The month of April has lured me into the agonizing terrain of US military personnel suffering the internal wounds of war and sexual assault by their own comrades. It began several weeks ago when my husband and I attended a Theater of War Productions performance of Ajax and Philoctetes
at Emory University. It was a nerve-wracking evening of loud,crackling thunder and violent storms, as a tornado-producing front moved through the Atlanta area. But that seemed fitting somehow; symbolic- the thunder, a sound of bombs and the torrential rain, a relentless flood of inconsolable tears - as we gathered with performers and a small audience in Emory's Cannon Chapel. Together, we all participated in an emotional and intellectually stimulating theatrical experience of a Greek play designed to be a catalyst for discussions about the challenges faced by military service members, Veterans, and their families. I don't even like Greek plays. I only went along because my husband asked me to. But by the end of the evening I wished that everyone I knew had attended.
It was a richly meaningful experience which, I think, made all of us more attuned to the experience of war for those in battle, more aware of what it's like for them and their families when they return, and more cognizant of our own "response abilities" in welcoming them back.
Over the last two weeks I've been doing research for an article I was writing about military sexual trauma(MST) for www.giftfromwithin.org , a website about PTSD. Had I not attended the Theater of War play, I doubt that I would have agreed to this project when Joyce Boaz, the director of Gift From Within, asked me to write it. Instead, I'd have turned away - it's so much easier to turn away when we're not attuned to what's going on around us.
But what's going on is this: Women and men in our armed services are suffering because they've been sexually assaulted by their own comrades. In fact, a woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire (www.thedailybeast.com,4/11/11.). The Department of Defense (DoD) Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military: Fiscal year 2010, stated that 90% of victims are women, 10% are men, the vast majority are under 25, and are from the enlisted ranks. I can't stand it. I can't stand that in addition to all of the other horrors involved with going to war, these soldiers have had to endure such profound torture and betrayal.
Perhaps because I married a West Point graduate and when we were in our early 20's we were surrounded by a military community we could rely on - a community of comrades who were committed to serving with integrity - I know how different it could have been for these young people. Perhaps because I'm an incest survivor and the dynamics of MST are so incestuous, I keep thinking about the victims of MST who are also survivors of childhood sexual abuse. If they'd been sexually violated as children or adolescents they've hardly had time to leave home, to become adults, to begin to recover. Though I've not yet been able to find any articles written about them, I'm sure they're out there somewhere in the pool of statistics, and my heart goes out to them, as does my hope that they'll be able to reach out for whatever help they need; that they'll be able to trust again.
There are people in line who are prepared to help. Just last week the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN) announced that the DoD contracted with them to provide confidential, 24-hr., anywhere-in-the-world help. What do I mean by help? I mean one-on-one crisis intervention, emotional support, advice, and information by phone (877-995-5247) and also online, at www.SafeHelpline.org. I've been familiar with RAINN for several years. It's an excellent organization, and during the past year RAINN has hired new staff members and provided thousands of hours of training, just so that they can be prepared to serve MST victims. It's important to receive any medical and/or psychological treatment needed, and RAINN will be able to companion Vets in the right direction. Those who have a trusted spouse, friend, or family member, should turn to them for support as well. And the Veteran's Health Administration (VA) has developed a much more comprehensive response than what they had in years past. Now the VA's official policy is to provide veterans experiencing MST with free care for all related physical and mental health conditions.
Many Vets find comrades in healing through the internet. The following Facebook pages and websites are popular components of the recovery process:
Stop Sexual Abuse and Harassment Against Military Women
Service Women's Action Network
MRCC: supporting Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma
In closing, I'm thinking about the MST victims who were also sexually abused as children. Their needs for healing are great and of a very sensitive, personal nature. The resources that have been put in place to help them have been created by people who care, and many of them have "been there." If you are one of the soldiers I'm thinking about, know that people are in line to help you. Reach out for that help, today.
Peace be with you, and continued healing.
For more information about Theater of War Productions: