A bill to address the sexual assault crisis in the military was blocked on Monday in favor of voting on Iran sanctions, but two days later, survivors of sexual assault came forward on Capitol Hill to speak about their experiences and voice support for the bill.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat from New York, who has been championing the Military Justice Improvement Act since 2013, chaired the committee hearing and focused on the relationship between military sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.
“No matter where any one person falls in this debate, we can all agree that we must fully understand the long-term psychological toll on the survivors of sexual trauma in the military and the best practices for effective treatment,” Gillibrand said.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army said that it sifted through some 20,000 records and removed 588 people — about 3% — from various jobs following a sexual assault review.
“We will continue working to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, and that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and how important this work is to the Army,” said Col. David Patterson, a spokesman at the Pentagon told USA Today.
While commanders currently have the ability to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders, Gillibrand’s bill hopes to change that.
“Reporting to the chain of command — it’s horrific,” said retired Lance Cpl. Jeremiah J. Arbogast, who testified in front of the committee. “You know, it could be a perpetrator in your chain of command. It could be your direct supervisor. In my case, it was my previous supervisor.”
3. Speaking to the Senate committee, Arbogast detailed his rape and the PTSD he suffered as a result.
“I was humiliated at the thought of my helplessness as a man and a fellow Marine took advantage of me sexually,” Arbogast said.
Military investigators forced him to confront his rapist. He had several recorded conversations in which the rapist confessed; in one instance, the former corporal was asked to wear a body wire as he sat across from his tormentor. His rapist, a staff sergeant, was then arrested and put before a trial.
“My perpetrator was arrested and charged on several accounts, including sexual assault and sodomy. Even with overwhelming evidence, the court found him guilty of lesser charges. The court decided he’d receive a ‘bad conduct’ discharge and no jail time,” Arbogast explained.
“He refused to register on the sexual offenders database. Nothing was done, and to this day, I don’t know where my perpetrator is. Not knowing his location leaves me looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life.”
4. Jessica Kenyon, a former private first class in the U.S. Army, joined Arbogast on the panel to speak out as a survivor of assault.
Kenyon joined the Army in 2005, just one year after new sexual assault response recommendations were implemented, and worked as an Apache helicopter crew chief.
“During the initial training period, none of us were given training regarding what to do in a real sexual assault situation,” she said. “I had to Google what to do when it happened to me.”
The aftermath of Kenyon’s rape left her feeling ostracized and depressed. She was disciplined for getting treatment and therefore chose to leave the military to help other victims. Since her honorable discharge she has worked with thousands of veterans, active duty members, and their families, and founded MilitarySexualTrauma.org.
“I currently suffer from severe depression, bouts of insomnia, debilitating memories and thoughts, triggers of all sorts, anger, chattering in my head, and constant anxiety to the point where I am forced to use all of my concentration to appear normal,” Kenyon admitted to the Senate panel. She says these conditions hinder her ability “to read, write, have a conversation, or remember things in the short term.”
“It’s stories like these that led me to hold these hearings,” Gillibrand said.
5. After the hearing Gillibrand drew attention to the alarming rates of suicide and PTSD among veterans, and thanked those who testified.
8. There are now 55 public supporters of her bill; 60 senators are needed to pass a bill in the Senate past a filibuster.
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