I recently attended the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the sexual assault investigations at Lackland Air Force Base on January 23, 2013. A group of female and male survivors attended to support witness TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Ret., who spoke bravely and loudly to the HASC that afternoon. Prior to the hearing, Protect Our Defenders held a press conference that included Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, who you may remember as the brave whisteblower from the Tailhook scandal. Protect Our Defenders is doing great work and I recommend you check them out and offer your support if so inclined.
I've talked about my own rape many times before, but I really haven't discussed the military aspect of it in detail. If you haven't served, some of this may be hard to grasp. For those who aren't familiar with my story, you can visit the links below. I'm not going to rehash it here. I've done enough of that lately:
Why didn’t I report what happened to me? I could not safely report that I was raped by a woman, nor could I seek help on base as men were not viewed as rape survivors – a situation that hasn't changed much from the 1990s. I've talked about the myriad types of victim-blaming experienced by male rape survivors before, so I won't cover those issue again here. Instead, I am going to discuss why as an active duty male Marine, I chose not to report or risk exposure by seeking help. For those who don't want to hear from male survivors or believe that sexual violence only affects women, understand now that you are part of the problem and the blame for the silencing of millions is yours to share. Twenty years after my rape, many people still mock male survivors and laugh in our faces. I've spoken out publicly and loudly and I still get this type of victim-blaming on a regular basis. It still hurts. I'm not shutting up and I'm not going away. Get used to hearing from us. We are awake now – and we are done being told to sit in the corner.
I was raped at the start of the 1990's witch hunts for homosexuals in uniform and the persecution of anyone targeted, regardless of their actual orientation. These "investigations" were happening aggressively and in the open, creating a scary and oppressive environment. To state that I didn’t want to have sex with a particular woman – any woman – would have allowed those bigots to invoke the myth that all men want sex from all women all the time and then focus their hate and small minds in my direction. Forget the fact that I was in love with another woman. I must have wanted it or else I was in the closet and then fair game for the boot-licking fascists conducting the witch-hunts. I had enough to deal with as a 19 year old rape victim. I didn't need or want that ugly era in Americn history dropped on top of the situation.
There is a pervasive view in society that men are incapable of consent by default – we all want sex all the time, however we can get it – even large groups of women believe this myth. Had I reported it, I would have then without been accused of being a homosexual by default, since I did not want sexual contact with the woman who raped me. All men want all sex all the time from all women. Right? RIGHT?! That would have led to an investigation and eventual prosecution. No evidence was really required to ruin a Marine’s career in that scary and pathological environment. An allegation from an unenlightened, homophobic officer was all it would have taken. You didn’t have to look very far to find such a bigoted and close-minded person back then. They were everywhere. Further, I could have been targeted for prosecution if they chose to believe my rapist or she made good on her implied threat. Resources for male survivors were almost non-existent and attitudes then were downright shameful. That situation has not changed much in 20 years.
I spent the next 4 years on active duty trying not to betray my fear or let fellow Marines, NCOs, SNCOs and officers see that I was not whole. I could not allow them to see what had happened for fear that I would be the one treated like the criminal. I’ve seen enough of the military justice system to know that justice is just a word.
I have to live with the consequences of her decisions that night as well as the inability of the Department of Defense to take rape seriously. The resources that could have helped me cope then were non-existent and the oppressive environment created by the homophobia running rampant only contributed to the silencing. While things have gotten a bit better, most military survivors still feel severely intimidated and afraid to report. That has to change if the DoD is serious about ending sexual violence in the ranks and treating the survivors – rather than punishing them and subjecting them to institutional victim-blaming and further abuses.
While bruises, cuts and blood can be evidence of sexual assault, they are hardly indicative that a person is lying if they are lacking such indicators. The woman who raped me left me physically unscathed with the exception of some chaffing that quickly healed. The real damage was psychological and hidden. I had nowhere to go for help. There were no resources on base, no one I could look to for help without worrying that I would be the one prosecuted. Over the years, I have heard from far too many survivors who were shamed, called liars or treated horribly because a friend, family member, commanding officer, NCO, SNCO or even attending medical personnel questioned their experience because they were not physically injured “enough” – as if there is a specific level necessary to make it “legitimate.”
The Department of Defense has failed miserably across the board when it comes to sexual assault and survivor assistance. It is time to take it out of their hands. Congress must act now or they are endorsing the military's rank apathy and embracing further victimization of men and women in uniform.
Read the statements and documents on Protect Our Defenders. Research Military Sexual Trauma and stop listening to the guys with the shiny stuff on their collars. They really aren't saying anything different from their pitiful peers of prior years. They are just getting better at the PR game.