'I Was Raped,' Military Women Tell Senate

One in five military women has been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse. The U.S. Senate is finally listening to the outcry from the Service Women’s Action Network(SWAN). Will this really ever change


“One week before my unit was scheduled to return back to the United States, I was raped by another service member that had worked with our team,” former Army Technician Rebekah Havrilla told the U.S. Senate last week. “Initially, I chose not to do a report of any kind because I had no faith in my chain of command. The unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature toward women.”

About 20 percent of military women report experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST), according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This includes unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening or offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances. By comparison, only one in 100 men report MST.

Two Service Women’s Action Networkstaff members testified this month before the Senate on behalf of thousands of military service women who have been victims of sexual harassment and assault. This historic hearing marked the first time in almost 10 years that the Senate examined these outstanding issues.

SWAN Executive Director Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Captain, and SWAN Outreach and Education Coordinator Havrillashared their personal stories before the Senate.

Despite the large number of sexual harassment and assault cases reported to the VA, Bhagwati and Havrilla said that little has been done to prevent MST from occurring and that reports of sexual harassment, assault and rape, such as Havrilla’s, are frequently “swept under the rug,” says Bhagwati.

Bhagwati detailed to the Senate how she once attempted to file an investigation of an offending officerand immediately was given a gag order by her commanding officer. She then “lived in fear of retaliation and violence” from the offender and her chain of command, while the offender went on to be promoted.

Sexual violence is not just a ‘women’s issue.’ It is widely misunderstood by military personnel, who have been overexposed to a culture of victim-blaming and rape mythology, where victims are considered responsible for their own assaults, and perpetrators are simply nave young service members who might have had a lapse of professional judgment,” Bhagwati said.

Bhagwati and Havrilla urged policymakers to:

  1. Professionalize the military criminal-justice system: Authority over criminal cases should be conducted by trained prosecutors, as commanding officers cannot be truly impartial and unbiased.
  2. Open civil courts to military victims: Currently, military persons are not allowed to bring claims for discrimination or negligence; therefore, the military is not held liable for failing to prevent or reprimand sexual harassment or assault infractions.
  3. Ensure survivors’ VA claims get accepted: The Ruth Moore Act, not yet passed into law, could help in providing survivors of sexual assault with effective treatments for conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder.

Latest News

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Conservatives Attempt to Roll Back LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum in Schools

Republican lawmakers in Arizona have approved new laws revamping LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools, making it harder for educators to teach about historical events such as the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City that started the gay rights movement, discussions about sexual orientation or instruction of anything related to LGBTQ…

Black Lives Matter Protest

Florida Passes Controversial ‘Anti-Protest’ Bill Designed to Weaken Black Lives Matter and Other Social Justice Movements 

In a play designed to make it harder for social justice advocates to gather and promote change, the Florida Senate has passed a controversial so-called “anti-riot” bill inspired by the recent increase in protests by groups such as Black Lives Matter. Dartunorro Clark of NBC News has reported that “the…

Disney

Disney Theme Parks Announce New Diversity and Inclusion Efforts for Workers

Following long-term COVID-19-related closures, Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort has opened back up for business and California’s Disneyland is slated to reopen on April 30th. The family-friendly company also took some time away from celebrating its big news to announce some inclusive and diversity-promoting efforts it had implemented during the…

PwC’s Leah Houde on How To Reimagine Ways to Higher Education Despite Rising Costs and Barriers to Entry

Originally published on LinkedIn. Leah Houde is PwC’s Chief Learning Officer. PwC is a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company.   The economic and societal gap in our nation is growing. The pandemic has only exacerbated this divide, disproportionately ravaging Black, Latinx and underserved communities. Barriers to education continue to drive wedges between…