Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The First Cut

"The first cut is the deepest
Baby, I know the first cut is the deepest
But when it comes to being lucky he's cursed
When it comes to loving me he's worst"

Cat Stevens

I recently hears Sheryl Crow sing this tune about the reality of personal pain. And although the lyrics are about the pain of betrayal from a man, the same might be said about giving your heart and trust to an institution, such as the military. A place that you've set your sights on since you were in high school like a university. You dedicate yourself and believe in the principals of discipline and work and honor. You embrace it like a sweetheart.

 All Of My Heart

You're a bright eager recruit stepping off the bus with your suitcase and walking through the gates of the military base. You're anxious but determined to be one of the best. It's all new. You're called a mama's boy, or a daddy's girl, and other names you couldn't repeat around the family meal.  But it's cool. All the screaming and cursing won't break you. It's all a head game. "Okay I bought into this so bring it!" You jump when you're told to, eat, crawl on your stomach, salute, stand, sit, and whatever. You're even use to the DI's threat's. In fact you know its all a head game. So you relax a little and reassure yourself "I'm going to do this, I'm going to become a soldier!" Until one day out of nowhere, your superior or supervisor corners you. He tells you what he want's. You've been conditioned to obey orders no matter what. Your military career will go over off a cliff if you don't submit. Afterwards you're told "Don't you breath a word of this! Or I'll send your ass back to civilian life in a heartbeat!" You keep quiet about the incident but all the time you feel the numbness, the confusion every time you see his face, "It could happen again" you think to yourself. Everything you thought that this institution had to offer has turned rotten. These are the feelings of many women and men who have been cut to the core by the military or other institutions.

But There's Someone Who's Torn It Apart

Stars And Stripes featured a story about how a sexual predator maneuvered his way through the ranks. He started out as a soldier with promise, but there were warning signs and red flags that Staff Sgt. Angel Sanchez was trouble from the beginning.

Staff Sgt. Angel Sanchez 
A first sergeant who wrote a recommendation letter in favor of Sanchez’s being selected as a drill sergeant candidate said Sanchez was the best non-commissioned officer “he had ever served alongside,” an investigator noted.
But once Sanchez was selected, junior-ranking soldiers wondered how long it would take before he would be accused of sexually harassing female trainees, according to investigation documents.- 
By Jesse Bogan St. Louis Post-Dispatch Published: January 15, 2015
Sanchez was also adept at finding his way around standards and policies, and avoiding detection from other eyes. He could pass the alarm system that separated male and female barracks on the base making his way into the women's barracks at night. Sexual assault and rape is devastating at any level, whether its peer on peer, or a subordinate attack. But the deeper cut comes when someone of higher rank who should have high integrity and trust, violates that honor. They treat a trainee as though they have the right to their very body and soul. When a ranking soldier or commander crosses that line from trust to betrayal, they have sold out the uniform they wear and everything it represents. Like many others, Sanchez totally discounted the ruin and devastation they leave in their path.
Retired Army Brigadier General Dr. Loree Sutton 

Dr. Loree Sutton a retired Army Brigadier General and Psychiatrist states the effects of the devastation like this:  "Its akin to what happens in a family with incest ---because in the military when we're functioning at our best, a cohesive unit, ---you know the band of brothers and sisters-- I mean we are family; when that bond of trust is violated, the wound penetrates to the most inner part of one's soul--- one's psyche." 

If you follow that reasoning, can you imagine the knife continuing to plunge into a life as he or she is denied by the very institution they are committed to. You relive the experience of the trauma day and night. It comes to you in your sleep, or stabs your thinking during lapse times in your daily routine, until to decide to tell your superiors. Their reactions range from calling you a liar who is trying ruin a good man's career, to someone with mental problem, Maybe a precondition you had before joining. You question yourself as well. "Why didn't I keep this to myself? Or Maybe I brought this on myself. It's all my fault!"  You become part of the problem because you dared speak out. And then finally you're considered unfit to serve. The destruction of thrust is complete. No one wants to help. You're met with retaliation or either harassment or silence as many before you were.

