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VDW Survivor Medallion & VDW Survivor Medallion Design ©1997 Breaking the Silence All Rights Reserved (Credit for the name Veterans of Domestic Wars: Betsy Salkind. Photo by Corky Draconi.) Scroll down for more information.
Medals for Military Sexual Trauma: A Proposal On March 16, 2009, a bill titled the “Military Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Response Act” (H.R.840) was referred to a House subcommittee. This is a bill to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence involving members of the Armed Forces and their family members and partners through enhanced programs of prevention and deterrence, enhanced programs of victims services, and strengthened provisions for prosecution of assailants. 1 I want to propose that part of these services and programs include the awarding of medals to victims of Military Sexual Assault. Medals provide tangible testaments to valor, courage, loyalty. They give occasion for public recognition, and in the cases where they are awarded posthumously, they can provide for some closure. Finally, they offer incentive. They aggressively proclaim that surviving assault is valorous, something to be proud of; thereby counteracting any herd-animal instinct to separate from the wounded.
The first medal for rewarding heroism by American soldiers was established by—who else?—George Washington. It was called the Badge of Military Merit, and it was intended to recognize “any singularly meritorious action.” The year was 1782. Later, during the Civil War, a “Medal of Valor” was created and signed into law by Abraham Lincoln. This morphed into the “Medal of Honor,” which is, today, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. The criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor is distinguishing oneself “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” After the Medal of Honor, there is the Military Cross for an act of extraordinary heroism undertaken in the midst of great danger and at great risk to oneself. Then there is the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Cross and so on. The Purple Heart is awarded for being wounded or killed while in the service. The US Military awards an array of medals for all kinds of things: for serving in a particular region (Antarctica Service Medal), in a particular war (World War II Victory Medal), or in a unit that has performed valorously (Army Valorous Unit Award). And, yes, there is even a gendered medal, the Women’s Army Corps Medal, awarded to women who served in the Corps during World War II. It’s time for the military to create a new category of medals, specifically to deal with Military Sexual Trauma. Military Sexual Trauma has become so common, it has been designated a syndrome with its own acronym: MST. What is MST? According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it is “sexual harassment that is threatening or physical assault of a sexual nature.” The military's definition of sexual assault includes “rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts.” These traumas occur when a person is in the military, and the location, the genders of the people involved, and their relationship do not matter. 2 Just how common is it? According to the website of the Military Rape Crisis Center, one in three women in the military will be sexually assaulted. Two out of three women in the military will be sexually
harassed. Congresswoman Jane Harmon from California has done the math: “A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”3 And what about the perpetrators? Two interesting statistics: First, according to Helen Benedict, the author of three books about sexual assault, the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in ten new Army recruits. And, as Benedict notes, “When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed… the picture for women looks bleak indeed.”4 Second, according to the Department of Defense's own statistics 74-85% of soldiers convicted of rape or sexual assault leave the military with honorable discharges and their rape convictions do not appear on their record!5 And how are the women dealing with this? The real question is how are they being dealt with? Apparently, over 90% of all females that report a sexual assault are discharged from the military before their contract ends. From the 90%, around 85% are discharged against their wishes. Almost all of the 85% lose their careers based on misdiagnoses that render them ineligible for military service. These would be things like adjustment disorder, personality disorder and pre-service existing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are conditions that would, of course, be ineligible for VA treatment after discharge.6 And speaking of PTSD, out of every other type of trauma that can occur in the military, sexual trauma is the number one cause of PTSD. Of the women who claim to have experienced MST, 40 to 60% developed post traumatic stress disorder.7 It’s important to note that victims of MST are more prone to developing PTSD than victims of sexual trauma outside the military. Why is this? Because the longer it takes the victim to get into safe and supportive circumstances, the more severe the PTSD. In fact, appropriate response within the first hours, or even minutes can make a huge difference.8 On a military base, this getting to a safe, supportive environment can be a problem for a number of reasons. If the MST has occurred in the
