It Is Time to Change the Culture of the Military and Change Attitudes About Sexual Assault

Reporting my attack the next day to my admiral was as shocking as the actual assault: he told me that's what I get for walking down the hallway full of drunk aviators. That's what I get. I since have learned that most senior military leadership believed that to be true: it is the cost of being in a man's world.
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I am asking for the help of my Florida senators, so that we can help our own United States military members survive an attack -- an attack from within their own chain of command. I ask that our Senate adopt and approve Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) amendment for the National Defense Authorization Act. As it stands, this legislation is the only real and effective proposal that will protect our military members from serial rapists and criminals. I have been waiting for over 20 years for my country's leadership to end the sexual assault epidemic in our U.S. military. Now is the time to act.

I grew up in a Navy family living in Key West, Pensacola, Milton, and Jacksonville. The U.S. Navy surrounded me. My father retired as a 26-year veteran Naval Aviator, and my family still lives in a big Navy town. My whole life moving around the country as a Navy family to wherever my father's duty station took us was exciting and later became the way of life I wanted as a young adult in college. I always felt safe with the other members of my dad's command and never knew anything else as I went through college NROTC and eventually into flight school.

After serving as a fleet helicopter pilot for my first squadron, I was selected as an admiral's aide and worked for Admiral Jack Snyder, who had served as president of the infamous Tailhook Association and former commanding officer of the NAS Miramar Top Gun School for fighter pilots. His duties took us to an annual "professional symposium" of carrier aviators, pilots who flew off and onto aircraft carriers, known as Tailhook. This was 1991.

At that convention I was attacked in a jam-packed hallway of the hotel where all the top naval aviators in the service were hosting the symposium. Navy and Marine brass in attendance condoned this attack. It was called "running the gauntlet." I was assaulted by most of the more than 200 aviators in the hallway to the degree that I bit and kicked and fought my way out to safety. When I emerged finally at the end of the assault, I was in shock. I had been made a party favor by the men I had always felt safe around.

Reporting my attack the next day to my admiral was as shocking as the actual assault: he told me that's what I get for walking down the hallway full of drunk aviators. That's what I get. I since have learned that most senior military leadership believed that to be true: it is the cost of being in a man's world.

My assault happened over 22 years ago, and victims of rape and assault are still viewed as troublemakers, as liars, and promiscuous sluts who disrupt command order. I say this because I know from the thousands of other victims that have reached out for help. Their story is the same as mine in the way the culture and justice system of the military protects perpetrators and ultimately destroys the victims who do dare to complain.

After I finally went public with my attack, I was brutally impeached by almost every news media outlet as a slut, a whore, and a liar. I was accused of having an agenda. I was investigated. I endured countless hours, days over several months of investigations where the main goal of the investigation was to determine what I wore, how much I drank, what expletives did I use during my attack, and any other facts that could inform the entire chain of command up to and including the President of the United States as to how I caused my attack.

I became depressed, suicidal, unfit to fly, and was removed from any functional job in the fleet. I did endure a UCMJ Article 32 hearing to present evidence against my attacker, but the case was dropped. The convening authority, a Marine General who later became the CMC, dismissed my case based on a meeting he had with the accused and the accused's minister, citing that he was a good Christian and could not have committed the crime. My case was over, no one was ever prosecuted or convicted of any criminal assault at Tailhook '91.

During these several months, I had no legal council. I had no confidential medical care or council, and most importantly, I had no chain of command supporting me. My admiral had a duty to investigate, and hand over my complaint to the authorities, but because he was deeply biased in protecting the chain of command and the Tailhook members, including the Secretary of the Navy, he could get away with the answer, "That's what you get."

I lost my career, and most of all my whole family suffered the loss of a tradition, a way of life immersed in serving our country. At every turn Navy leadership had the opportunity to do the right thing and push to find the perpetrators of the 97 attacks that occurred at the 1991 convention, but they chose not to. That is what a commander can do in 1991 and that is what they can do now in 2013. Nothing has changed for the 26,000 victims of sexual assault in the U.S. military in 2012. That's what they get.

It doesn't matter what rank the commander is, what gender, or what their job is on the ground, in the air, or on the sea: they can randomly make a complaint go away. They are under no requirement to collect evidence, investigate, and adjudicate if they choose to handle the complaint within the command. In fact, they can make the victims' life so miserable they too go away.

A commander can choose to adjudicate the complaint so that they then serve as legal professional to both the victim and the attacker. The Commanding Officer can actually determine the scope of the crime and charge the victim with the crime of adultery if the attacker is married. Less than 1 percent of sexual assault crimes actually end with a conviction. That's what you get.

I was lucky enough to have access to members outside my chain of command that helped me press my complaint -- most victims do not. Do you think an 18-year-old recruit has access to an attorney during the first weeks of indoctrination boot camp? No. Or can a brand new airman find help in a desolate duty station overseas when the entire chain of command is complicit in gang raping a man or woman? These are real life scenarios that occur at a rate of almost 70 victims a day in our current military culture.

A commander must consider their own performance evaluations, and a rape is problematic as it may show lack of good order and discipline, so the complaint is likely to be swept under the rug. And, now you have a sex offender moving freely in the U.S. military. This is how we perpetuate the culture of rape and injustice in the military.

Why not take this random, antiquated and medieval way of handling assault out of the hands of commanders and give it to trained, qualified professionals who can deal with the 26,000 cases of sexual assault that occurred in 2012 in our military?

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's bipartisan MJIA amendment proposed for this Senate session does exactly that: it makes rape, assault, and failure to forward any complaint to the third party investigating unit a crime. It does hold commanders accountable, and it gives commanders the exact tools to convict criminals in the military. It empowers commanders to rid the armed services of serial rapists and criminals by using the JAG corps professional assault crimes unit, a third party legal professional would handle all assaults and rapes.

The Senate must act in a responsible and effective way that can put a stop to the criminal assaults that are weakening the fabric of our military. Sen. Gillibrand's amendment does this, and no other proposals actually address this point of command influence and bias, and the lack of professional legal training.

In the several years since my attack and subsequent character attacks, in all the horror stories I have been witness to, no victim would ever support keeping the criminal investigation or adjudication in the hands of their commander. And most commanders would want to be removed from this kind of criminal process for lack of training. It is time to change the culture of the military and change the attitudes about sexual assault. I wholeheartedly urge our Senators Nelson and Rubio to support MJIA. Because, that's not what you get.

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