Four military victims of alleged sexual assault by a fellow comrade or officer in the military met with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Bruce Baley, D-Iowa, on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, more commonly known as the STOP Act, a piece of legislation introduced by Speier that would remove authority from the chain of command to investigate military sexual-assault allegations and give the power of investigation to an outside Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office.
“Because you were the victim of sexual assault, you have been marginalized in most cases and have been summarily discharged from a career that you had dreams about for decades before having the opportunity to serve,” Speier told the women during the meeting in her office on Capitol Hill. “We’re not going to let this issue die. Historically, Congress has taken up this issue, had a couple of hearings and then dropped it. We are not going to drop it.”
The four women, three of whom have since been discharged from the military, recounted the hardship they’ve faced and stressed the importance of passing the STOP Act. Marine Lt. Elle Helmer, who served as a public affairs officer and was allegedly raped by a superior, was later diagnosed with PTSD and discharged from the Marines.
“I have a family history dating back to the Revolutionary War, and I can’t be buried next to my mother, my aunts, my uncles, anyone who served because I reported a rape and then just tried to go up the chain of command as far as I could, and it never worked. Never worked out, it ended my career,” Helmer said in the meeting.
Jenny McClendon, who was allegedly raped and subsequently discharged from the Navy and now is a humanities, ethics and logic professor, said the attitude the military takes toward sexual assaults causes her to worry about the safety of future soldiers.
“I can’t ask my children to follow in these footsteps and that causes me a lot of pain,” McClendon said.
The four women, who appeared on the hill on behalf of Protect Our Defenders, an organization that works to aid survivors of sexual assault in the military, also delivered more than 100 thank you letters signed by 200 military survivors of sexual assault to the offices of Congress members who support the STOP Act.
Rep. Speier has recently called for a congressional investigation into allegations against Air Force instructors that they sexually assaulted trainees at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The number of boot camp officers under investigation for such activity is now reportedly up to 12.
“What has happened at Lackland Air Force Base is yet another stain on this country and the military for its inability to keep people under control and what’s going on in Lackland is just in my view the tip of the iceberg,” Speier said. “It’s going on in Lackland, it’s going on in other bases around this country and around the world.”
But despite what the women say has been the mishandling and inattention paid to their cases, all of them expressed hope that botched investigations and sexual assaults in the military will end through the enactment of the STOP Act.
“I believe in the military,” Air Force Airman 1st Class Jessica Hinves, who was diagnosed with PTSD and discharged from the military after an alleged rape, told ABC News. “I joined believing in the military and I still believe in it. I think the system needs change, and I think it will eventually change.
“It’s just a slow process and that’s understandable but now is the time. It’s the right climate. We can create change and there’s no reason not to. We do see that it can be better and it will be better. I believe in that.”