work space, this traditional “safe haven” is now a trigger for anxiety and bad memories. The soldier who has been assaulted on the job does not have the option of quitting, and may be required to continue working with her assailant/ harasser, demonstrating respect and obedience for him. She remains at risk of further victimization, and, obviously, this is tremendously stressful.9 Friends or colleagues in the military, especially serving in a combat zone, may consider it inappropriate for her to file a negative report that could be divisive, disruptive, or demoralizing to her unit. They may not believe her, or they may find it expedient to say they don’t believe her. Victims of MST who report, but who are not believed or who are blamed, suffer more severe symptoms of PTSD. Failing to report, however, will result in lack of critical medical and emotional assistance. 10 The lesbian who is a victim of MST has another layer of stress, regarding being “outed” and subsequently discharged. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an independent watchdog organization over the Department of Defense’s implementation of the policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,” reports how lesbianbaiting is used to intimidate all women in the military: … [w]omen, straight and gay, are accused as lesbians when they rebuff advances by men or report sexual abuse. Women who are top performers in nontraditional fields also face perpetual speculation and rumors that they are lesbian.11 Women find that reporting an assault can result in the initiation of an investigation against them instead of the perpetrator. The subject of sexual assault in the military is too exhaustive for the scope of this proposal, but NOW has done an excellent job of collecting articles about the epidemic and what appears to be a cover-up on the part of the Pentagon, as well as research into why soldiers rape.12 The Proposal
1) Medal of Worth: For anyone in the service who has been a victim of Military Sexual Trauma. 2) Medal of Courage: For anyone in the service who has reported her Military Sexual Trauma. 3) Medal of Loyalty: For anyone in the service who has supported a victim of MST in reporting it to the authorities. 4) Medal of Heroism: For anyone in the service who has supported a victim of MST in reporting a perpetrator who is in the recipient’s unit. 5) Medal of Exceptional Valor: For any gay or lesbian in the service who reports Military Sexual Trauma. There is already a Valorous Unit Award, and I would recommend that it be awarded to any unit that, as a unit, supports a victim of MST in reporting, especially if the perpetrator is also in the same unit. The sexual assault victims who are overseas should all receive Purple Hearts. They have unquestionably been wounded. Under the criteria for the medal, a wound is defined as “an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent… A physical lesion is not required.” And certainly, these assaults are occurring “as a result of military operations while serving outside the territory of the United States.”13 The only thorny issue is that the enemy attack is from soldiers who are supposed to be on the same side, but if Pat Tillman could be awarded the Purple Heart for being a victim of “friendly fire,” why not these women who are being sexually harassed and assaulted by their fellow soldiers in such epidemic numbers? Gary Trudeau, Doonesbury cartoonist, had the same idea in his comic strip, when Melissa, an Iraq veteran and MST victim, is given a candy purple heart by B.D., a man who was erroneously awarded a Purple Heart for cutting himself on a beer can top. 14 And, finally, it is highly appropriate to award the MST medals posthumously, and this is tragically true when the victim has chosen to take her own life.
Veterans of Domestic Wars Survivor Medallions Veterans of Domestic Wars Survivor Medallions were designed and created by Breaking the Silence, a Fresno based not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about child abuse by community education and survivor empowerment. Breaking the Silence awards these medallions to survivors of any form of domestic war (child abuse, interpersonal violence, stalking, sexual assault, homophobic bullying or assault, sexual harassment, and so on) who choose to break their silence in any way. The text on the medallion is "Veterans of Domestic Wars" on top and "Survivor" on the bottom. The symbol on each side is the symbol for power. The hands in the center signify unity and diversity. Any survivor of any form of domestic war only needs to contact Breaking the Silence at firstname.lastname@example.org to claim his or her medallion. The medallions are generally awarded in a ceremony, where others can bear witness to their survivorship. For those long distance, if Breaking the Silence can't setup a ceremony at their location and they can't come to one in Fresno, the medallions are awarded via mail. All expenses for the medallions are paid by Breaking the Silence. Organization Contact Information: Breaking the Silence PO Box 26483 Fresno, CA 93729 6
(559)225-9331 http://bts.dragonpack.com/ BreakingTheSilence@DragonPack.Com
VDW Survivor Medallion & VDW Survivor Medallion Design ©1997 Breaking the Silence All Rights Reserved (Credit for the name Veterans of Domestic Wars: Betsy Salkind. Photo by Corky Draconi.) Footnotes:
Washington Watch. http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/111_HR_840.html
Veterans Health Administration (2004). Veterans Health Initiative: Military Sexual Trauma. Available online: http://www1.va.gov/vhi/docs/MST_www.pdf.
ABC News: The Blotter from Brian Ross http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=5760295&page=1
Benedict, Helen. “The Private War of Women Solders,” Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military/in dex.html
Ibid. Stop Military Rape. Ibid. Stop Military Rape.
“Resources/ Informative Articles: Why Military Sexual Trauma May Cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Casa Palmera, http://www.casapalmera.com/articles/symptoms-of-post-traumaticstress-disorder-and-military-sexual-trauma/
Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
Damiano, Christin M. “Lesbian Baiting in the Military: Institutionalized Sexual Harassment Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,” in Journal of Gender, Social Policy, & the Law, Vol.
7:501-502. http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/genderlaw/07/73damiano.pdf?rd=1 12 NOW Read This/ Category: Women in the Military. http://www.now.org/news/readthis/index.html?cat=108 13 Americal Division Veterans Association: Purple Heart http://www.americal.org/awards/ph.htm 14 Slate: Daily Dose http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date= 20090111
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