Department of Defense veterans issues

Response to “Bristol Town Council stands by harbormaster,” July 10, 2013, East bay RI

For Immediate Release

July 14, 2013

I am writing in response to the article “Bristol Town Council stands by harbormaster,” July 10, 2013

I did not authorize my name to be released in the article. I am a victim of a rape and I felt that it was insensitive and inappropriate for Bristol Phoenix to publish the name of a rape survivor. I unwillingly and unknowingly was dragged into what obviously is small town politics. I was never interviewed by Mary Parella or the Bristol Town Council, nor by the journalist who wrote the article, Christine O’Connor.

This is my statement:

I was brutally raped in 2006 while serving under the command of Gregg Marsili in the United States Coast Guard. After reporting my rape I was further victimized, blamed, doubted, ridiculed and retaliated against. I am still suffering from the trauma that I experienced while under Marsili’s command.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of Military Sexual Trauma. It has been very difficult seven years. I am often awakened by nightmares of being back at Station Burlington, VT and under the command of Gregg Marsili. I am in counseling for PTSD. Each day has been a struggle.

For the past seven years I served as Executive Director of the Military Rape Crisis Center, an organization that I founded while on Active Duty to help my fellow survivors. These survivors are all service members and veterans who have been sexually assaulted and/or raped. The organization is currently one of the largest of it kind. Each year we help an average of 1900 servicemen, women and veterans that have been raped.

I  learned that Gregg Marsili was appointed as Harbormaster by residents of Bristol. I was forwarded a press release by a Bristol resident dated May 25. It was written by Mary Parella in which she announced that there would be an investigation into Harbormaster-Elect Marsili’s past. Even though the investigation had yet to be conducted, Ms. Parella already clearly dismissed the allegations when she called them “rumors” and “innuendo” in that same press release.

On June 13, The Central Phoenix, Inez Casiano Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), released a statement on my behalf. By email, NOW told Parella that they have “a victim statement and other official documentation regarding Mr. Marsili’s part in the incident …so the town of Bristol can include these files in their investigations.” Ms. Parella, nor anyone from Bristol Town Council has replied.

I was not interviewed for the investigation. Documentation that I felt backed up my claim was not considered or even reviewed. I feel that the investigation is incomplete since the witness was not interviewed.

On July 8th I received an email from Scott Pickering, General Manager of East Bay Newspapers, requesting to speak to me because my “name has surfaced in connection to Greg Marsili”. I replied that I was willing to speak to him and gave him my phone number.

The same day Pickering called me to verify my phone number and that if I was the Burlington rape victim. Pickering was driving and unable to conduct a full interview with me at that time. He said that Christine O’Connor would call me the next day for the full interview. The entire conversation with Pickering lasted 6 minutes. O’Connor did not call.

In 2012 the Department of Defense estimates that there were 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults in the Armed Forces. The actual number of assaults might be much higher since the United States Coast Guard is not included in those numbers. Statistics show that over 92% of all military rapists are NOT prosecuted and often are able to continue serving without a blemish on their record.

The survivors of military sexual trauma are systematically victimized for reporting rape. Survivors are often retaliated against, blamed or not believed. A Military Rape Crisis Center study estimates that over 90% of rape survivors lose their career after reporting that they have been raped.

At the center we find these statistics unacceptable and we work very closely with members of the United States Congress by advocating for legislation that would take the reporting out of the chain-of-command. Members of the Congress understand and acknowledge this injustice to rape survivors. In recent years legislation such as the Military Justice Improvement Act and the Sexual Trauma Oversight and Protection Act has been introduced to take the military reporting option out of the chain of command.

It was very difficult and emotional to read the Bristol Phoenix article. I want to thank everyone that responded. I have received countless emails of support from residents of Bristol, Rhode Island and neighboring communities who are upset at the article, Bristol Phoenix and the Bristol Town Council and are asking how they can help.

Everyone that wants to help can do so by contacting your representative and request that they co-sponsor the STOP Act-HR 1529. What Marsili did to me can not be undone but by taking the reporting out of the chain-of-command it could prevent another service member to suffer the way that I did.

As a victim of a rape I did not authorize Bristol Phoenix or Bristol town council to release my name in the article. I request the Bristol Phoenix to remove my name from the online article and to provide a correction in the next issue of the Bristol Phoenix.

Thank you,

Panayiota Bertzikis

Executive Director

Military Rape Crisis Center