Military's tough stance on sex abuse hailed
By MARTIN C EVANS | Newsday | Published: September 9, 2012
For Gladys McCoy, a night of drinking in 1989 with fellow Marine Corps recruits went devastatingly awry at a NATO facility in Norway.
McCoy, then a 20-year-old radio operator from Far Rockaway, was just months out of boot camp and still struggling to fit in with her male colleagues. When some of them retreated to a "drinking tent" for a night of beer and camaraderie, McCoy said, she went willingly and drank heartily.
At the end of the night, she said, two fellow Marines offered to escort her back to her sleeping quarters. Instead, they took her to a secluded supply tent. A night of sexual abuse followed, she later told Marine investigators.
The incident was investigated by McCoy's chain of command as a sexual assault, according to documents compiled by the then U.S. Naval Investigative Service and shared with Newsday by McCoy.
According to the documents, Marine officials closed the investigation, saying they could not determine whether the sexual activity was "consensual or against her will."
"My friends, my brothers in arms, I couldn't trust them anymore," said McCoy, 43, who now lives in Ronkonkoma.
Scandal spurs new rules
The incident in Norway occurred two years before the 1991 Tailhook scandal -- in which Navy and Marine aviators were accused of sexually assaulting women at a Las Vegas convention.
Tailhook focused attention on the abuse of women in the military, and effectively ended the careers of dozens of Navy and Marine Corps officers, including several admirals. Since then, the Pentagon has regularly announced new policies designed to reduce sexual assaults.
And earlier this year, the military adopted a new rule that makes it far more likely that incidents like the one McCoy encountered would result in criminal convictions by a military court.
An amendment to Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Criminal Justice, the military's law book, clarified the definition of sexual assault to include sex with anyone "incapable of consenting" due to "impairment by any drug, intoxicant or other similar substance."
McCoy said she is encouraged by the Pentagon's recent actions.
"Just knowing that the military is recognizing its existence as a problem comforts me," she said. "And the fact that there are more treatment centers, and that more victims are speaking out, tells me we don't have to be afraid."
Since Tailhook, the number of reported sexual assaults in the U.S. military has grown, according to Pentagon officials.
There were 3,192 cases of sexual assault reported in the military in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the Pentagon, up from 2,688 four years earlier.
But Pentagon officials say that fewer than one in six assault victims contact authorities, and estimate the actual number of assaults last fiscal year in the military at 19,000.
'Lack of enforcement'
"It's not that the letter of the law is deficient, it's really a lack of enforcement," said Rachel Natelson, legal director for Service Women's Action Network, a New York City-based organization that advocates for women in the military. "And often for victims, these issues don't end with their service in the military. They can be very destabilizing and follow people into civilian life."
A Marine Corps spokesperson said McCoy's allegations involved a personnel matter handled administratively more than two decades ago. The spokesperson said it was unlikely that records of the incident could be found in time for publication of this article.
McCoy said although she was frustrated that the men she said assaulted her were never court-martialed, she decided to try to put the incident behind her. She left the Marines when her first enlistment ended in 1991.
She had married a fellow Marine in 1990 and had a daughter in 1991. When that marriage broke up in 1998, she married again and sought the anonymity of life in West Virginia.
"I buried my feelings," she said.
But McCoy, who has worked as a DJ, said she developed extreme anxieties related to the assault about four years ago, about the time her daughter turned 18. She said she worried that her daughter would be assaulted.
She said she was fearful of being alone with men. She hid weapons around her house, which she rarely left because of fears of being attacked.
"It got to the point where I couldn't function without alcohol in my system," McCoy said.
She eventually suffered a nervous breakdown, and spent 10 days in a West Virginia psychiatric ward. It was there that therapists persuaded her to talk about what happened in Norway.
McCoy, who lives with her second husband and young son, said she applied three times for disability benefits related to the 1989 assault before she was approved last year by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
McCoy began receiving thrice-weekly psychotherapy sessions at the Women's Wellness Center, on the VA's Northport medical campus. But fears about being in public overwhelmed her, she said, and she no longer attends regular therapy sessions.
Along with the change to the Uniform Code of Criminal Justice, Pentagon officials point to other recent steps they say are designed to boost prosecutions, and to help victims cope.
"I can tell you, Secretary of Defense [Leon] Panetta has made an absolute commitment that one case of sexual assault in the military is too many," Col. Alan R. Metzle, deputy director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said in an interview.
Last December, the Pentagon announced a new policy intended to shield individuals who file complaints of sexual misconduct from intimidation by commanding officers or predatory colleagues. Under that change, they can quickly transfer from their unit or installation.
In January, Panetta announced new rules requiring that the decision whether to bring charges against a military sex crime suspect be handled by higher-ranking officers only -- colonels or ships' captains. In the past, that decision was made by a suspect's immediate commander.