'We lost our jobs for reporting being raped': Haunting photo essay depicts the suffering of women who were victims of sexual violence in the U.S. military


PUBLISHED: 18:13 EST, 24 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:22 EST, 25 August 2014

  • The Battle Within: Sexual Violence In America's Military is a photo essay by Pulitzer Prize finalist photographer Mary Calvert
  • An estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces last year
  • Only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and only one in 10 of those cases went to trial
  • Most victims are forced out of the military after reporting the attacks and suffering from Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

Pulitzer Prize finalist photo journalist Mary Calvert is revered for putting a spotlight on humanitarian issues that are ignored or that people are not aware of.

While her work - centered on women and children in crisis - has taken her all over the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to India, her latest assignment is much closer to home.

The former Washington Times photographer has compiled a photo essay that attempts to expose the widespread sexual harrassment of women in the American military that is going unreported.

Calvert says that an estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces last year, however only one in seven victims reported their attacks.

Heartbreaking: Melissa Bania holds a banner on the foot bridge across from the entrance to Naval Station San Diego. The sexual assault victim is part of a photo essay by Mary Calvert called The Battle Within: Sexual Violence In America's Military

Heartbreaking: Melissa Bania holds a banner on the foot bridge across from the entrance to Naval Station San Diego. The sexual assault victim is part of a photo essay by Mary Calvert called The Battle Within: Sexual Violence In America's Military

Coping: Virginia Messick was raped by her drill sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base during basic training. Her rapist was convicted of raping 10 women under his command and is serving a 20 year prison sentence. She holds her old uniform at home in Marysville, California
Help: Dr Nancy Lutwak, Veteran's Administration emergency room physician in New York, opened up a room just for female vets so they could have a safe place to share their experience of being raped in the military and the health problems they face because of the assaults
Comfort: Meredith Hilderman was a Korean linguist in the US Marines and a newlywed when she was raped by a fellow Marine. Her master Sergeant told her: 'You must have wanted it. You're married and your husband isn't here.' Now out of the military, she sits at her home in her Akron, Ohio
Survivor: US Army Pfc. (Private First Class) Natasha Schuette, 21, was sexually assaulted by her drill sergeant during basic training and subsequently suffered harassment  by other drill sergeants after reporting the assault at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While Staff Sgt. Louis Corral is serving just four years in prison for assaulting her and four other female trainees, Natasha suffers daily from PTSD because of the attack
Getting by: Military rape survivors Jennifer Norris and Jessica Hinves smoke and discuss their assaults late into the night at Jessica's home. Jennifer Norris was drugged and raped by her recruiter after joining the US Air Force when she was 21 years old. Jessica Hinves, was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic when she was raped by a member of her squadron at Lackland Air Force Base
Troubled: Jennifer Norris was drugged and raped by her recruiter after joining the US Air Force when she was 21 years old. In tech school, she fought off the sexual assault of her instructor and later evaded the advances of her commanders. She suffered a campaign of retaliation from her peers after reporting the attacks and now suffers with PTSD

Only one in 10 of those reported attacks then went to trial.

She was initially inspired by the case Jessica Hinves, an Air Force fighter jet mechanic who was raped by a member of her squadron.

'After a steady campaign of harassment and retaliation by her fellow servicemen, the case against her rapist was thrown out the day before the trial was to begin by a new commander who said, ''Though he didn’t act like a gentleman, there was no reason to prosecute'',' Calvert wrote on her website.

Hinves was discharged from the military soon after for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Calvert says that, like Hinves, most victims are forced out of the service as a result and go on to suffer the effects of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) such as depression and substance abuse.

And so she set out to meet with those victims and document their stories photographically.

The result is The Battle Within: Sexual Violence In America's Military, a stunning and heartbreaking look at how these women have been forced to live their lives.

