All I Could Be

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Military Sexual Trauma Amendment to Iowa Code of Military Justice

From today’s press conference:

Over the past two years, we have watched the highest ranking officers in almost every branch of the military with sexual assault prevention assignments, dismissed from their duties for committing crimes of sexual assault and harassment that they were supposed to provide the leadership and training to prevent.

Over the past 12 years, we have watched women service members come forward with their personal Military Sexual Trauma stories, from inside the wire of the forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and within the gates of military bases and training school here in America.

Eighteen of those women, featured in the military rape documentary “The Invisible War” sued the government for its system of handling MST cases that stripped their constitutional rights that as military members they’d sworn to defend for others.  Their case was dismissed, citing that “rape was an occupational hazard of military service.”

Meanwhile, every military commander and politician on camera has echoed the same sentiment: zero tolerance.

That phrase has been put to the test, and it has failed, miserably, year after year after year.  This is not just the military’s problem or a women’s issue.  It’s a human rights issue.  Every person has the right to live and work in a safe environment, free from sexual harassment, predation, assault and rape.

Our country has some big numbers to face: between 360,000 and half million service women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their military career which is at least 1 in 5 women in the military.  1 in 3 women that file a claim with the VA for any reason, report Military Sexual Trauma when asked.  Maybe only about 15% of MST incidents are reported.  But that report rate has increased by 50% in the last year alone.

What does our state face: the VNRC hasn’t found any solid data.  But we’re certain that Iowa is not too far outside the national trend.  In fact, the proposed MST Amendment would make it a military leaders “duty to report” MST incidents, therefore allowing us to begin tracking the status of MST crimes in the Iowa Guard and Reserves.  That’s a powerful start.  From a survivor standpoint, it explicitly protects her (or him) from retaliation.  And for a perpetrator, it holds him accountable for his crime in civilian court, with a conviction that cannot be overturned by his chain of command.

I honorably served my country in the active duty Army and Iowa Army National Guard from 1995-2004, including one tour in Iraq.  I was a victim of both military justice systems that ignored my reports, threatened my career and protected my perpetrators.  You see, it didn’t matter that MST was a relatively small issue when it happened to me.  It didn’t matter if I was 1 in 3 or 4 or 5 women traumatized during my military career or if I was part of only 8 or 15% that chose to report it.  What counted was that it happened at all and that my chain of command appeared to have a systematic method to ignore and conceal my report and re-victimize me in the process.  What is crushing is that the greatest professional Army in the world and one of the most ready and well trained Guard units in the country, made me one of its own—a sister among brothers, trained and battle tested.  Proud of the uniform I wore.  And from within the tightest woven threads of trust and loyalty, it unraveled everything it had taught me to believe in.

And I’m not alone.  Whenever I speak about my military service, at women’s groups, book clubs, service organization meetings and veteran events, one woman will stay afterward to tell me her sexual assault story.  At almost every event.

Military Sexual Trauma is NOT an occupational hazard of the military.  It is not simply the by-product of women training, living and fighting alongside men.  It’s not about young people, in an isolated and emotionally charged environment, being indiscreet.  MST is NOT about normal, consensual sex.  It’s a crime of coercion and power that is a temporary pain of the body and a lifetime disfigurement of the soul.

The MST Amendment to the Iowa Code of Military Justice is an opportunity for our state to lead the nation’s charge against this egregious crime, to take action against perpetrators that do not stand for the values of the Iowa Guard and Reserves, and to protect the women and men that voluntarily give their best and if necessary, their life, in faithful service.

Only 1% of our citizens wear a military uniform, yet all of us enjoy the benefits, luxuries and liberties paid for by their sacrifice.  We owe them more than we can ever repay.  But we can start, with the MST Amendment today.

I’ve heard from several members of the Veterans Affairs Committee that there is no Republican or Democratic way to treat veterans, just a right way.  And the MST Amendment is a right step.

