Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board Member, Senator Gillibrand’s Press Conference Announcing Gillibrand Bill PR 051613, May 15, 2013
My name is Jennifer Norris, I was raised to love, honor and serve my country. It was my life’s ambition to have a career in the Air Force.
I am a veteran and survivor of rape and harassment in the military. Earlier this year, I testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee on the largest sexual abuse scandal in Air Force history.
If the chain of command had been removed from handling sexual assault cases before I was attacked I believe justice would have been served or perhaps it would have been prevented in the first place.
At first I was too afraid to report my assault to my chain of command, but two years later I was forced to report due to the escalation of the behavior and the fear that I would be raped again. Instead, I was re-victimized by the system.
I want to make it clear to General Welsh — that blaming a civilian “hook-up” culture for the epidemic does nothing, but contribute to victim blaming, excusing perpetrators and it belittles the serious nature of these crimes.
This is a problem that requires leadership, not blaming the troops. And it requires appropriate punishment for those who commit the crime and accountability for those who sweep it under the rug or excuse it — as in the highly publicized cases of Lt. General Franklin and Lt. General Helms.
In the Air Force, I witnessed first hand what happens to those who stepped forward to report their assaults. I did not want to be stigmatized for reporting my assault — as I tried to move forward with my career. Instead, the best option for me was to try and endure it, to suck it up and try and make it till I could get transferred somewhere else—only to have it happen over and over again, like a recurring nightmare.
When I did come forward to my command, I became one of far too many who fall victim to manipulation and abuse of authority by perpetrators who are higher ranking and have more credibility with those who are in charge. Troops have no choice but to acquiesce when under the leadership of a heavy fisted chain of command.
My perpetrators were allowed to resign in lieu of Administrative Hearings, which would have become a matter of public record. My command never offered the chance to proceed with a court martial. While I was glad my perpetrators were gone, the reason I finally pressed charges was to prevent any other woman from having to go through what I was forced to endure. My efforts were futile.
Since leaving the military, I have dedicated my energy to making sure no man or woman who signs up to serve their country ever has to go through what I experienced. The system is rigged against the victim. Commanders, who are responsible for the resolution of these cases, are far too often biased in favor of the often higher-ranking perpetrators.
Fifty percent of victims report their attacker was someone of higher rank and 23% of victims’ report the perpetrator was in their chain of command. This was true in my case and in many — many — others. Until we fix the system, and make it safe for victims to report, remove command bias and conflict of interest from the process, take reporting, prosecution and adjudication out of the chain of command, the military will continue to be plagued by rape and sexual assault and service members who become victim will be denied justice.
Thank you Senators for helping our men and women in uniform. This legislation if passed will be a huge step forward.