Overcome: Suzie Champoux mourns the death of her daughter, Army Sgt. Sophie Champoux, who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while in the US Army. She visits her daughter's grave in Clermont, Florida
Suzie Champoux mourns the death of her daughter, Army Sgt. Sophie Champoux who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while in the US Army

Suzie Champoux mourns the death of her daughter, Army Sgt. Sophie Champoux who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while in the US Army

Down: Kate Weber was raped one week into a deployment to Germany when she was 19. 'I just lost everything. I know he was a repeat offender the moment he touched me. He was able to get away with it because the chain of command allowed it.' She suffers from severe PTSD brought on by Military Sexual Trauma when she was in the US Air Force

Down: Kate Weber was raped one week into a deployment to Germany when she was 19. 'I just lost everything. I know he was a repeat offender the moment he touched me. He was able to get away with it because the chain of command allowed it.' She suffers from severe PTSD brought on by Military Sexual Trauma when she was in the US Air Force

Company: Tiffany Berkland and Elisha Morrow were sexually harassed by the same company commander when they were in basic training after joining the Coast Guard. Elisha thought about faking a suicide attempt to get away from him. They did not report the harassment for fear of being kicked out but came forward when they met a third victim. When their case went to trial, they met a fourth young woman who had been raped recently by the same company commander.  Berkland and Morrow are guilt ridden for not coming forward sooner
Dealing: Kate Weber was raped one week into a deployment to Germany when she was 19. 'I just lost everything. I know he was a repeat offender the moment he touched me. He was able to get away with it because the chain of command allowed it.'

Dealing: Kate Weber was raped one week into a deployment to Germany when she was 19. 'I just lost everything. I know he was a repeat offender the moment he touched me. He was able to get away with it because the chain of command allowed it.'

Natasha Schuette, 21, was sexually assaulted by her drill sergeant during basic training and subsequently suffered harassment  by other drill sergeants after reporting the assault at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While Staff Sgt. Louis Corral is serving just four years in prison for assaulting her and four other female trainees, Natasha suffers daily from PTSD because of the attack. Now stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she received a citation at the Pentagon for reporting the assault
FighterL Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is fighting to take military rape cases outside the chain of command. A recent  Senate vote for her proposed Military Justice Improvement Act, fell five votes short of passing

FighterL Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is fighting to take military rape cases outside the chain of command. A recent Senate vote for her proposed Military Justice Improvement Act, fell five votes short of passing


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Kirsten Gillibrand, Pushing New College Sexual Assault Bill, Still Has Hope For Failed Military Reform

Jessica Testa via Buzzfeed, August 15, 2014 

“We just need more data.” The Democratic senator’s potential second crack at changing sexual assault

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand still believes she can convince the last several senators who voted against her sweeping and controversial effort to change the way the military prosecutes sexual assault.

The New York Democrat’s bill that would take the prosecution of sexual assault cases outside the military failed 55-45 in March, a surprisingly narrow defeat. In an interview with BuzzFeed, the New York Democrat said Wednesday she thinks she can “win over the last few senators” with a new, shifted approach.

Gillibrand has requested the raw data for all sexual assaults from “the four major bases, one for each of the services.” Instead of focusing on the nine out of 10 service members who don’t report assaults, Gillibrand wants to focus on the one in 10 who do. She believes looking at that smaller set of people will demonstrate the discrepancies in what the military says publicly on the topic.

“We just need more data,” Gillibrand said.

When that data will be available is less clear: The request was made five months ago. It took four years for a similar request made by the Associated Press for the statistics on sexual assault on just one base in Japan to be completed, Gillibrand said. That report revealed that of nearly 500 sex crime allegations, only 24% went to courts-martial at that base.

“When a survivor speaks out and tells what happened to him or her, that is overwhelmingly persuasive,” she said. “When we get that data, we will be able to assess it and say ‘This is what the cases look like when they’re reported … This picture is not pretty either. This is a picture of justice not served.’”

In the interim, Gillibrand has launched a second initiative into addressing how college campuses deal with sexual assault with a bipartisan group of senators, including fellow Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose competing military reform bill passed unanimously in the Senate just days after Gillibrand’s failed.

Gillibrand has proposed a handful of new policies and penalties for colleges. On Wednesday, she elaborated on one of the bill’s key pieces: an anonymous survey filled out by sexual assault victims that would be sent to the Department of Education and published for the world — and prospective college students and parents — to see.

Gillibrand said schools wouldn’t be able to touch the survey information. Currently, schools oversee Clery Act reporting, submitting their own number of annual sex crimes — a process many argue gives schools an incentive to make cases disappear. Gillibrand is aiming to remove the school as middle-man and introduce a higher standard of transparency into the process.