Tell Your Iowa Legislator You Support the MST Amendment to the Iowa Code of Military Justice

Dear Representative or Senator ____________,

I’m writing to express my need for your support in making changes to the Iowa Code of Military Justice that help protect our defenders at a state level, in the midst of the national crisis of sexual assault against women in the military.

Unfortunately, Sen. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act was not included in the defense bill. But as she and her supporters continue to advocate at the national level, there are still ways that Iowans can take action to protect Iowa’s military team by supporting the Amendment to the Iowa Code of Military Justice drafted by the Veterans National Recovery Center.

It addresses two important aspects: accountability and reporting. 1 in 5 service women are sexually assaulted during their time of duty and 1 in 3 that seek treatment at the VA for any condition “test positive” for MST when surveyed. Our state can do better.

Can I count on your support in co-sponsoring the amendment?

My female veteran friend and lobbyist Miyoko Hikiji is advocating on behalf of the VNRC for these changes because of how she knows both personally and anecdotally how this issue has effected women warriors in our state.

Contact her to get more information at: m_hikiji@yahoo.com.  She will also be at the Capitol, Senate Room 206, next Tuesday January 21st  at 10am to outline the amendment and answer questions.

Thank you for pledging to protect our defenders.

Sincerely,

Name

Street Address

Sexual Assault in the Military

On Wednesday, CNN ran a story “Survey Indicates Troubling Trend in Military Sexual Assaults”  see link below.
http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/07/us/pentagon-sexual-assault-report/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
The story cited a 30% increase in anonymous reports of sexual assault in the military between 2010 and 2012–from 19,300 to 26,000.  The Defense Department’s response is four-fold: hold perpetrators accountable, create more special victim’s units, better track reports, hasten victim transfers out their units.
But is this plan good enough, fast enough, able to truly protect our nation’s women defenders of freedom?
In the same CNN story, an example of how lack of leadership, empty tough-talk, and pockets of misogynistic culture still reign.  Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, branch chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program has been removed from his post after being accused of sexually assaulting a stranger in a parking lot while intoxicated.
If he could not learn from his own program, what hope did those he attempted to train and lead have?  And could his behavior during this incident happen spontaneously, with no previous indicators of his tendency or history of sexual assault in his past?  There were no records of it.  But most cases remain unreported.  And military organizations are tight-knit.  I believe someone knew something about this Lt. Col. Krusinski, yet allowed him to serve in this leadership position.  This is not simply problematic–it’s egregious.
The CNN story spotlights one glaring truth: What’s being done, doesn’t work. Rapists do not change their deep, behavioral issues that cause them to commit crimes because they attended mandatory briefings on sexual assault awareness. Would a murderer change under the same circumstances? No. Both are similarly serious crimes. Rape prevention for women, is a form of victim blaming, like the argument to ban women from certain combat units in order to “protect” them from being raped. Rapists are mentally ill and almost always repeat offenders. In order for the military to significantly reduce the number of sex crimes against women in uniform, it needs to turn its focus on men–removing these criminals from their units, jail time, and lifetime ban from further military service.
I have personal experience with this issue, especially the military culture in which women fight not only on the battlefield, but in their units for the respect they deserve that is automatically given to men.  I detailed this hostile environment “inside the wire” in my memoir.
I aim to use my experiences and knowledge of a woman’s battle to survive not only war in a foreign land but the terror within her unit in the States to inspire veterans, soldiers, citizens, especially women, to never give up the fight for what is right.  We have an obligation to pass on a better legacy to the next generation of women warriors.
This is not a military issue, or a woman’s issue, it’s a human rights issue that should concern all Americans and activate each of us to do our part toward protecting the rights of our country’s citizens.
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All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq is a compelling tribute to women who serve. More than a wartime romance, it honors love of country and the unique contributions women bring to the battlefield. It deserves to be read alongside the classics in military history. Debra Engle, author of Grace from the Garden: Changing the World One Garden at a Time and president of GoldenTree Communications
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