Reports of sexual assaults in the military are on the rise. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve more than tripled and in the past, victims have had little recourse. But now, there’s more help.
“I remember laying there, trying to feel as dead as I could. Just the only thing alive was my brain saying, ‘please Lord, let him hurry up. Let him,” said Army veteran Diane Williamson.
Army veteran Diane Williamson was raped by her commanding officer in 1979.
Navy veteran Tia Christopher was raped in 2000. She reported the sexual assault to her superiors.
“I was the third female sailor to report rape that week. My lieutenant commander looked at us and said, ‘is this some kind of joke? Are you playing some kind of trick on me? Are you all in cahoots together?” she said.
Williamson did not report her rape.
“I was terrified of putting it on paper to let the military authorities know and then bring up all the mess,” she said. “I really wanted to stay in. I really wanted to stay in the service.”
Two and a half decades later, she finally talked about the rape during a counseling session at Swords to Plowshares, the group that helps veterans.
“Before that I was homeless, wasn’t able to hold a job in the midst of my depression that I hadn’t really understood,” said Williamson.
For Christopher, reporting the rape was career suicide.
“I fought it, and I fought it. Unfortunately, this ended with me receiving an early discharge with a personality disorder,” she said.
The National Institute of Justice says one in five women will be sexually assaulted. The ratio in the military, according to the Department of Defense is one in three or four women and a new Pentagon report says sexual assaults are increasing.
In fiscal year 2008, the Department of Defense received 2,908 reports of sexual assault in the military, ranging from wrongful sexual contact to rape — more than an 8 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 163 reports of sexual assaults — a 26 percent increase.
“We take sexual assault very seriously in the Department of Defense and we have aggresive programs in place to prevent sexual assaults,” said Dr. Kay Whitley from the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office.
Dr. Whitley says prevention programs were implemented a couple of years ago.
“We’re making sure that when they enter the military, this is part of their training just like how to wear the uniform and how to salute,” she said.
Whitley says one particular program is making a big difference in getting victims psychological and medical help. The program allows a service member to confidentially report an assault without naming names. Command staff and law enforcement would also be kept out of the loop.
Dr. Whitley says more than 2,600 people have come forward through the program, which began several years ago.
“So that tells me it’s working. That tells me that over 2,600 people who would not have come forward and not gotten the medical care and counseling they needed,” she said.
Christopher says in those cases which are made public, only a fraction are prosecuted.
“Out of the 2,688 reports of sexual assault in fiscal year 2007, only 218 had administrative action and discharges, the perpetrators. So you do the math. There were only 181 court martial’s of perpetrators in those cases,” she said.
Williamson now lives in Swords to Plowshares transitional housing. After years of therapy, she’s finally getting her life back together. Christopher is the organization’s women veterans’ coordinator.
“I really like to show women who have been in my situation that there is life after that,” she said.
Christopher and Williamson say women should be able to serve their country without fear of being sexually attacked.
But for now, women are more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than killed by enemy fire.