“Now, because the climate of the school is going to be public, their incentive is to clean it up, actually fix the problem,” Gillibrand said — which may cause the most headaches for colleges under the proposed bill. There will be no easy, standardized fix; what contributes to a dangerous climate, Gillibrand said, is not necessarily the same thing at any two campuses. While discussing these potential factors, she actually brought up an example from her personal life:

“When I was freshman at Dartmouth, I received a note in my mailbox the first week as to where I was rated in my class in terms of how good looking I was — that sets a climate,” she said. “I was a very young freshman and I didn’t care and I just disregarded it, but that could undermine peoples’ feeling of safety — that on their first day they’re being objectified. That is not a great feeling for a young student.”

Gillibrand also emphasized her proposed requirement that schools hire confidential advisers to thoroughly explain victims’ reporting options to them — and addressed one notably absent aspect: standardized sanctions for perpetrators found to be guilty by their colleges. Punishments for those students currently range from book reports to expulsion.

While the senator said she personally supported a minimum penalty for those adjudicated as responsible and didn’t rule it out for the future, the senators “didn’t have consensus on it” prior to the bill’s introduction.

Gillibrand’s core pursuit, however, is creating incentives for institutions to be transparent about their internal climates of sexual violence.

“They have to assess, ‘What are the risks in my school? What’s causing these negative climates? Is it alcohol-infused? Is it sports-team infused? Is it a certain class of students feeling above the rules?’” she said. “That’s their job, or they’re going to get bad press.”

Read more
Add your reaction Share

PTSD Care within Our Community

Last month, one of our community members highlighted the importance of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) recognition and care.

PTSD knowledge among our community is more important than ever before. Earlier this year, a Government Accountability Report found that although Veteran’s Affairs has been approving more claims overall, the agency continues to discount and delay claims related to sexual assault and harassment trauma. This may change as Veteran’s Affairs reacts to the mountain of evidence against their handling of veteran’s health care claims (for example, appointing a new Secretary, Robert McDonald). Still, survivors wishing to file claims based on these horrendous acts of violence experienced while serving must pass a higher burden of proof than any other person seeking support from the VA insurance system.

One in four veterans personally know a military sexual assault survivor, according to a recent Gallup poll, which points to the epidemic this system-wide problem has become. These numbers are staggering, and showcase the vital importance of providing adequate care to veterans experiencing PTSD from sexual assault crimes. This is of national importance. 

What support, if any, will our nation’s military give to the thousands of military sexual assault survivors?

Currently, not much. We must demand more as a community and as a nation. Our veterans deserve better care. They deserve a system that punishes the perpetrator not the survivor, a system that provides adequate care to health issues caused while serving their country.

As Washington deliberates how to reduce MSA and how to provide MST survivors with sufficient care, we need to band together to take care of each other, offer support, and further understand the resources currently available to those battling PTSD.

These are just some suggestions - as always, the best ones come from this community itself.

General Resources on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 

Symptoms, Treatment, and Help for PTSD
What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Treatment Options for PTSD
Coping with a Traumatic Event
Links Between Suicide, PTSD, and Sexual Assault
Four-Question PTSD Screener
Information on PTSD from the Cleveland Clinic
Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Basics
PTSD: Helpful Information
In-Depth PTSD Information: Children and PTSD
Kids Health: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
10 Causes of PTSD in Children
Treatment of PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Resources for Veterans: 

PTSD Overview
PTSD Counseling Services for Veterans
Vietnam Veterans of America's Guide on PTSD
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Ending Nightmares Caused by PTSD
PTSD Fact Sheet

Thanks to the Law Officers of Dr. Bruce G. Fagel & Associates for reaching out to us and providing useful information on this important topic.

Have anything to add? Please share in the comments below. Together, we can ensure that survivors of #MSA and #MST are #NotInvisible.


Add your reaction Share

Calif. Military Sexual Assault Legislation Headed to Governor Brown – SB 1422

by  via California Newswire, Aug 11, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — A bill to remove investigations and prosecutions of military sexual assault cases from the chain of command is headed to Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration. The bill was given final legislative approval today on a unanimous 36 to 0 bipartisan vote of the State Senate. Senate Bill 1422, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would require that cases of sexual assault of a service member of the California Military Department (CMD) be subject to the jurisdiction of local civilian authorities.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military. While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California can lead by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

The CMD is comprised of the following three components of the active militia: The National Guard, the State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia. The CMD’s 24,000-person roster includes the California National Guard (CalGuard), the largest of the 54 state-level National Guards in U.S. states and territories. The majority of its service members are on inactive duty status. The federal government has struggled with how best to address sexual assaults in the military. Federal mandates have included establishing a Sexual Assault Response Program (SAPR), Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) and a dual-track sexual assault reporting system for victims.

