I served in the US Army from 1977-80. I had planned on doing my 20 years and retiring. Instead, by the 17th month of my enlistment, I had dealt with three instances of sexual abuse. Looking back, I realize I was lucky to have finished my 3-year enlistment agreement to get an Honorable discharge. Before my enlistment, I had attended a mostly male college, and had worked in the mostly male supertanker industry. I had been treated well, and had never heard the term “sexual abuse.” I was young and naïve. I never imagined how differently life might treat me, simply because I am a woman.
I had been the top graduate from both phases of my Army 8 ½ month electronics repair training course. I should have had a stellar career. After the third sexual abuse incident, I only believed I was in the most ridiculous place possible. The damage done to me was not acknowledged and I was not counseled. I wasn’t aware of the idea of a “hostile workplace.” In order to protect the man involved with the third incident, I was pulled out of my job and stored away in another part of my unit. My Army career was over. Even though that was 35 years ago, the memories have haunted me ever since.
Today, one in three females in the military are sexually assaulted. The military still goes out of its way to protect the man (or men, in the case of gang rape) involved.
Most people don’t know the name Lavena Johnson. She was an Army private, found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq. The military ruled her death a suicide – by a M-16 that was found lying neatly at her side. Here is the condition of her body when it was found:
“The photographs revealed that Lavena, barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backward. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes contained debris, indicating she had been dragged. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned, apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. Photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.”
Her family was told she committed suicide.
There is a plague in our military, and something needs to be done about it.
I wrote the following during the poetry reading at the 2014 Veterans for Peace Convention.
“The Wrong Enemy”
The young male soldiers stand
With an M-16 in one hand, and their privates in the other.
“This is my weapon, this is my gun
One is for killing, one is for fun.”
We were young female soldiers.
Trusted that we could
Serve our country
The way men have
For all of history.
We didn’t know our duties would include
Dealing with some horny old soldier
Who didn’t get enough pleasure
Out of killing other men
So he had to kill a woman’s soul.
Killed it with what he believed
Represented himself as a man.
His weapon wasn’t enough.
So he had to use his gun.
And to us women
It was not fun.
Our nightmares are different from
Men who were in a war zone.
But they are still nightmares.
To us women,
Sexual assault creates a war zone
Wherever it happens.
This isn’t the enemy
We enlisted to fight.
Diane Rejman is a Lifetime Member of Veterans for Peace. She served in the US Army from 1977-80. She holds a MBA in International Management, and her biography has been listed in Who’s Who in the World. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org