Jennifer Norris testifies on Capitol Hill before a sparsely attended House Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Editor's note: Mary F. Calvert won the 2013 Canon Female Photojournalist Awardfor this body of work and is showing it at the 2014 Visa Pour l'image in Perpignan, France. Calvert also just won the Alexia Foundation 2014 Women's Initiative Grantto help fund her related project, Missing in Action: Homeless Female Veterans.
Women in the US military are being raped and sexually assaulted by their colleagues in record numbers. An estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the military in 2012, the last year that statistic is available; only 1 in 7 victims reported their attacks, and just 1 in 10 of those cases went to trial.
According to mental-health experts, the effects of military sexual trauma (MST) include depression, substance abuse, paranoia, and feelings of isolation. Victims spend years drowning in shame and fear as the psychological damage silently eats away at their lives. Many frequently end up addicted to drugs and alcohol, homeless, or take their own lives.
In 2013, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act, which was designed to change the ways the military prosecutes sexual-violence crimes and restricts commanding officer's power to set aside or overturn convictions for sexual violence. But in March 2014, the bill fell 5 votes short of the 60 required to avoid a filibuster.
In May, the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2013 found that reports of sexual assault were up 50 percent. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has implemented a variety of measures to combat sexual assault, including the examination of gender-responsive and appropriate military culture, a review of alcohol policies and sales, the evaluation and improvement of sexual-assault prevention and response training for commanders, and encouraging more male victims to report sexual assaults.
But the violence of rape and the ensuing emotional trauma are still compounded by what victims see as the futility of reporting the attacks to their commands.
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