However, CMD lacks the personnel and infrastructure to adjudicate sexual assault cases. As a result, the CMD’s standing policy is to refer these cases to local authorities who are better equipped to investigate and prosecute potential crimes. Senator Padilla’s legislation would make this policy state law.

“Local jurisdictions are in a better position to prosecute sexual assault cases in California’s Military Department. Importantly, this practice also separates the investigation and prosecution from the chain of command ensuring that there is no conflict of interest in the evaluation and prosecution of sexual assault cases,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

SB 1422 would require that cases involving the sexual assault of a service member of the California Military Department be subject to the jurisdiction of local civilian authorities. It also provides for no statute of limitation in cases of sexual assault in the CMD. The bill would also require the department to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on sexual assault statistics and the efficacy of the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program.

Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. These crimes also take place in our military departments. The most recent report from the Department of Defense estimated that 26,000 service members had experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Last year, U.S. soldiers were 15 times more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy.

Senator Alex Padilla, 41, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and just completed serving on the MIT Corporation Board. He is President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles.

Read more
2 reactions Share

Rape culture at the Air Force Academy: The shocking truth no one wants to confront

There's momentum to give the federal anti-sex discrimination law teeth. But here's why that won't help young cadets

By Katie McDonough via Salon, August 5, 2014 

Rape culture at the Air Force Academy: The shocking truth no one wants to confront

Air Force Cadets from the class of 2014 arrive for their graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) (Credit: AP)

A new investigative report on sexual violence and other misconduct at the United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is a wildly disturbing look at campus rape culture at the prestigious military school. Disturbing, but sadly familiar. Cadets on the school’s athletic teams are alleged to have sexually assaulted female classmates, and those crimes were largely ignored by coaches and administrators. When cadets were held accountable, the school took no further action to discipline the coaches and other officers who failed to act. The report exposes, as Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress put it, “the intersection of hero culture and rape culture.”

Here are just a few of the findings from Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Tom Roeder’s piece (emphasis mine):

“‘The girls’ drink, or Captain Morgan with the blue lid, was only for girls to drink [at one party at the school],’ [Office of Special Investigations] confidential informant cadet Eric Thomas told investigators in a written statement obtained by The Gazette. The blue-capped bottle, he explained, was laced with ‘roofies,’ a street term for flunitrazepam, a powerful sedative known as a date-rape drug.”

“After academy leaders were told about the allegations of rape and drug use, OSI agents planned their own party, one with informants in the crowd and special agents nearby to bust bad actors. But leaders determined that the risk that women would be raped was so high that the idea of a January 2012 sting was quashed, academy officials said.”

“In the 2012-2013 academic year, cadets reported 45 sexual assaults, representing nearly two-thirds of the 70 reported assaults at all three major military academies.”

These things are, of course, outrageous and unacceptable. They are also depressingly common, both at military and non-military schools. But the first thing I thought after reading Roeder’s in-depth examination of just how bad things are at AFA was Title IX. Namely, that Title IX — in all its weak imperfection — doesn’t protect cadets at AFA or any other service academy. Despite being taxpayer-funded institutions, each is exempted from the federal anti-sex discrimination law. Victims of sexual assault at these schools are more or less on their own, even more on their own than students at other universities who are already quite on their own.

Sexual assault at these schools “is something that’s being tracked, but doesn’t get a lot of attention because the academies fall in this middle ground between an academic environment and a military environment,” Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) policy director Greg Jacob told Salon. “But there is no reason the academies shouldn’t be included in Title IX. It would bridge the gap between what Congress is trying to do with colleges and what they tried to do with the active duty military.”

And as Roeder’s report makes clear, AFA officials mostly framed the sexual violence problem on their campus as a matter of a few bad apples who don’t meet the school’s “strict conduct rules” rather than a systemic lack of accountability that started at the very top. There has been some movement toward reform — AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson has ordered a review of the athletic department, a few cadets were punished following the OSI investigation and other cadets have started a sexual assault awareness group — but, as Roeder points out, “While pains were taken to punish the cadets for the conduct, there’s little evidence that academy leaders asked wider questions about whether the misconduct of so many athletes exposed deeper problems within the sports programs.”

This is the problem with “bad apple” thinking, Jacob said. “How many times do you have to try to point out the bad apples before you realize the whole bushel basket needs to be thrown out? How many bad apples do you have to eat before you cut down the poison tree?”

