Friday, November 29, 2013

Charging The Capitol Hill

Sometime while shopping or just going wherever, I will see a man or woman in uniform. Sometimes I approach them and remark, "thank you for serving." Lately I wonder what life has been like for that woman in uniform. Is carrying a deep dark secret of being assaulted by another serviceman? Perhaps too confused or ashamed for fear that she could lose everything that she's worked hard for?
I have a neighbor whose daughter just left for the military a month ago. I was stunned when she told me the news. Later on after pondering the obvious, I said to her mom, "tell her that I said, don't take any crap from anyone." (My words were just a little stronger.)  But I think about those women and men out there who may be in that war within the ranks.

Jennifer Norris

Jennifer's Story

Retired NCO, TSgt Jennifer Norris experienced war within the ranks from recruitment to her first duty station. She came from an small town, and had an idyllic childhood. Joining the Air Force at 24, she had no idea that this behavior existed in the Armed Forces.

"I was chemically restrained and raped by my recruiter and sexually assaulted by my technical school instructor at Keesler Air Force Base. I did not report these incidents; I just sucked it up and kept my mouth shut." As Jennifer continues, she tells how she was sexually assaulted at her permanent duty station by 2 other servicemen. And one of them was her supervisor, who she could not escape from. Finally coming forward, and reporting these crimes to her commander. Unfortunately her commander did not have the authority to press charges against the recruiter and her Tech TI at Keesler. He did pursue charges against her supervisor and friend. Did Jennifer finally get justice?

TSgt Jennifer Norris at permanent duty station

"The day before the Administrative hearing the perpetrators plead guilty. The punishment imposed by the commander was that they were both permitted to resign honorably. And since my NCOIC had 18 years of service, he was allowed to stay in for 2 more years so he could reach his full twenty years. Both predators eventually received their fully military benefits."

This was a damn shame! A joke! Was this trial held at the officers club over several rounds of beers? A lot of laughs and swapping stories between the three of them? This brazen series of attacks upon this airman was rewarded with a full retirement and benefits? And is there any surprise that the collective cries like Jennifer's and others have reached the nations capitol?

Ret. TSgt Jennifer Norris Makes her statement at Lackland AFB Press Conference August 1, 2012

When Jennifer made her statement at that Lackland AFB press conference on August 1, 2012, the stats for rape had been reported at 19,000 servicemen and servicewomen being assaulted. Since then, in 2013, the number has jumped to a staggering 26,000 sexual assaults per year. Jennifer and many other veterans and rape crisis advocates are now joining Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) along with a bipartisan coalition of Congressional leaders to make a real change for the men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

The Military Justice Improvement Act

Sen. Kirsten E Gillibrand (D-NY)
After 2 years of confronting top brass military leaders who stonewalled the senate with empty promises of improving how sexual assault cases are handled in the military, and listening to why sexual assault should be decided by the top convening authority while rape, sexual, harassment and other crimes against men and women in the military escalates, Senator Gilibrand has crafted a bill that would remove decision-making from the chain of command, and give the discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience. On November 19, 2013 the senator stated her case before the senate.
The Senator's impassioned speech was indeed a "come to Jesus moment" for those on the floor, with the facts, stats, and testimony to back her up. Next week as this bill comes to a vote, it will be the test of whether our leadership in the senate will respond and act, or fall in line under the old rhetoric of "zero tolerance."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand presents the Military Justice Improvement Act Bill November 19, 2013

America is home to the world’s best and brightest, brave men and women who join the armed services for all the right reasons – to serve our country, defend all that we hold sacred, and make America’s military the best the world has ever known, but too often, these brave men and women find themselves in the fight of their lives not off on some far-away battlefield, but right here on our own soil, within their own ranks and commanding officers, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence"
This bill is scheduled to be up for a vote next week baring maneuvering from any opposition to the proposal. If you haven't contacted your congressman or congresswoman, then do so. Add your voice to this issue. Many of your state representatives can be contacted immediately through email or twitter. Also send a note to Senator Gillibrand thanking her for her efforts. Let her know you're out there, and you appreciate the efforts she and her coalition team are making to make this bill become law.
A special thanks to Retired TSgt Jennifer Norris and her contribution to this blog. Currently Jen is on the board of Protect Our Defenders. This is a place for survivors of rape, and their families who are still waiting for answers. She is also an advocate for the Military Rape Crisis Center. You may contact her on Twitter. @JNorrisUSAFret
My next report should come on Monday. So give a good thought, and send me your comments.
 "There Is No Excuse For Abuse"



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Broken System

Rape within our civilian culture continues to happen on a daily basis. Shocking enough young girls and boys have been raped, and the system not only seems to fail them, it victimizes them again through the trial and, yes, even through the media. It is a small wonder that they do not trust the police, the judicial system, and even the general public.

