Military sex assaults on the rise and survivors say they rarely see justice

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The latest numbers of sexual assaults in the military are staggering.  The Department of Defense reports there were 26,000 sexual assaults last year alone, up from 7,000 in 2011.

Lisa Wilken is not surprised.  She never saw the battlefield but she said she’s been through war and the wounds cut deep to her soul.

“I was sexually assaulted in my dorm room on Offutt Air Force Base within nine months of my enlistment,” she said.

Lisa said she was hit by so called “friendly fire.”  She said she was raped by a fellow soldier who wore the same uniform.

“I knew him,” she said.  “I worked with him. I went through basic training with him. I had met his fiancé, who was expecting.”

Lisa said she went to a going-away party on base that night and then went to bed.

“I was in bed asleep in my dorm room when I woke up when the attack was happening,” she said.

“Once I realized what was happening, my own fight or flight instincts took over and luckily, I was a strong airman and I was able to fight him off of me.”

But what she didn’t realize was that her fight was just beginning.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.  “My heart was racing. I was scared.”

So she went to her supervisor.  He said he’d meet her in his office the next morning.

“The next morning, I met him in his office and I waited and waited and waited and he never showed up,” she said.

Devastated at the lack of compassion, Lisa went up the chain of command to her First Sargent.  She underwent a medical exam and then was grilled by two investigators.

“And I answered every question they asked me and basically I went through my entire sexual history from the time I lost my virginity until I was assaulted that night,” she said.
She said that information was used against her and the night before trial, the prosecutor urged her to take a deal.

“He said Lisa I can prove that he raped you,” she said.  “But the rape wasn’t violent enough for him to get any real jail time.  I will never forget those words.  I can still hear him say that to me that it wasn’t violent enough.”

Her attacker never got jail time or a criminal record.

“He was given an other than honorable discharge in lieu of court marshal and they had him processed and out of the United States Air Force within five days.”

And her career was over.

“The culture within the military is if you report or you help someone, you are labeled as a trouble maker and you face retaliation,” she said.

Lisa said the sexual assault victims the military has ignored for years will soon start overwhelming places like the Veterans Affairs hospital.

“We’re seeing increased numbers of people who have admitted they have sexual trauma,” said Laura Malone, who is the sexual trauma coordinator at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Indianapolis.

Malone tries to help military sexual trauma survivors get help. She said it’s a tough battle.

“I do know we need to make it so that the consequences of those people who are perpetrators are hard so they can change,” she said.

The stories keep coming.

“I was actually in uniform when I was raped,” said soldier Phyllis Pigford-Mason.

She said her attacker also just walked away from justice.

“The doctor who looked at my charts asked me how many years did the dirt bag get for raping you,” she said.  “I said he didn’t get any years, he didn’t get any time they gave him a counseling statement for not being at his place of duty.”

So now, Phyllis and Lisa have a new mission and it’s to make sure military sexual trauma survivors no longer have to live as second class citizens. They want to let soldiers know, men and women, that it is okay to ask for help.

“I would like here in Indiana to see a support network developed throughout the State Department of Veterans Affairs,” Lisa said.

Phyllis is organizing the first ever walk for military rape survivors in Indianapolis.

“For people to know they are not alone no matter what it is they are going through,” Phyllis said.  “You’re not alone.”

And that there is hope in the darkness.

“Rape brings with it all of the darkness that that word brings and you have to fight every day to not let that take a hold of you,” Lisa said.

“I was naive enough to think everyone in the military wears the uniform honorably.  But that’s not necessarily the case.”

The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs is going to have a women veterans conference this fall so military sexual trauma survivors can connect and move forward.   May 30 is also military sexual trauma awareness day.  The goal is to get survivors help and let the community know this is a big problem