And failures of accountability at the service academies can have serious consequences throughout the military, since most generals and admirals come from these elite schools. “When you look at the number of four-star generals in the military — the military academies are unique not only because of the nature of the education, but also the influence their graduates have on these institutions,” Jacob noted. “All of the top leaders come from the academies.”

The solution is not just self-correction from AFA and other military schools, but for Congress to act to bring them under the umbrella of Title IX, according to Jacob. “This is why we have Title IX,” he explained. “We have an atmosphere right now where a student has to be worried about being sexually harassed or assaulted. How are they supposed to learn when they have to look over their shoulder walking to and from class?”

There’s real momentum right now to give the federal anti-sex discrimination law some teeth, but if service academies continue to be exempted, survivors at these schools won’t be able to share in those gains. “The service academies are the hothouse where you’re either going to sprout leaders or predators,” Jacob said. “It’s a unique challenge, but it’s really one that Congress hasn’t taken up. They should.”

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

Read more
Add your reaction Share

More Military Sex Assault Reports a Positive Sign?

by Hugh Lessig via, July 28, 2014

NORFOLK -- Navy Capt. Chuck Marks spent a year in Afghanistan as chief of plans, coordinating the interests of 50 coalition nations, a somewhat reluctant Afghan government and neighboring countries that were, in a word, "interesting."

Now he works in Norfolk, far removed from a ground war. Yet he considers his current job more challenging and complex.

Marks is the sexual assault prevention and response officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He is among those on the front lines of a different struggle: changing a military culture regarding sex crimes.

Reports of military sexual assault are skyrocketing. A Pentagon report released May 1 logged a nearly 50 percent increase across all services in a year. Yet Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the crime is still being underreported.

"We must keep up the pressure and intensify our efforts to improve victim confidence in our system," he said in releasing the report.

Far from being discouraged by the rising numbers, Marks says he is heartened. It shows more service members are coming forward to seek help and find justice, he said.

There will never be a magic moment where the military will declare its culture to be "transformed," but Marks says momentum is building.

"Everyone gets it. Everyone is working on it together," he said. "I have rarely seen the kind of synergy I see today."

Lt. Annie Otten is a Fleet Forces Command victim's advocate. She's been doing this type of job for eight years, implementing programs at different Navy commands. Years ago, it seemed many sailors didn't realize the extent of the problem.

"When I would conduct training, I was still saying, 'We have a problem. It's sexual assault. This is what sexual assault is.' You really had to break it down to the basics," she said. "That started to change, slowly, probably five years ago. Within the last two to three years, it has been a constant drumbeat. We have really ramped it up. I don't know if we fully understood the depth of the problem more than two or three years ago."

The problem is compounded by the complexity of sexual assault cases, said Marks.

"I have looked at every single sexual assault incident that's occurred inside Fleet Forces Command in fiscal years '13 and '14, and many of the cases in fiscal year '12," he said. "There are zero cases that look alike. ... When you talk to our prosecution team in Norfolk, they will tell you that sorting through a murder case is much simpler than a sexual assault case."

He can make some broad generalizations. A very small percentage of cases involve an unknown assailant hiding in the bushes, or higher-ranking officers forcing themselves on junior sailors.

"Most of our victims and alleged offenders are first-term sailors," he said. "And most of our cases involve alcohol. So it's peer to peer."

Often there is a prior relationship.

"What we have seen in many of our cases, there's some sort of relationship between the two that is unprofessional in the workplace. Both participate, then you go out into town, introduce alcohol, and somebody believes they've got the green light and they don't," he said.

Military law and reporting

The Uniform Code of Military Justice breaks down sexual crimes into five categories, three of which can be labeled as penetration crimes and two as contact crimes.

"In most every state, those contact crimes, which make up a little more than half our cases, are not sexual assaults," he said. "Out in town, here in Virginia, they would be misdemeanors. But they're a felony sexual assault under the DoD definition. Those were changed in June 2012."

Victims can file restricted or unrestricted reports. A restricted report does not involve a legal case. The victim comes forward and the case is recorded, but the primary motivation is to seek help. In an unrestricted report, the victims are not only getting help, they're seeking justice.

"We see a big uptick in unrestricted reports," Marks said, "and a big uptick in restricted reports being converted into unrestricted reports. Both of those are giving us confidence that people are coming forward."

Otten cited another reason why service members seem to have more confidence in the system.

