There are many obstacles that the military and veteran communities face that are unique to their time in service. Everything from the culture to combat has its good and its bad just like every other life experience. We often hear the stories of our combat veterans. We also see many organizations stepping out to help combat vets. One of the most prevalent military communities that goes unknown and unnoticed, is the Military Sexual Trauma Veterans. According to VA.gov (mental health: MST) 1 in 4 women who use the VA report MST and half of all veterans in VA that report MST are men.
Military Sexual Trauma can be sexually harassed, pressured in to sex, threatened in to having sex, sexual jokes, unwanted touching, being promised something in exchange for sex, being unable to consent, under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Any of these conditions are MST when they happened on active duty. Many MST survivors end up with PTSD or some other personality disorder. According to HRW.org, who conducted research on MST found that 62% of respondents who reported their sexual assault were retaliated against.
Advocating for MST Veterans wasn't something I initially planned on doing. It was because its something that has deeply wounded me. I went through a series of sexual violence in the United States Marine Corps. from the age of 17 to 18. For a long time I had this notion in my head that I would go through life being strong enough to get over it. I believed that if I build a life, people would see me as successful and my MST experience would be null. That isn't at all what happened.
I am one of the veterans who was retaliated against for reporting my rape while I was unconscious. I had also reported other incidents as well but all were ignored. Back then, sexual violence was inline with a common practice of hazing. Hazing was apart of the Marine Corps culture. I'll be it an ugly one. At the time I was in there were very little protections. I vividly remember being 17 and a picture my boyfriend at the time had of me in his phone, was taken by 2 marines as a joke and they took a nude photo and sent it to all of the male marines at Fort Leonardwood. I felt a deep level of betrayal. It grew worse when my Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Instructor decided to make a cadence to our morning PT session that would be about my being a slut, a hoe, WOOK and a walking mattress. At 17 years old I didn't know how to deal with this. I felt a deep sense of humiliation and terror well up in my chest. I got out of formation, crying telling the instructor I am not getting back in the PT formation. I remember him yelling at me telling me if I don't get back in and listen to this cadence, I would be written up for insubordination. I did exactly that. I quit my MOS, about faced and asked to be moved in to on the job training. I did in fact have to take that NJP and forfeit pay but I didn't care. This would lead the a series of other events and ultimately led to me being in Quantico, VA.
One night when I came out of work, I was looking for food in the barracks. I grabbed some ramen noodles in my room and I walked down the hallway to go downstairs to microwave them. A male marine saw me and said he had a microwave in his room and that I could heat my food up there. I was excited about not having to travel downstairs. I enter his barracks room and theres 5 male marines sitting around the room drinking. They offered me tequila. I just turned 18 a few weeks before. I didn't have experience with alcohol. I drank a few shots and I blacked out. My very last memory is eating ramen noodles with the tequila. The next morning I wake up with a male's clothes on. I was so confused and shocked by this, I ran to my Sgts on duty and told them I believed I was raped.
NCIS arrives and is interrogating me. I'm in shock. I couldn't remember anything. I eventually get taken to a hospital for a rape kit and toxicology report, both of which come out positive. If I have ever experienced the desire to die, it was in that moment in the hospital bed that I wanted me life to end. The last few months of my life were horrific. I just remember thinking why was my life so hard. All I ever wanted was my place in the world to create a better future. It just seemed like I was constantly fighting for my survival. The reason I went to the Marine Corps was because my home life has deteriorated. My mom lost custody of me when I was 14 and my father is a disabled police officer. I often felt like I was a burden to my parents. I figured joining the military, I would serve my country and be able to become independent. In that process, I would receive my education. Instead, I got raped. When NCIS brought me back to the barracks, I was taken to a Naval Brig and was booked for under age drinking. My attorney got me out and I separated from the USMC.
It wouldn't be until after I got out and went to a Veteran's Service Organization, that I learned the USMC retaliatated against me and pulled me housing and schooling benefits. The day I found out I was homeless, was terrifying. I was already beaten down and broken. Now I had to focus on surviving. My mental health rapidly declined the months after my separation from the military. Four months after I got out, I attempted to commit suicide. I was abusing drugs to deal with the pain. I understand why others with PTSD often struggle with relationships and suicide. Sometimes the pain we feel is so deep rooted that pieces of our souls feel damaged beyond repair.
I have spent the last 11 years in and out of therapy. Will I be someone who overcome PTSD, I don't know. I do know I have the tools and resources to manage episodes and I know that I am still here. Despite living with a disability, I have succeeded at many goals I have. While its really hard to manage at times, I know I can make it through. I decided to advocate for other MST Veterans when I noticed a trend going on in the military communities I am involved with on social media. A lot of women were dealing with my same story, 11 years after me.
Their pain is so close to home for me, because when I miscarried my baby this past summer and I was in the ER. I started having flashbacks of when I was raped. That was both an eye opening experience and another deeply painful one. In living out my own struggle of trying to grow and become the best version of myself, I struggle with my mind and emotions at times. Sometimes the pain of life connects and the pain magnifies. Why would I want this life experience for other women and men? I don't and MST is completely avoidable with proper policies and procedures.
When the leadership embodies emotional currency values and considers the wellbeing of their service members above all else is when this pattern will die out. Until they elevate their standards, I will share my story and my struggle so that others dealing with MST know someone is on their side. Joining our Military Movement, means your are an ally to all veterans even the ones who usually go unnoticed.
Fort Drum in upstate New York was one of the most dangerous places for both Army men and women in terms of risk of sexual assault, according to a recently released Department of Defense report. This is unacceptable and we need to come together to prevent other men and women from being traumatized. We can write a new story together, one of progress, inspiration and compassion. One where our service members are treated with dignity and respect for their sacrifices. More than just words we say. We need to support our military through action. By uniting, we can stop Military Sexual Trauma.
Join our movement. Protect our people. Their mission is to protect us. We have to protect them as well. You can help, by volunteering to join our movement and participate in any capacity that moves you. I hope my story is one that we can learn from and grow from. My story could be anyone's son or daughter, sister, mother, father or brother. It is a pain we can work together to heal. I am making it part of my life mission to be a MST Advocate for other service men and women. Please donate to our campaign so that we can work towards ensuring this no longer happens other service members.