The fear of reporting rape

I have viewed comments from many adults on various website who actually accuse a woman, or young girl of either lying, or being too stupid and actually getting what she deserves. "These bitches, they're always trying to get a man into trouble." Or "If they get naked, and drunk, what the hell do they expect."  We're becoming a society which sides with perpetrators, or we bury our heads in the proverbial sand, believing that "if it's not on my porch stoop, then, I don't own it."

Some friends have shared with me that they were assaulted by someone who was suppose to be their friend or someone they knew. They remarked "I never reported it because I had been drinking, and the police would blame me for the attack." Or "They've got too many friends who like them, and would side with them."  This is the fear that victims live with. Ridicule from peers, the system, and even family members keep many from coming forward. Also they blame themselves to a certain degree for the attack. So they go on, trying to out run the nightmares, and the shame, many still living, working, or seeing their attacker on a daily basis. Now imagine living a concentrated community, such as a platoon, squadron, or military unit, where you are required to work with, or even for, a rapist?

Serving In Shame
If you've never seen the documentary "The Invisible War", I would strongly suggest that you get a copy. At this date you can find it on YouTube. This is to date, the best eye opening documentary showcasing the rape crisis that men and women face in the military. It begins with picture perfect PR face that the military has shown for decades beginning with World War II to the present day.The story evolves into the face of reality, as you hear the story of women, and men who are sexual survivors. They tell their stories vividly, and with raw emotions. You won't really understand the seriousness of this stain on America, until you see this movie. I watched "The Invisible War" with unbelief and sadness, I wanted to turn it off, but I just couldn't. I was thinking, "how could our most organized and disciplined system, for military defense in the free world be guilty of this atrocity?"

As an veteran, I've never been so na├»ve in believing that sexual assaults don't happen. But as I listened to each story, and heard the accounts unfold of not only the rape itself, but the cover-ups of superiors, and the re-victimization within the ranks, plus the statistical numbers reflecting that this problem is growing in the US, I wondered how did we let such a problem grow to become an epidemic? What is wrong with our chain of command? And if there's a "zero tolerance policy", in the military, why are so many former servicemen and women sharing the same stories?

The Chain of Command

As a US Air Force Vet, I remember that it was constantly being drilled into our heads, "Always use your chain of command. If you don't get results, then keep going up the chain until you get results!"
And yet it seems that the chain of command in the Armed Services has become the problem, and not the solution. Perhaps it would be more honest for them to give a disclaimer: "The only exemption is in the case of rape." Countless testimonies have shared the one true reality: The chain of command doesn't work for sexual assault victims in the military.

In 1991 the "Tailhook Scandal" made national news. Female Navy personnel were subject to walk the gauntlet on the third floor of the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Women stating getting off of the elevator, were subject to walking this gauntlet, being pushed to the floor, clothes being ripped off, and in some cases being raped. After an investigation into the incident, it was found that a number of Flag Officers were aware of the assaults and did nothing to stop them." It also was reported that one of the officers attending the event, was quoted as saying "Everyone needs to seriously lighten up. What do you expect? This is Vegas baby!"  The incident was followed by the Aberdeen Proving ground Scandal in 1996, where NCO's were attacking new recruits, and passing their names onto others, followed in 2003 at the Air Force Academy, and just recently the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC.

And yet the top brass continues to echo the mantra, "We have a zero policy tolerance of sexual assault in the military" This "eye-rolling" remark cannot be dressed up with fancy ribbons and clever recruitment posters. There are men and women who believed in that system. A system, that turned it's back on them, protected the perpetrator, and discarded the victim.

Justice Was Not Done

One of the most heinous examples of military injustice, was in the Aviano case, where the former IG at that time, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was found guilty of sexually assaulting a house guest.
"According to the charges against him, Wilkerson slipped into the bed of a sleeping house guest, fondled her breasts and digitally penetrated her."  Nancy Montgomery- Stars and Stripes Published November 2. 2012
Wilkerson was convicted by an all male jury consisting of four colonels, and one Lt. Colonel, after three-and-a-half hours of deliberation. His conviction was overturned by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Wilkerson, was promptly transferred, but not before sparking a national outrage questioning the ability of one man's ability to overturn a conviction of that magnitude.


