Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Military Sexual Assault: What I Want My Community to Know

Written by Andrea Cilento

As we wrap up April, National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month, we reflect on the continued efforts to end Military Sexual Assault and one survivor’s words to her community.  Military Sexual Assault affects men and women in all military branches.  According to the Department of Defense (DoD), an estimated 19,300 sexual assaults occurred in 2010 and only 13.5% were reported.  Sexual violence has devastating, pervasive effects on survivors and their families and negatively impacts the cohesion and strength of the United States Military.  Major General Jeffrey J. Snow, USA, Director of the DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) spoke earlier this month at Fort Belvoir and emphasized that the DoD is “attacking sexual assault from all sides.” (Link)  He highlighted this as a multifaceted societal problem that will not be solved by policy changes alone.  Instead, he stated, “We all have a critical role in preventing and responding to sexual assault,” and further elaborated that it takes social courage to recognize and speak up when witnessing inappropriate behavior.  This includes providing empathy and support for those who are being mistreated.

Catherine Bane, a member of Hope For The Warriors® Women Veterans Initiative and Team Hope For The Warriors®, shares her story of surviving military sexual assault in hopes to benefit not only other survivors, but the military and veteran community.

“I was raped many years ago, and just recently could say and believe it wasn’t my fault. I am proud of my service and proud to have served as a soldier. But I was let down by my command and my peers. I did have some amazing support from a few, who I will never forget, and it is because of those few I am where I am today.” 

Catherine shared her account of what she wishes her community had known, and how they could have better supported her.

“Military values-Marines and Navy: Honor. Courage. Commitment.  Air Force: Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do.  Army: Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless service. Integrity. Honor. Personal courage.  Coast Guard: Honor. Respect. Devotion to duty.

We live and die by these core values. We build bonds others will never understand. We trust and stand side by side ready to defend and die together.  There is no better time to live these values than when one of our own is attacked and violated on our military bases, here in the states or abroad.  No one asks or deserves to be attacked. Prove that to them. Show them they still have worth, value, and are still respected. You may not know what to do or say, but do not judge. Be there to help. This is a wound that water and ibuprofen will not heal. There is no walking this off. This is something that a man or woman will have to deal with for the rest of his or her life. And you, as their leaders, their supervisors, their peers, will make the difference in how they will heal; that means in the office, in the barracks, out in town, anywhere we should be taking care of each other and ourselves. Do not be silent or ignore.  The smallest act of support can make the biggest difference.  They will remember it and hold it with them.  Let justice take its course and help our brothers and sisters in arms regain their strength and self worth.

Healing my wounds has been a very long and hard road. I wanted to give up. I felt so worthless and alone. I lived through anxiety attacks, sleepless nights, torn relationships, night terrors, and feelings and thoughts no one who hasn’t been attacked will ever understand. I felt alone and in desperate need of hope. I needed support. I needed guidance. I needed help. I needed to know that I had value and was not an object. I needed to know I could trust in my peers again. I needed assurance I was not alone and my brothers and sisters in arms were there to support and protect me, as they would on the battlefield.  I needed them to speak up on my behalf, not betray or turn their backs. To speak up before it happened and after. To put my value as a human person before their career.  I needed a friend. I needed hope.

I speak out to help my fellow service members know that they are so amazing and so strong no matter what has happened to them. They have been through things most can never imagine. They have survived and are living. To be honest in all we do, to protect and defend each other, we all need military sexual assault to stop. To be true Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Air Men, we need to fight and work together, not against each other. Bad things happen out of our control, but there is hope if we choose to heal and work together.  If we choose to not give up, not let go, and to move forward one day at a time together, there is hope.”

Catherine first connected with Hope For The Warriors® and completed her first half marathon at the inaugural Jacksonville Half Marathon on May 15, 2010.  Since then, she has joined Hope For The Warriors® for several runs, completed many half marathons, two full marathons and even an ultra.  In addition to participating in several Hope For The Warriors® events, Catherine is a peer mentor for the Women Veterans Initiative and Hope For The Warriors® volunteer.  Thank you, Catherine, for your courage and generosity in sharing your story to help sexual assault survivors and your community.

If you have experienced military sexual assault and are in need of assistance, please contact the DoD Safe Helpline for confidential crisis intervention, support and information at 877.995.5247 or by visiting the website.  You can also visit for a variety of resources including guidance, rights, reporting options, and resources by branch.

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