, you’re both the mothers of young boys. Do you raise them differently than girls?

KG: Here’s one for you. One day, my husband took our boys to this park with trails. And he sees our younger son — who was 2 ½ at the time — slowing down. So, he says, “Come on, Henry, you can do it.” And Henry says, “Oh, Daddy, we can do it because we’re men.” Now, how many girls say, “We can do it because we’re women”? Not enough, I think.

JM: My kid came back from day camp this summer, and all of a sudden he says, “We’re men: This is what we do.” And I said: “Excuse me?” He was 6.

PG: Do you try to discourage that?

JM: No, he’s starting to find his culture, who he is as a boy. But I don’t worry because my husband is so adamant about chivalry. I want to raise him to make his bed, know how to cook a meal and still open a door for a woman. I know the landscape for men is complicated these days because women are strong. But we still love a compliment in a loving manner.

KG: We can teach our boys that girls may be different, but those differences are good. Women bring different skills to the table, which may lead to valuable solutions.

PG: Do men have an empathy gap in understanding abuse? Is that why you couldn’t get the 60 votes you needed to break the Senate filibuster and change the way sexual assault is prosecuted in the military?

KG: We got 55 votes. That’s huge. People thought we wouldn’t get more than 30. And if you look at the people we had — Chuck Grassley, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul — it wasn’t a gender split. I’m not saying women are better, I’m just saying that we often find common ground more easily. And when we’re heard alongside men, the diversity of opinion is valuable.

JM: Wasn’t there just a study by Credit Suisse that found that companies with women on their boards do better?

KG: Right. The returns on investment are better, the returns on equity are higher and companies are 40 percent less likely to have to restate their earnings if one woman is on the corporate board.

JM: We should look at that as a country.

PG: Let’s segue to “The Good Wife.” Before you started the show, how did you feel about women like Silda Spitzer?

JM: My heart went out to her. She was on a 24-hour news loop. Everywhere you went, that news conference was playing.

KG: And she’s an amazing woman.

JM: Once I got into the role, I saw that Alicia did it for the kids. She wanted to look like a united front, even though her heart wasn’t in it — even though she wanted a big hole to open up in the ground and pull her through. But you want your children to feel protected, and there’s already a scandal, so what do you do?

KG: I don’t think any woman can guess what she’d do in those circumstances until it happens to her.

JM: When I started “The Good Wife,” the question was always, “Why don’t women politicians have scandals like men?” At the time, my kid was 16 months old. I was like: “Are you kidding? Who has the time? I’m too exhausted.”

KG: Same here. At the time, I thought: “I’m nursing every three hours. I can’t understand that question.”

Julianna Margulies in her role as Alicia Florrick in “The Good Wife.”CreditJeff Neumann/CBS

PG: I read an interview where Julianna said, “For the longest time, I didn’t think I’d get married.” Why was that?

JM: I hadn’t seen great marriages. I come from a divorced family, so I always thought: I’m not doing that.

KG: How old were you when you got married?

JM: Forty.

KG: I was 33. Waiting was a good thing for me.

JM: I waited until I knew who I was. And when I met the right person, I couldn’t imagine not being married to him. Before that, I thought marriage would be crippling. I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. I wanted to support myself and be free.

KG: When you find the right guy, and really put yourself into it, it makes all the difference.

PG: Kirsten, you gave up a big-bucks career as a corporate lawyer to go into public service. Did you wrestle with that decision?

KG: I had this great role model my whole life. My grandmother was a secretary at the State Legislature in Albany. I loved how confident she was, how passionate about politics. But like many women, I was afraid that I wasn’t qualified or tough enough. It wasn’t until I went to a political event where Hillary Clinton was the speaker. It was a room full of women at the River Club, so fancy, fancy ...

JM: Yeah, I used to waitress there.

KG: There you go. I’m in the back of the room, the youngest person by 10 or 20 years, and Hillary says: “Decisions are being made every day in Washington, and if you’re not part of the process, and you don’t like what they decide, you have no one to blame but yourself.” I thought: “She’s talking to me.” And that’s what started me on a 10-year journey of volunteering, working in the grass roots, and eventually moving back home to upstate New York and running for office.

PG: Same with you, Julianna, when you walked away from “ER” — even after they offered you $27 million to stay. How do you do that?

JM: Listen, I love making money. I’m proud that I can help my parents and make a good living. But I don’t care about making money if I’m not doing what I love. I’d been away from New York for six years. And they’d already given my character a wonderful goodbye. So I went with my gut. And whenever I’ve done that, it’s been the right thing for me.

PG: Last question. I know you have to leave.

JM: I have to go to work. I’m shooting a bar scene today.

KG: And I have to get back to D.C.

JM: She’s changing the world, and I’m shooting a bar scene.

PG: Advice for folks who might not know how to follow our dreams, or what our dream is?

KG: Dream big. Embrace your ambitions. And don’t be afraid of them just because they’re different, or because no one’s done it that way before. It might be a great goal for you.

JM: And remember to be happy. My little boy is obsessed with cheese, and he loves the cheese man at Whole Foods. He goes there every day to talk to him. If that’s what he wants to do, do it. But do it with pride, and with love, and enjoy yourself.

KG: We need some young dairy farmers in upstate New York.

JM: We do. And he likes him some cheese, that boy.


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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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