Sexual assault survivors tell their stories in SHARP training
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 2, 2017
VICENZA, Italy — Joanna Moore never touched alcohol in college, figuring it would prevent her being sexually victimized. But drinking with her battle buddies in the Army — that was safe, she thought. Second Lt. Moore was raped while passed out in a friend’s car.
Spc. Brittany Leitner was stone-cold sober when she was raped in her home by a guy she’d reluctantly let come over to watch a movie. “I fought, of course I fought,” she said. “He laughed at me. He enjoyed himself.”
The two young women sat at a table on stage and told the crowd of about 500 people, mostly soldiers, how they had been raped by men wearing the same uniform. It was a frank beginning to the first of two days here of required annual training about military sexual assault and harassment.
The SHARP summit at Caserma Ederle, which aims to educate troops on the dynamics of sexual assault, covered a lot of territory.
Joseph Maio, a psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and its chief of outpatient programs for trauma survivors, gave a whirlwind talk about perpetrators and survivors, about rape myths and the cult of hypermasculinity in the military, and about the incidence of sexual assault.
Sexual assault affects one in four military women and one in 25 men — about two-thirds of whom will suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result, he said. “It’s amazing how much of a penalty a survivor pays for a few moments of a perpetrator exercising dominance and control over them.”
Maio also talked about how difficult it was to identify military sexual offenders, often high-performing servicemembers who are “not overtly creeps,” he said. He noted a study of male Navy recruits which found that 13 percent of them had committed sexual assault, averaging seven victims each. And he suggested to senior leaders that although it might be natural to value and believe a high-functioning soldier over a lower-status soldier who reports being assaulted, that sort of bias was ultimately self-defeating.
“They’re strong members of your unit, except that they’re destroying your unit,” Maio said.
The two women, who spoke first, gave voice and substance to the statistics and theories.
Moore, 32, who left the active-duty Army, never reported her sexual assault. She wanted to forget it and wanted to “protect the guy who I thought was my friend.”
But she couldn’t forget, she said. For a while, she cried every night.
Four years later and a captain, she worried about a soldier new to the unit, 18 years old and said to be excessively social. “I felt myself victim-blaming even after being a victim myself,” Moore told the group. That soldier was in fact soon sexually assaulted — at lunch, after joining a colleague who said he wanted to drop by his house to feed his dog.
Still, many blamed the young soldier, Moore said. “’What was she doing at his house? I don’t go to Baltimore in the middle of the night and expect not to get robbed.’”
“The culture, the jokes, the victim-blaming ... it gives perpetrators permission,” Moore said.
Leitner, 26, did report her rape, and she saw her attacker convicted at court-martial and sent to jail. But she said the effects of the attack — fear of the dark, fear of crowds, other symptoms of post-traumatic stress — isolated her. “The soldiers started treating me differently,” she said.
Now stationed at Ft. Eustis, Va., and soon to be leaving the Army because of PTSD, she said, she’s been telling her story for two years now. Each time, one or two people in the audience, who themselves were sexually assaulted, come over to talk. “I wanted to feel like I’m not the only one,” Leitner said.” And of course I’m not.”