Military leaders testified on pending legislation on sexual assault in the military June 4, 2013
Senior military legal officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel about sexual assault in the military. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) Chairman of the committee confronts Lt. General Richard Harding, USAF Judge Advocate General, on the Aviano case.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Let's talk about the Aviano case--- Do you think justice
                                          was done in that case?

Lt. Gen Harding:            I think the convening authority reviewed the facts, and
                                          made independent determination. Um--- and that was his
                                          obligation as given by him to this body. Granted it was
                                          sixty-five years ago--- but he fulfilled statutory obligation,
                                          and he did so with integrity.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: And do you think the five senior officers, that were the jury
                                          in that trial, did not do justice?

Lt. Gen Harding:             I can't say that they did not ma'am. I think both the jury,
                                          and the convening authority did their duty.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Well as they both reached the opposite decision,                                            in one instance, justice was not done. Which instance
                                           do you believe justice was not done?

Lt. Gen Harding:              I can't say--- I'm not going to conclude that justice was,
                                           or was not done. What I will conclude is that all parties
                                           did their job from my review--- all parties did
                                           what they were asked to do by the law.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:  Well one of the parties was wrong. And if you are the
                                          victim in that case--- to have gone through
                                           eight months of testimony--- of providing evidence-                                           I can assure you, she does not believe justice was

Justice Is Coming

As I am preparing this report, a senate bill has already reached the floor, presented by Senator Gillibrand and a coalition of senators, and military victims rights advocates. As some of you already know Senator Gillibrand is an impassioned crusader for justice for the common man and woman. She is determined to do what should have already been done by our military leaders.

Military Justice Improvement Act

Military Justice Improvement Act   "Our bipartisan bill takes this issue head on by removing decision-making from the chain of command, and giving that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience where it belongs. That’s how we will achieve accountability, justice and fairness.” -Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York)

I fully support her and her bipartisan group of senators on this issue. The top brass continues to drag it's feet, and stall, claiming: "to remove the final authority of sexual assault from the commanders, and give it over to civilian lawyers, undercuts order and discipline." Excuse me while I give an eye roll to that rhetoric. Right now men and women who enlisted to protect us, are in the fight of their lives, because the enemy is within the ranks.

I will have more on Senator Gillibrand, and the MJI Act on Friday. Keep tweeting me your comments, ideas and thoughts. And thanks for your kind encouraging words.
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for you all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Enemy Within The Ranks- Introduction

Today is " International Day For The Elimination of  Violence Against Women" Day. So it is fitting that I launch my blog on a subject that has it's hooks in my heart.

The issue of sexual assault in the military is one that will not let me rest. It haunts my very thoughts on a daily basis, as it should anyone with conscience for justice.
We speak proudly that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest in the world. We say it loud and boldly. We believe that our warriors (the men and women in uniform) are the best and brightest, the most combat ready, and reflect who we are as Americans. We fight for freedom, democracy, and justice both at home and abroad.

But the greatest shame we carry, is that there is an enemy within the ranks of the American military system that preys upon it's very own. There are sexual predators in the Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. They victimize both women, and men within the very walls of the military, while closing ranks around the perpetrators, they retaliate against the victims, using the present system of military justice, and thereby victimizing the victims again.

On it's face sexual assault is heinous. And again military sexual assault wouldn't seem to be as epidemic, as some would say. But when you put a face on the victims who speak of their experiences at the hands of a broken system, you see that this problem is one of shameful tolerance, for a broken system that remains in place, and that continues to destroy lives, and cripple us as a nation.

Sexual assault in the military is not just some sad story being retold from time to time by the media, or should it be something we think will go away when we stop talking about it. It is a reality, and America's shame that cannot be covered over, or ignored, or downplayed. And neither should it be thought of as "Oh well, it happens." It's sad that women are more likely to be raped, by a fellow brother within the ranks, than an enemy in combat.  

There are voices crying out for justice for women and men, who have been and continue be to victims of this inconceivable crime. I'm choosing to add my voice to theirs. It has been my passion for years now. And so with information and insight, I will endeavor to keep those of you who follow me up to date. I will be reporting on 3 fronts.

Testimonies of survivors and their stories, the past and present military response to sexual assault in the military, and the progress from our government on this issue.

Your comments are welcomed, however, I will not engage in long term unproductive debating, or downplaying this issue. Also be mindful that while I will make comments, and post quotes from politicians, media consultants, this is not a partisan issue for me. And quoting a politician is not an endorsement.

If you are a survivor of military sexual assault and would like to contribute to this blog with your story feel free to contact me by my email address. Thank you and let's fight this "invisible war" together.

"No Excuse For Abuse"