Veterans Who Have Faced Sexual Assault Ask: Where Is Our #MeToo Moment?

WASHINGTON, DC – The #MeToo campaign reached a fever pitch in America this winter, taking down a slew of high-profile Hollywood, Washington, and news media figures. But those who served in the military say there has been no similar reckoning for them.

“Where is the groundswell of support for us?” asked Lydia Watts, chief executive of Service Women’s Action Network. “Military women and men are asking themselves, where is our #MeToo reckoning?”

Watts and a group of about 40 female and male veterans gathered in front of the Pentagon on Monday morning with signs to demonstrate and share their stories.

Army veteran Nichole Bowen-Crawford said she was assaulted by a higher-ranking sergeant while working the nightshift in Iraq. Senior males advised her not to report it, telling her that her career was more important than that.

Heath Phillips was 17 when he entered the U.S. Navy and was assaulted on the USS Butte. For ten months, he had faced up to six attackers. His command called him a liar, he said.

Sue, an Air Force veteran, was assaulted while being examined by a military neurologist. She said “they let him go,” and a lieutenant colonel who was advocating for her apologized and “went home and blew his brains out.” The doctor assaulted four more women before he was court-martialed.

Maria-Elena Yingst, a Pentagon civilian, said she has been fighting her sexual harassment case for eight years. When she was briefing someone, he said to her, “I have a body part that’s growing.” Thinking that he meant a tumor, she asked whether it was benign. He then exposed himself. She waited until her daughter graduated high school to report it, out of fear of retaliation.

The speakers directed their stories to Pentagon leadership, whom they called upon to do more to combat military sexual assault.

“Going back decades, the Department of Defense has promised a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment. And there has been concerted efforts over these years, but the sexual assaults continue,” said Watts.

She said, according to the Pentagon’s most recent report, that more than 6,100 military sexual assaults were reported in fiscal year 2016, but only about a third of sexual assault victims actually come forward.

Almost six out of ten faced retaliation for reporting, she said. Some service members who came forward were diagnosed with personality disorders, forced out of the military, received dishonorable discharges that made them ineligible for benefits, and hurt their job prospects in the civilian world, she added.

“The travesty is that many of the people who report often see their careers ending for being victimized, and their assailant’s careers go on, without incident, or even with promotions and greater pay,” she said:

The final insult to injury, she stated, was that out of the more than 6,100 assaults reported, only about four percent of reported cases resulted in a conviction – less than 1 in 20.

“When do we see the DOD committing to a wholesale culture change, in where women are respected as peers, and not just on the individual level but institutionally?” she asked.

Pentagon press secretary Dana White and a contingent of female deputies came out to the demonstration towards the end to speak with participants, hand out cups of hot chocolate, and show their support.

Breitbart News captured some photos of the moment – a perhaps unprecedented show of support for a demonstration at the Pentagon:

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said the Pentagon endorsed the demonstration.

“The message is no one should have to tolerate harassment as a part of their military service,” he said on Monday.

“The Department of Defense continuously works to eliminate sexual harassment and assault from the military. And we encourage service members to report all incidents of sexual assault so we can provide support services and hold offenders accountable.”


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