Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nothings Gonna Change

Fiona Apple- Across The Universe

As I watched Fiona Apple's video: Across The Universe, the Beatles lyrics woven into a creative display of rioting, looting and destruction, my mind went to a place of fear, helplessness, and confusion. I think about the ceaseless ongoing attacks against humanity. The cafe seems to be a metaphor for our society with people running wild in a frenzy of senseless violence and chaos. This was a clever artistic message. We see the destruction in one concentrated area. We're left with the aftermath of broken things and property. Many of us are outraged that vandals have the right, it seems, to converge on a beautiful piece of real estate and out of sheer madness, break and smash it, and run away without any remorse or contrition.
Maybe the Fiona Apple/ Beatlesque is a lamentation of sorts, that "nothing's going to change my world." 
For decades rape, sexual assault, and military sexual trauma has been a stain on the shiny armor of our armed forces. We've denied it; attempted to sweep it under the rug; we've tried to quiet the victims with retaliation, and expel them from service.
Then when victim survivors wouldn't go quietly and began telling their stories. our military leaders promised "Zero Tolerance" of sexual assault as early as the 1990's.

Like Endless Rain

US Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin 
In 1991 Paula Coughlin, a very exceptionally bright and capable  US Navy Lieutenant, remembers the nightmarish account of being sexually assaulted by a group of drunken aviators. As she stepped off the elevator onto the third floor of the Las Vegas Hilton and attempted to get to her room, she found herself being forced through a gauntlet of sexual assault. As she tried to make her way down the hallway, about a hundred drunken officers tore at her clothes, grabbing her breasts and buttocks. She was knocked to the floor, and kicking, punching and biting, she managed to make it to safety.  She was one of 83 women and 7 men who were attack that weekend.

At the time it was considered to be the worse case of sexual harassment in the Navy's history. So-
called "officers and gentlemen" were part of a situation at the Las Vegas convention that elevated from a PR nightmare for the Navy, to a full blown media scandal. Later Paula reported the situation to her boss who replied, "That's what you get when you go down the hallway full of drunk aviators." The Navy's attempt to label the situation as "misbehavior" caused  Paula to declare "enough!"  She turned to the media, demanding that her attackers be brought to justice. Her appearances on National TV made her something of a celebrity to the female officers, but a trouble-maker whistle-blower to her male counterparts.

When I came forward, I was constantly attacked in the media and in any venue you could think of. Anything I’d ever done in my life was used to impeach me and make me look like a lying slut. The American public and the media now understand rape is a real problem in the military. There is a tremendous level of understanding when a person comes forward as a victim. -Paula Coughlin
After a tell-all investigation was conducted, and 90 victims were discovered, and 140 officers were involved, no one was prosecuted. But Barbara Pope, refused to accept the results of the first investigation, especially after Rear Admiral Williams made sexist remarks that he believed that "a lot of female Navy pilots we're topless dancers or hookers." The final investigation lead to Williams resignation for failure to lead a thorough investigation. Soon afterwards Paula left the Navy.

Aberdeen Proving Grounds
In 1996 The Aberdeen Proving Grounds Scandal was the largest of it's time. Rumors began circulating of a secret society within the ranks in which male DIs would target and sexually exploit female trainees at this installation.  Accounts of sexual misconduct, intimidation, conspiracy to conceal the wide-spread criminal enterprise and rape shocked even experienced investigators. Staff Sergeant Delmar Simpson seem to be the the brains behind the plot. Simpson had a knack for assessing females and determining and exploiting their shortcomings in order to obtain sexual favors.
"Aberdeen Proving Grounds is a location where Non-Commissioned Officers were assaulting and raping trainees, and passing the name of the person they had assaulted to another NCO" - US Army Retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy
 Staff Sergeant Delmar Simpson 
 A particular trainee might be deficient in her academic studies or in her abilities during Army Physical Training (PT), or the trainee might have a child back home. This fact was used by some of the DIs and they would deny a female trainee access to phones or leave to visit children during breaks in training.
Investigations also uncovered that male instructors at other basic training installations were phoning Simpson and others to give them “scouting reports” on the female talent soon to arrive at Aberdeen.
Of course the brass at the Pentagon denounced the scandal as being "unacceptable" and they had "Zero Tolerance" for such behavior. All in all, 3 men at Aberdeen, Captain Derrick Robertson and Sgts. Delmar Simpson and Nathaniel Beech were accused of participating. The heaviest punishment was brought against Simpson. He was found guilty of 18 counts of  sexual assault plus 29 other offenses and sentenced to 25 years in military prison.

