Many, if not all, military veterans have a story to tell. Stories non-veterans are thankful they themselves have never experienced. Stories of struggle that come with serving their country. Esperanza Correa, Student Success coach for Lorain County Community College, is one such veteran who has a story of painful struggle to share.
Correa was raped by her Naval supervisor on her first deployment right out of boot camp when she was only eighteen years old. “It becomes a culture like its normal,” she said. Correa had been confined to the same ship of her superior attacker for the duration of her deployment. Even though she had reported the rape and had a restraining order issued, being confined to the ship made the restraining order almost obsolete; making her deployment unbearable. “I had a restraining order but we were on a ship, and the military would turn their eye and say ‘just go the other way’,” she explained. “The Navy had the restraining order because they just had to have one.”
Correa was still new to the ship and Navy altogether. Thus, she was required to do the typical grunt work all those in service must do. Work that just added insult to injury from her rapist. “I had to serve him food, I had to do his dishes because I had to do cranking duty which means you do three months of doing ship-work,” said Correa. “I had crank duty because I was still new, and he would throw his plate at me.”
Even when not on the ship, Correa would still come across her rapist. “I remember seeing him driving around base with girls in his car and I have this pain I have to deal with every single day,” she said. Being away from home, Correa had no support group to ease her pain. “I didn’t have anyone to turn to, my parents weren’t there and I didn’t have any friends.” said Correa. “I remember deployment ended on Sep. 30 and we got back to San Diego.” By Oct. 3, she was in a mental institution and had suicide idealization. “I almost killed myself because of what the Navy made me deal with,” she said, “They didn’t want the shame upon the Navy and so they rather have pushed the shame onto me.”
Shame wasn’t the only difficult thing that Correa was forced to deal with from her awful experience; she, like many others like her, was living with military sexual trauma (MST).
The Department of Veterans Affairs has identified MST as an experience of sexual assault or rape, repeated or threatening sexual harassment that a military serviceman or woman has experienced during his or her military service. Sexual harassment is identified as a repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that is threatening in character. The Veteran is involved against his or her own will to participate in the sexual activity. MST is a result of a physical assault of sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving active duty or active/inactive duty for training. It is a psychological trauma that is identified by VA mental health professionals.
MST can affect Veterans like other forms of trauma. There are a variety of reactions in response to the trauma. “I started to believe and question ‘what did I do’ or was it me? Or should I have not gone? It takes a really long time,” Correa said, “Today I am still dealing with it and is something I have to live with for the rest of my life and he can just live his life like it was a blip in his life.” Responses are due to the type of trauma, severity of the trauma, and the duration of time in which the trauma continued. “The Navy pretty much put into my head that it was my fault and that I put myself in this situation,” said Correa, “And this is what happens from it.” In some Veterans, the traumatic experience will affect them for years. “I can still work but it becomes very difficult because I have to deal with men.” She said. Other factors such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and cultural variables will impact the Veteran as well. MST survivors can experience mental and physical health problems. “I ended up in the psychiatric unit and he was living his life,” said Correa, “He never got punished.”
A program has been created and directed by the Department of Defense. A press release dated for June 12, 2017, release number: NR-221-17, launched the program to assist sexual assault survivors of the United States military. The DoD had a need to meet the military’s sexual assault victim’s needs. It is a self-guided, self-paced online educational program called “Building Hope and Resiliency: Addressing the Effects of Sexual Assault”. Recognizing the impact that such trauma can create, the program was designed to enhance resilience as well as improve readiness and is intended to help individuals recover, heal, and build resiliency after a sexual assault. The program has information on coping mechanisms, relaxing exercises, links to resources, and referrals for more support.
The Department of Defense, DoD, released the 2016 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, (Release No-NR-155-17), on May 1, 2017. The annual report showed that there is a decrease in service members that are experiencing the crime and an increase in the amount of service members reporting sexual assaults. The report claimed that one in three service members chose to report the sexual assault. The report are the results of surveyed active duty members in the United States military. The 14,900 military members that experienced sexual assault in the 2016 report is a decrease from the 20,200 service members that have experienced sexual assault in the year of 2014.
The departments goal is to reduce the occurrences of sexual assault in the military as well as an increase in the reporting of sexual assault occurrences. Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense was also quoted in the press release following the annual report. “The increased reporting and decreased prevalence captured in this report reflect higher confidence among our troops in our programs and policies,” said Mattis, “I will not tolerate conduct prejudicial to our values.”
At least 14,000 male soldiers are raped every year. One in every three service-women are sexually assaulted which is twice the civilian rate. “Everything becomes normal, including sexual harassment,” said Correa, “knowing things like you’re not going to get anywhere unless you do sexual activities. It’s a different culture and people don’t understand that.”