"We're getting a lot of reports with latency -- reporting something that happened one or two years ago," she said. "As victim advocates, we are grateful that they're coming forward and getting help, whereas before you didn't see so many latency reports. Others are reporting earlier incidents before they joined the military."

Male victims

Sexual assaults on male service members continue to be under-reported, defense officials say. Hagel said the military is working on ways to encourage male victims to come forward.

At Fleet Forces Command, the Navy is seeing more male victims, but it still lags female reporting.

"The culture associated with males (and sexual assault) is a relatively new thing for the military to deal with out in the open," Marks said. "But I also think that's reflective of society at large."

Addressing this issue in May, Hagel said, "With estimates that men comprise more than half the victims of sexual assault in the military, we have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault does not occur because a victim is weak, but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law. Input from male victims will be critical in developing these methods, and results will be closely monitored so we can make them more effective."

What's next?

Military leaders cite several new reforms meant to improve the system going forward.

They will evaluate training for sexual assault prevention and response officers, create an online forum to share information and encourage male victims to come forward. Another is a review of alcohol policies.

Congress has enacted several changes as well, although some say more needs to be done.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December 2013, strips commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, installs civilian review of decisions to not prosecute cases, provides victims with their own independent legal counsel and requires dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault.

In addition, Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine pushed through the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that, among other things, will encourage troops to report unwanted sexual contact without fear of retribution.

Marks said the Navy's overall push toward "wellness" should help as well. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that initiative in March 2012 when he spoke in Norfolk aboard the USS Bataan.

The Navy's four biggest issues when it comes to readiness are sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide, and alcohol abuse. Once way to combat all those problems is making sure that sailors eat right, take care of themselves physically and maintain a balance between work and home life.

"If you're going to go after all of the destructive behaviors," Marks said, "you've got to put your net around all of that stuff collectively."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Handling of Military Sexual Assault Up for Debate

By Hugh Lessig via Stars and Stripes, July 27, 2014

In March, the Senate rejected a bid to change how the military prosecutes sexual assault cases, keeping them within the chain of command instead of enlisting independent prosecutors.

Expect the debate to continue.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who sponsored that bill, said too few victims trust their own chain of command, either due to fear of reprisal or skepticism that they'll receive fair treatment.

"It's like your brother committing the sexual assault and having your father decide whether to prosecute," she said at the time.

Gillibrand said she intends to continue pursuing the matter, which divides people in and out of the military.

In Hampton Roads, two Navy officers say the current system works, while a former Virginia Beach prosecutor who served on a military sexual assault panel says Gillibrand has it right.

Navy Capt. Chuck Marks is the sexual assault prevention and response officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. The Navy's 43 percent increase in sexual assault reports gives him confidence that more sailors are coming forward because they trust the system.

The current system holds commanders accountable for what happens inside their commands, Marks said, so they become "personally invested" in seeking a just outcome. Lt. Annie Otten, a victim's advocate at Fleet Forces, agrees. A case that proceeds up the chain of command will be addressed more promptly than if it were taken to independent prosecutors.

"It gives that commanding officer the ability to still have that control, to be able to swiftly address the problem, and do it so everybody can hear this behavior is not acceptable and this is what we're doing about it," she said.

Gillibrand's bill split the Senate along unusual lines. She's considered a progressive Democrat, yet she won support from two arch-conservative Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

Virginia's two senators, both moderate Democrats, voted against the bill. Sen. Mark R. Warner said he deeply respected Gillibrand's efforts, but had concerns about its effect on the military justice system. Kaine said bypassing the chain of command was not the most effective way to deal with sexual assaults, and he didn't think it would encourage more troops to come forward.

Another group also favors keeping commanders in the loop. A panel directed to examine the issue released a report June 30 that called for a number of reforms, but independent prosecution was not one of them.

However, two members of the nine-person panel issued a formal dissent, including former Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant. Joining him was Elizabeth Hillman, a professor of law at the University of California.

They said the decision to keep commanders in the loop was based on "high-ranking commanders and attorneys within the U.S. military. It neglects the words of survivors of sexual assault, rank-and-file service members, outside experts and officers in our allies' militaries."

The commander-as-prosecutor "creates doubt about the fairness of military justice, has little connection to exercising legitimate authority over subordinates and undermines the confidence of victims," their statement reads.

