Written by one of the Moxie’s working for Hollaback!, an international movement committed to ending street harassment and sexual violence in public space. The author has removed her name for this internet audience.
Today, a female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire.
I recently watched “The Invisible War” with my DukeEngage program. This documentary tells the all too often covered up and disregarded stories of military rape. It’s an amazing movie, and I would absolutely recommend it, but with a caveat—trigger warning. Knowing the subject matter and my personal history perhaps I should have stayed away. People in my program would have understood. But I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why I hadn’t been there, and more fundamentally, I didn’t want my history to prevent me from participating.
As the lights dimmed, I told a friend “I may not be able to handle this– might have to leave in the middle,” and, as it turns out, I did. So, while I can’t tell you how the movie ends, I can tell you the stories of their experiences were horrifying. However, the most traumatic part in many cases was not the incident of assault, but the aftermath. Some of the women suffered multiple assaults from men in their unit, and faced dire consequences if they chose to report. One woman was threatened with violence, another charged with a misdemeanor while he attacker walked free. Another was told her rape kit had been lost, only to find out after the case was closed that this was false. Another struggled to access adequate medical care for injuries sustained during her assault that continued to affect her quality of life years later. When one woman reported what had happened to her, she was met with, “you’re the third girl to report rape this week. Are you guys like, all in cahoots? Do you think this is a game?”
In case after case, denialism and victim blaming prevent male and female victims of sexual violence in the military from seeing any semblance of institutional support.
And this isn’t just a military problem.
Every couple months or so, I see a high profile story in the news about sexual violence– some military, some celebrity, some on college campuses– any number of variations. But again and again, media questions the victim. This type of response, military or civilian, celebrity or no, constantly derides the credibility of those who come forward, and works as a barrier to justice.
Fundamentally, The Invisible War demonstrates the true power of storytelling. The stories were there, the documentary simply gave these men and women the opportunity to tell them. At Hollaback, this is what we seek to do. We ask individuals to speak, and we give them a safe place for their voices to be heard.
We live in a society that blames and demonizes victims of sexual violence, which deeply discourages those who come forward. The only way to end this cycle is to personally commit to supporting the survivors in your life. The impact of the stories that are told have such deep potential to make a difference. Sharing our experiences can make it easier for other people to share theirs, but it can also break down personal prejudice against victims among our family and friends, and change the way people who care about us view sexual violence.
So here it goes— I was sexually assaulted.
More than once.
And it wasn’t my fault.
I’m a civilian, and I didn’t report what happened to me. But I have experienced the trauma of living as a survivor in a culture that blames me for what happened. Being a survivor is a part of my identity that I seek to be more open about. It does not define me, but it does change how I view the world, how I view people around me, and how people view me.
Too many people dismiss the prevalence sexual violence in the military, in New York, on college campuses. The power of the one-in-four statistic gets lost in denialism and under reporting.
But every single person I’ve ever met knows a survivor.
Every single person I’ve ever met knows a survivor.
Because they know me.