Predators Aren’t Patriots
By RU Guest Contributor Lydia Davey
I remember making the phone call to my parents. My hands were clammy. They’re clammy now as I remember it. I was sick to the pit of my stomach. How could I tell them what had happened to me? I said I had some bad news for them.
Then I told them what he’d done to me, and there was silence. I could hear my mom crying. I stared dully at the phone in my hand. I was 19 years old, a private first class in the Marines, and a rape victim.
I’d lived in silence for two agonizing months after the assault. When I finally reached out to a corpsman to process what had happened, I was promptly reported to the command. I received non-judicial punishment (NJP) for “adultery,” and underage drinking. My attacker, a sergeant, got a slap on the wrist for providing alcohol to minors. To my knowledge, he still serves as an active duty Marine.
A sense of betrayal embedded itself in my mind, and stayed with me as I moved from duty station to duty station to Afghan deployment, and back again. I grew angry, cold, and detached. I wish I’d known then what I know now—that only 2.5% of military rapists are ever convicted. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so alone if I’d known I was joining a silent army of survivors whose ranks grow by 26,000 men and women each year.
Injustice by Inaction
I know the military isn’t teaming up with predators. I understand that 90% of all assaults are carried out by repeat offenders. Yet, I have to question the health of any organization that holds such significant apathy about accountability.
Sexual crimes, at every level in the military, are opportunities for integrity and accountability. Those opportunities are wasted when a sergeant watches his buddy take a drunk female private into his room. They’re wasted when a command decides to transfer an attacker instead of disciplining him. Integrity fails at a systemic level when the man who raped you leers at you from across the courtroom as the judge announces the verdict: “Not guilty.”
True organizational change has to happen from the inside out. In the case of military sexual trauma (MST), the first barrier to that change is a general unwillingness to think about, talk about, or interact with the problem in a meaningful way. “Rape” is a disruptive word. It’s uncomfortable. Disturbing. Involved. But it’s time we started having tough conversations and making hard decisions. Our brothers and sisters in arms deserve it.
Dealing in Discomfort
Before I forgave him, I had dreams about finding his home and burning it to the ground with him in it. That seemed like justice to me.
Forgiving him is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. He didn’t deserve it. But after coming to faith, I’ve come to know the truth of G.K. Chesterson’s words: “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
Forgiveness is freedom. It’s accepting a less personal attachment to the punishment you think the other person deserves. It is release. I no longer want him to die, but I do think jail time would be more than appropriate.
For nearly a century, the DoD has soundly proven its inability to render justice to its own in this arena. The power to investigate, hear, and try sexual crimes should be removed from the victim’s and offender’s chain of command. The conflict of interests is too great.
Of course, final decisions about how to solve this problem are going to be made by people much more powerful, connected, and influential than I. But I’m contributing my voice to the discussion in my own way with a recently launched project: The Finding Hope Art Exhibition.
My goal? To crowdfund my way to $5,000 by February 15, 2014, so I can participate in the Millennial Trains Project’s transcontinental journey this March. The MTP offers civic-minded Millennials the opportunity to advance the causes we care about in seven cities across the nation.
In each city, I’ll host an exhibit of the photography, sculpture, poetry, and art of other survivors. I’ll also share my own experience as an MST survivor in the context of the larger problem.
Want to help me jumpstart this important conversation on a national level? You can donate, share, and find out more here.
Do you agree that the military is reticent to meaningfully address epidemic of MST? What other barriers do you see standing in the way of positive organizational change? I’d love to hear your thoughts.