Petty Officer 1st Class Bonnie McCammond is a sexual assault survivor based at Fort Meade, Md., who has been featured in Navy videos. She believes Navy culture is improving, but more work must be done. That includes using independent prosecutors, she said.

"I don't think the chain of command should be making the decision," said McCammond, who spoke to the Daily Press in June. "This is a criminal proceeding. This is not something you should have any personal involvement in because it's not possible to be objective."

Gillibrand's measure may return in the fall as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, said Barbara Brown, communications director for Service Women's Action Network, which supports the senator.

"Commanders are not lawyers," Brown said. "Most have not studied in law school, passed a bar exam or argued a case in court. Military lawyers are better trained and equipped to handle serious criminal matters. Commanders are better trained to lead their troops."

Gillibrand's bill, Brown said, "lets commanders command and lawyers lawyer."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Navy to retool Blue Angels after scandal

By Dan Lamothe via The Washington Post, July 23, 2014


The Navy’s investigative report examining the leadership of former Blue Angels commanding officer Capt. Gregory McWherter is filled with embarrassing details that raise questions about his leadership and the culture in the squadron. The Navy found that McWherter chose not to stop sexual harassment and condoned pornography and creepy behavior in the workplace.

“I believe he… became susceptible to hubris and arrogance, blinding him to the common sense judgments expected of all service members, but especially those entrusted with command,” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, wrote in the investigation’s final report.

One example: As the investigation puts it, “a large blue and gold penis was painted on the roof of the center point trailer at the Blue Angels’ winter training facilities in El Centro.” It was so large, it was “visible from satellite imagery,” including those used on Google Maps.

The Navy replaced McWherter with Cmdr. Thomas Frosch in November 2012. But it isn’t stopping there in shaking things up. Navy Times reported last night that the Blue Angels will get an executive officer — a No. 2 in command — for the first time in the squadron’s history. The selection process for the unit also will be overhauled to include more oversight from the Navy’s personnel officials.

Vice Adm. David Buss told Navy Times that he made the change because he wanted the traditional “command triad” to exist in the Blue Angels. That includes the commanding officer, the executive officer and a senior enlisted adviser, the command master chief.

That addresses an issue raised in the investigation. McWherter first led the Blue Angels without issue from 2008 to 2010. He was brought back to lead the squadron again in 2011, and failed to set effective limits on his staff’s behavior after he returned, investigators found. The basic thinking: If an executive officer, or “XO,” had been present in the Blue Angels, there would have been an additional check on what was occurring in the unit.

The changes were announced as the Navy publicized who will be in the Blue Angels in 2015. The new executive officer will be Cmdr. Bob Flynn, a S-3B naval flight officer. He will not participate in flight demonstrations, focusing instead on administrative needs, travel and training, Buss told Navy Times.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Army to open more sex-assault response centers based on JBLM model

BY ADAM ASHTON, The News Tribune, July 17, 2014 

A year ago, Joint Base Lewis-McChord opened a sexual assault response center that seemed like such a good idea, commanders wondered why they had not launched it earlier.

The rest of the Army apparently agreed.

This month, Army commanders announced plans to replicate the JBLM model at 11 other posts. It’s an endorsement of a project created at the base south of Tacoma that placed a variety of resources under one roof instead of spreading them around a sprawling military installation.

“We’re going to make that an Army best practice,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said earlier this month during a visit to JBLM.

The center — formally known as the I Corps Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program resource center — consolidates legal, medical, mental health, advocacy and education services in one location.

Previously, victims would have to go to different offices for those services and often have to relive traumatic experiences while speaking with advocates at each stop.

Now, “they can just go to one center,” said Lt. Col. Stephanie Johnson, the I Corps sexual harassment and assault prevention program manager.

Johnson said about three dozen people visit the center each month. Some are victims; others are unit leaders looking for the Army’s latest information on halting sexual assault in the ranks.

“We are used not just for victims, but for anyone looking for answers,” she said.

The Pentagon in May reported a steep rise in reports of sexual assault. Commanders largely attributed the increase to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward to report crimesbecause of increased military scrutiny on the issue.

Across the Army, the number of reports increased to 2,149 last year from 1,423 in 2012. At JBLM, the number of reports climbed to 120 in 2013 from 100 in 2012.

JBLM had a soft opening for its sex assault response center last summer. The base hosted agrand opening for the center in November.

The military is facing pressure from lawmakers to reform its sexual-assault prevention efforts. One proposal would take the prosecution of sex crimes out of the Army’s normal chain of command. So far, the measure by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has failed to pass.

Army leaders cast the decision to open more one-stop centers as an effort to change a military culture that critics say is too tolerant of sex assault.

"What we're trying to do is put the systems in place and provide the tools to commanders, in order to change the culture and create an Army where everyone is treated with dignity and respect," said Lt. Col. Geoff Catlett of the Army’s personnel command in a news release announcing the new centers.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 @TNTMilitary


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Investigation reveals creepy details behind Marine colonel's firing

By Hope Hodge Seck via Marine Corps Times, Jul. 21, 2014

An investigation into last year’s firing of a senior Marine Corps officer reveals that at least six female subordinates told authorities he had touched them inappropriately or made lewd comments to them.

Col. Tracy Tafolla, 48, was removed as commander of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate in Quantico, Va., in May 2013. The command investigation, released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains pages of testimony transcript from female witnesses who described Tafolla’s behavior as “red zone” on the Navy’s “stoplight” chart for workplace behavior, and recalled going to extreme lengths to avoid being left alone with him.

Despite the investigation’s damning revelations, Marine officials said Tafolla remains on active duty.

Interviewed for 30 minutes about the allegations, Tafolla could not refute any of the reports or provide any mitigating context for his alleged actions, the investigation found. He did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation and its findings.

His alleged misbehavior grew so pervasive that one employee testified it was “almost like a joke of the directorate.”

The investigation describes lurid accounts of misbehavior. The investigating officers interviewed a total of five employees of the directorate, three female and two male, who reported the following:

■ Tafolla allegedly noticed a female employee carrying a Victoria’s Secret umbrella and said, “you know that makes everyone wonder what’s underneath.”

■ He allegedly told a co-worker that they should travel together, but that his wife wouldn’t like him traveling with such a “hot young thing.”

■ Tafolla allegedly was fond of approaching one woman from behind and giving her shoulder massages of a minute or more, usually when her office-mate was not nearby.

■ He allegedly would approach one subordinate while she was talking to a co-worker, putting his arm around her and announcing to the office “how do you like my hot new girlfriend?”

■ One member of the directorate said a female coworker reported to him that Tafolla allegedly told her “if only I were 15 years younger.”

■ A woman said she was once offended when Tafolla allegedly pulled her onto his lap while at a unit social function. She later heard rumors that she “gave the colonel a lap dance.”

■ Tafolla allegedly would engage in unwelcome “rubbing of the shoulders” and “knee touching,” touching one woman on the knee repeatedly under the table during a meeting.

■ Ultimately, one woman asked her office-mate to make sure she was never alone with Tafolla.

The accusations came to light in March 2013, when an anonymous email was sent to a Quantico hotline listing six female employees of the directorate, some contractors and some Navy civilian employees, who had been subjected to Tafolla’s alleged behavior. The employees “do not feel comfortable being alone with him and are in fear of their careers if they say anything to him,” the email said, according to the investigation.

According to the investigation, the witnesses acknowledged that they should have reported the behavior sooner — one said the alleged harassment had been going on for her since 2010 — but offered various reasons for not coming forward: fear of losing a job, wishing to avoid jeopardizing Tafolla’s career, worry about getting a “label” in the office.

“I’m one that usually speaks up very confidently,” said one female witness. “But in this situation ... I didn’t have the guts to do it. Because it’s someone I respect, it’s my boss’s boss’s boss. The director of our organization ... just didn’t feel comfortable.”

After he was relieved of command, Tafolla was transferred within Quantico to a position at Marine Corps Systems Command, officials said. A spokesman for Marine Corps Installations Command, Rex Runyon, said Tafolla faces no legal actions.

Another Marine official confirmed that Tafolla did, however, receive nonjudicial punishment as a result of the accusations. Since NJP proceedings are not open to the public, the official could not release the details of the punishment.

It’s also possible that he could face further administrative action at some point, including a board of inquiry hearing that might determine his fitness to remain in the Marine Corps.

The directorate oversees development, testing and evaluation of non-lethal technologies across the Defense Department. These technologies range from flash-bang grenades and pepper spray dispensers to futuristic weapons including the “heat ray” active denial system now in development.

Marine Col. Michael Coolican succeeded Tafolla as commander of the directorate last December.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

← Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9    14  15  Next →
The Invisible War


See the Film, Spread the Message


Stand with Survivors