When It Comes To Loving Me He's Worst

Many Veterans with MST (Military Sexual Trauma) have said their biggest fear did not come from the enemy on the battle field but from the very comrades within the ranks.  Rebekah Havarilla testified before the The Military Personnel Subcommittee of The Senate Armed Services Committee:

"My deployment brought more than just the stress of occupational hazards. During my tour, one of my team leaders continuously sexually harassed me and was sexually abusive towards me. This behavior caused me so much anxiety that I ended up self-referring to mental health and on medication to manage not just the stress of my deployment, but also the stress of having to live with an abusive leader and co-worker. One week before my unit was scheduled to return back to the United States, I was raped by another service member that had worked with our team. Initially, I chose not to do a report of any kind because I had no faith in my chain of command as my first sergeant previously had sexual harassment accusations against him and the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature towards women. After disclosing my rape to a few close friends, I ended up filing a restricted report sixty days before I left active duty against both my rapist and my team leader, but had no intentions of ever doing a formal investigation."  And to add insult to injury a military Chaplin told Harvarilla that the rape was all God's will.  -Military Sexual Assault Victims Testify Before Congress ABC News March 13, 2013

Can you imagine living or working in the worse possible situation, with the very fear that you will be attacked at any time of the day or night, by a co-worker or your boss? Do you know what that does to your spirit, your inner drive as a person, that you are potential prey for someone else. And with the daily sexual harassment and mind games being played, you live in the pit of twisted fear and wondering if today will be the day. In the chilling aftermath of the events, no one will believe you, and even blame you for bringing it on yourself. It's as though the institution (military in this case) has given cart blanche to a crime which they refuse to acknowledge or stop.

While trolls attack this issue with crazed anger, contempt and victim blaming, the deepest cut comes from either higher ups in charge, who say things like "it looks like you had a rough roll in the hay..." -Terri's Story of Surviving Military Sexual Assault. Jan 10, 2012  or even family members who say to you just "stay quiet and get through boot camp---" Rape survivor Melissa Davis was given that same advice, because there was no one who would help her. She was caught between a rock and hard
Former Army Specialist Melissa Davis
place. There hard place was her own chain of command. And inside that chain of command was the man who raped her multiple times because he was her first sergeant. She didn't dare speak out because of the threats to her and her husbands careers, because terror was the way to keep victims in check in the military. Young women and men who have gone into a system that is suppose to hold up true ideals of what it means to be an American, have been brutally disappointed by a system that refuses to advocate for justice when their lives are interrupted. Just maybe if the system wasn't so broken and vile, maybe you wouldn't need advocates like me to speak out on behalf of the invisible warriors.

After Melissa's husband died in an auto accident, she left the Army. Melissa went from victim, to survivor, to advocate. She finally spoke out through her writings in a book "Silenced No More." Her Pen name was Stormie Dunn.  The book tells the story of her own sexual assault, as well as two other victims. The book gave Melissa the courage to tell what happened to her and why it is not good to just keep silent.  In 2014 she along with other advocates testified before a federal advisory committee conducting an independent review of the systems for handling cases of adult sexual assault in the military.
Melissa was also a strong advocate Kirsten Gillibrand's MJIA bill, removing the chain of command as the convening authority in prosecuting cases.

In Memory

Melissa "Missy" Davis passed away on January 31, 2015 (just last month), while recuperating from stomach surgery. She fought a good fight in the advocacy for victims of military sexual trauma. She will be sorely missed by her family and friends, as well as other advocates.

Melissa Ann "Missy" Davis Advocate Friend and Warrior
Passed away January 31, 2015
Thank you Melissa for your heart, and courage, to say what more of us should be saying. We love you and will miss you dearly."
This Author
Protect Our Defenders
NBC- The Today Show
ABC News
St. Louis Post Dispatch