Several women recently revealed that they were sexually assaulted while serving in the military and, when they reported the assault and sought help in overcoming the trauma, were diagnosed with a personality disorder and medically discharged from their service. Some of them even reported having their claims ignored or being treated as though they had invited the assault in some way. After reading this article on CNN, I thought about my own military training regarding sexual assault and how incongruent it all seems.
Men and women in the Air Force are given extensive “bystander intervention” and “Sexual Assault Prevention and Response” training (SAPR, because everything in the military has to be an acronym) to educate us on how to help one another and who to go to if we are a victim. You can report anonymously and get help, or you can open an investigation.
The problem becomes… if you keep it anonymous, no one knows what happened. So you have no valid excuse for why you’re exhausted all the time or your productivity dropped off or you are always trying to avoid working with SSgt Snuffy. No one knows that SSgt Snuffy was the asshole that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer the other night after his promotion party.
If you make it open, you’ve got backup and support all around you… in theory. But the women in this article did exactly that: made open accusations to their chains of command. And they were ridiculed, told to “forget about it,” even forced to confront their attacker face-to-face… and ultimately forced out of their chosen careers by being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
Serving in the military is already tough on women. It’s still a “good ol’ boy” system in many ways, and telling these women they have a psychiatric disorder after they report a sexual assault is just another way of protecting the “brotherhood.” It’s a way to keep the strong, mouthy women out of the way. And as the CNN article states, “a personality disorder diagnosis is a pre-existing condition and does not constitute a service-related disability.” It could also result in a discharge that’s labeled “other than honorable.” It’s not a good place to be.
What really pisses me off about this CNN article is how it flies in the face of everything I’ve been taught in the Air Force. The same day I read this article I received an e-mail to my military e-mail account from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He doesn’t e-mail me personally, obviously, but in a mass e-mail General Schwartz told us, “Sexual assault is criminal behavior that violates the basic tenets of our profession. There is no place in our Air Force for this crime. All Airmen have an enduring responsibility to foster a climate of dignity and respect, and one that fosters an environment of accountability in which victims feel comfortable coming forward. We will support and protect the rights of victims and we will provide the best medical, legal, and investigative services available in both the military and civilian communities.” He goes on to say, “Sexual assault directly undermines our core values, erodes the trust and confidence upon which our institution is built, and diminishes our mission readiness. I expect each member of our great Air Force to promote and ensure a culture that does not tolerate sexual assault. Not now, not ever.”
Where were these promises for the women in this article? Or the hundreds of other women that got the boot because they dared to imply that a fine, upstanding soldier/sailor/airman/marine would force himself on a woman? I would think that having everyone in your chain of command agree that you’re “crazy” would be enough to potentially drive you there. Like the Twilight Zone episode where the heroine is the pretty one and everyone else looks like a pig. In fact, I bet it was exactly like that. The pretty girl, unable to make them understand that her reactions are perfectly normal, being told by everyone else that she’s crazy or ugly… when really, they’re all pigs.