Good morning Ladies and Gentleman,
I would like to begin by thanking Senator Gillibrand for this opportunity to come here today and speak on behalf of all military service member survivors of the United States Armed forces who have been affected by military sexual trauma. I would also like to thank everyone involved with the organization, Protect Our Defenders for their support in raising awareness of this growing and unresolved epidemic. Finally, I would like to thank my attorneys from the AMVETS legal clinic at Chapman University in Southern California, for their commitment to providing pro-bono representation to military personal and veterans such as myself.
I am speaking to you today on behalf of those that can’t. My story is like that of so many others. I was a teenager eager to see the world and make a connection with something greater than myself for nothing more the authenticity of service. I joined the military at age 17 and I still remember my parents having to sign me over to the care of the United States Marine Corps. I’ll never forget the look of pride in my father’s eyes, when I graduated Bootcamp. My mother was shocked when I told her I had decided to volunteer for my first overseas deployment, and I was being sent to Okinawa, Japan! While my parents acknowledged the reality that I would be 7,000 miles away from home, I embraced the new life I’d made for myself.
Within the first few weeks of arriving in Okinawa I was sexually harassed by a Senior Marine in my direct chain of command, in fact he was my chain of command. Although I reported the sexual harassment, nothing was done! Then, just a few months later in December of 1999 I was drugged and raped by my Sergeant who also was in my direct chain of command. However, shortly after reporting the rape I was retaliated against by the very people I trusted to execute justice, to maintain good order and discipline. Even after filing a report with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services and speaking with the Commanding General of the base, the Sergeant who assaulted me was able to separate from the Marine Corps during an open investigation for the crime of rape. I believe wholeheartedly that in my situation, if the process of reporting the rape had been handled completely outside the chain of command, it would have allowed me to see my rapist convicted and sentenced to justice.
Imagine you are that parent who receives a phone call from your daughter who is half way around the world, telling you she had just been raped by a fellow Marine, a brother in service. And though you try your best to console her and advise her, the reality is she is left to depend on a broken system, which has produced a fear of reporting for fear of retaliation. As a mother of three I know the instinctual nature of a parent is to protect and defend our children. By passing this bill you will be looking in the eyes of every parent whose child chooses to protect and defend this country, stating that you vow to honor and protect them in return for their service.
I am here today to shed light on the fundamental disconnect and belief system that this is an issue exclusive to the military and therefore should be handled exclusively by and within, the chain of command. This belief is rooted in the fear that somehow by providing the same access to a fair and impartial legal system equal to those of our civilian counterparts, there would be a disruption to good order and discipline. In reality, it is fear and mistrust of command that leads to the breakdown of good order and discipline—something that I am all too familiar with. It was years before I developed the internal strength and courage to come forward and share my story. However for many survivors of sexual assault, it is simply, too much.
Freedom is not free. It is a testament to the brave men and women that support this nation and right now you have a choice to stand up on our behalf, and fight for our equal rights of justice. When we were called to duty as service members, each of us answered that call without hesitation and I believe that we deserve the same rights that we are sworn to defend.
As a Marine, I served my country honorably. As a woman, I have found the courage to face adversity and as an advocate, I am committed to lending my voice for change. The core values of Marines are based upon Honor, Courage, & Commitment. I ask that you pass this bill in honor of the service members who have not yet reported sexual assault or rape, for fear of retaliation. I ask that you find the courage within yourselves to be involved in passing the first bi-partisan bill that would respectfully change the way the military responds to cases of sexual trauma. Finally, I ask you to vote in favor of the Military Justice improvement Act as a tangible commitment to protect and defend the service members of this country.