L-R Jessica Brakey, Sharon Fullilove, 

Kira Mountjoy-Pepka, and Beth Davis
In 2003 an email made its way to the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff, plus congressmen and the media. It alleged that there was a significant sexual assault problem at the prestigious Air Force Academy. And that complaints of the assaults were falling on deaf ears of the academy's leaders. An investigation ensued, and the findings were that "of 659 women enrolled at the Academy at the time, 70 percent of the women at the academy alleged they had been the victims of sexual harassment, of which 22 percent said they experienced "pressure for sexual favors.  -The New York Times. 28 August 2003. Retrieved 28 March 2005

US Air Force Academy
According to several sources, little had been done to correct the problem. Although it seemed that those who were disciplined were defined as scapegoats. Which included a new commander who was forced to retire only 2 months after the scandal broke out. The alleged attackers had since graduated from the academy and there was not sufficient evidence for a court marshal.

LaVena L. Johnson
 PFC LaVena Johnson was a bright and cheerful young woman who proudly enlisted in the Army. The last conversation her parents had with her was July 17, 2005.
"Looks like I'm going to be home for Christmas. Don't decorate the tree, until I get home." Two days later at 7:30 in the morning, the door bell rang. It was an official messenger from Army HQ.
"He stepped into our foyer and said 'This morning Lavena L. Johnson died of self-inflicted wounds.' I was overwhelmed. I fell back on the steps--- Linda started bellowing so loud--- it was a horrible echo--- it was so loud." -John Johnson
John turned to the messenger, and questioned, "Are you saying my daughter's death was a suicide?"  The messenger answered that the incident was still under investigation. The Johnsons retrieving their daughter's body from the airport, felt the irony of seeing Lavena in a pine box draped with the American flag. Linda Johnson recalls "---the last time I was here, she's running with open arms--- 'Hey Mom!' ---and this time she's in a box!" After a full report the Army ruled that she died of a self-inflicted wound. Immediately red flags went up for the Johnsons. A self-inflicted gun shot wound from an M-16 rifle? "Impossible!" they both said. "No way!" Further investigations would reveal LaVena's nose was broken, she had a dislocated shoulder, teeth were missing as though someone had brutally beaten her.

The worse of it all was her vaginal area was surgically removed. The pictures of the tragedy showed that LaVena was found in a contractors tent instead of her own quarters. And someone had tried to burn the tent down with her in it. This is tragically one of the greatest military scandal's and cover ups of any military soldier. It has been stamped "Case Closed" by the Army officials and remains a disgrace.

Only the best and the brightest are admitted to Marine Barracks in Washington DC. "The Best of The Best" was the Marine credo. And yet the tarp was yanked off a nest of sexual harassment, and rape that reached the media. What made this so shocking was Marine Barracks is just down the street from the Capitol Building. This Marine Barracks showcases the might and discipline of America's finest, handling everyone from the President, to dignitaries, plus security at the White House, and the splendor of the Silent Drill Team.

LT. Ellie Helmer
Being the "Best of The Best" apparently comes with plenty of ego, and the tenacity to believe that female officers are the object for sexual harassment and assault. Two cases of this outrageous behavior are showcased in the documentary, The Invisible War. Where on March 16, 2006, after The Silent Drill routine, and several rounds of drinks at the local pub, LT. Ellie Helmer had been coerced by her company commander to come to his office because he need to talk to Helmer about military related business. After reaching his office the commander attacked the female Marine, knocking her unconscious. When she came to and was wearing his underwear, she knew that she had been violated. After reporting the rape, NCIS could not find any evidence to substantiate her story. In return LT. Ellie Helmer was under investigation for public intoxication, and conduct unbecoming an officer. This was an obvious misogynistic cover up and smear campaign by the top brass again to silence another victim of sexual battery.

Marine Barracks is also known for it's drinking culture. Following another Silent Drill Team ceremony
Lt. Arianna Klay
in 2010, all Marines were ordered to "Happy Hour" after midnight which ended at 2 in the morning.  Lt. Arianna Klay was brutally attacked by a superior officer and his friend. The assailants threaten to kill her if she told anyone what happened.
"I think the thing that makes me the most angry was not even the rape in itself--- it's the commanders who were complicit in covering up everything that happened." -Arianna Klay
Although both assaults were reported, no one was ever convicted of these crimes.

