Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban preventing female soldiers from officially serving in combat -- a decision that raised the urgency on efforts to address the festering crisis of sexual assault within the U.S. military. That crisis -- which claimed more than 50 victims of sexual assault a day in the latest year of Defense Department data -- is the subject of the Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary Invisible War. In this series, The Huffington Post invites victims and advocates to speak out about sexual assault in the military.
Watching my family in the documentary The Invisible War was tough.
I served honorably in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years. I met my wife Kori Cioca in 2006; this was after her trauma. She was untrusting, quiet and seemed to always be on guard. I wasn't aware of the symptoms of PTSD, or the depth of her assault that she suffered. We became friends, and after earning her trust, I earned her heart as well. After, knowing bits and pieces of what had happened to her, I decided to leave the Coast Guard because I could not be in an organization that condoned this type of treatment to women.
The documentary The Invisible War is a powerful, impactful film. It impacts people who haven't experienced MST, brings awareness to the forefront without taking an anti-military approach, but the greatest part is that it gives survivors their voice. I was unaware of details of Kori's rape until the documentary. It helped our family that she was finally able to open up, and I finally understood why certain problems were happening. There were many days in our marriage where she was withdrawn and just angry. Hugging or showing affection was difficult. As her spouse, I thought it was me. I didn't know there was so much going on inside that it kept spilling out on the outside, but since the film, she is actively seeking help. If she's having a bad day, I get notice of what's happening so I can take necessary actions to make sure the day is smooth and safe for everyone. Our communication has improved and our relationship is renewed in a way. Just recently, Kori got some bad news regarding a medical situation, and she was pulled over on the side of the road crying. I was on the other end of the phone talking her through it and trying to get her calmed down enough to get her home. This is the impact of the documentary. Before, she would cry on her own, hide herself, then appear with swollen eyes, not willing to talk to anyone about anything. Now, I get a phone call; I get to help as much as I can, and that is a great feeling. It brings us together to fight this as a family and not on her own. I am thankful for that, and I feel other spouses are as well.
It is hard to be a Military Sexual Trauma spouse -- not hard to be with a survivor, but hard because at times I feel so helpless to the trauma. After a screening, I had a man approached me and asked me why I hadn't divorced Kori because of the "intimacy problems." I made it clear that I loved my wife for who she was and that if we were never intimate again, it wouldn't have any impact on our marriage. His comment made me very angry, and the man could see that. Turns out, his sister was a survivor, and her husband divorced her because of these types of problems. The man said he knew his sister was struggling, but after seeing the documentary he wasn't fully aware of the damage it does, and he was certain that if his sister's ex-husband saw The Invisible War, it would have saved their marriage. I agreed, because it saved Kori and me. But it was the other way around; Kori was certain that she was ruining my life. Little does she probably understand this, but she is my life, PTSD and all. I think other spouses of a Military Sexual Trauma survivor, or any Sexual Trauma survivor for that matter, should see this film.
It's tough watching my family in The Invisible War. It's not just Kori and me, it's all the other men and women survivors as well. Their life is just like our life; some may have a little different symptoms, but it was difficult to see many others who are fighting this same problem in their relationships. The Invisible War is not just a training tool that is being used by the military, but is also a tool for spouses of survivors for communication, understanding and growth. I am proud of my wife's bravery to stand up and speak. I will also stand up for survivors and stand up for this film that is helping many people on so many different levels of distress with sexual trauma. Thank you, Invisible War team.