 Images Of Broken Light 

Military sexual assaults have become a political football that has been kicked down the street with politicians attempting to give the appearance of making real changes but the needle of progress has barely moved on this issue. In fact it seems that victims have been reporting more in an attempt to prove they want justice to be done while the Pentagon grabs the Brass ring of Zero Tolerance, proclaiming their policies are working.   While even Claire McCaskill (D-MO) admits that rape and retaliation are "stubborn problems" her argument to avoid removing commanders from the decision to prosecute major crimes such as rape and murder remains in what she calls, "a lack of convincing evidence." And by removing the decision from commanders would remove their power to command their troops.
Ms McCaskill makes reference to Liz Holtzman and Mia Fernandez who both said they didn't see any facts to support Kirsten Gillibrand's MJIA Bill. This was amidst the swarm of sexual assaults, and testimonies from victims and advocates who all agreed the commanders were not vested in stopping sexual assaults in the military.

Pools of Sorrow

For the second time the Military Justice Improvement Act went down in defeat. While having enough traditional votes, they did not have the majority plus ten to avoid a filibuster. I fail to understand the harm or hurt it would do the military morale, to give victims the guaranteed right to justice without undue command influence. Is it military morale that is most important? Or is it commanders morale, and the fear that they will no longer be able to steer this issue into silence? I also wonder if those who believe in keeping commanders in charge of military sexual assault cases heard from witness like those who gave an account of a senior officer groping her and brushing up against her repeatedly.

Capt. Vicki Phipps 
"One of my senior ranking officers began brushing against me and touching me inappropriately I reported this to my commander, and he told me that I had two choices in this situation, he told me 'I can remove you for causes and end your career right now or you can find a way to deal with it.' The perpetrator was the officer that was responsible for the entire battalions training and mission readiness evaluations. was assaulted a total of three times and absolutely I do think the climate facilitated these crimes. I chose not to report them because I knew that if I reported at that point, my career was gone. I also witness what had happened to others in this unit reported sexual assaults. I saw several cases handled badly each victim was blamed; information about cases was not kept confidential and victims were branded as liars." 
-Vicki Phipps YouTube-Protect Our Defenders Published on May 29, 2015
The retired Captain tells of typical story of misogyny, sexual assault, and retaliation from the beginning to the end. She was assaulted at least 4 times. And in the damned if you report, and damned if you don't atmosphere, she and even others under her command, felt the slings and arrows of outrageous behavior from those who were in command. I wonder how those including Senator McCaskill seem to miss the fact that along with continue sexual assaults, even by Pentagon's tally, is now at 62 percent. Where is the good order? Where is the discipline commands tout loudly about?
Miranda Peterson, policy director of the military survivor advocate group Protect Our Defenders remarked about retaliation,

Miranda Peterson
"you would think that these numbers will be raising alarm and would result in effective action from military leaders but instead the Pentagon seems intent on downplaying the severity of this problem and discrediting victims. By labeling reports retaliation as perceptions are perceived retaliation the Pentagon is insinuating that victims are too sensitive to accurately interpret their own environment and that what's been reported as retaliation is actually exaggerated responses to harmless behavior, such as not being invited to parties or being unfriended on Facebook.
This approach shameful its offensive and it minimizes the extreme harassment and abuse that so many survivors are facing every day. --- Survivors frequently tell us that while the actual assault is devastating the betrayal a corrupt system and retaliation by both coworkers and commanders if even more traumatic." -Mranda Perterson YouTube-Protect Our Defenders Published on May 29, 2015

L-R US Rep Jackie Speier and Trina MacDonald
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with Ginny Lee
So much has been debated; victims and advocates have trekked back and forth to Capitol Hill. They told their stories and to committees, while men and women still live in the shadow of this crippling issue. It seems that the needle to me has hardly moved. More victims will come, more rapes, ignored complaints and retaliations will continue, perhaps because Congress, and the military need to embrace the glory and pride of traditions at the cost of the men and women who have felt called to serve. Nothing is going to change for any of us, until the changes include the mindset of our leadership from the barracks and military bases to Capitol Hill on this issue.

Protect our Defenders
NY Times
The Invisible Warrior

Special Thanks To Miss Victoria Sanders 
Kirsten Gillibrand
Stay strong. We're not done yet.