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Rape victim says retalliation for reporting sex assault prevalent in military

By Julie Watson

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:06 a.m. HST, May 31, 2013

SAN DIEGO » Stacey Thompson had just been stationed at Marine base in Japan when she said her sergeant laced her drinks with drugs, raped her in his barracks and then dumped her onto a street outside a nightclub at 4 a.m.

The 19-year-old lance corporal was not afraid to speak up.

She reported it to her superiors but little happened. She said she discovered her perpetrator was allowed to leave the Marine Corps and she found herself, instead, at the center of a separate investigation for drug use stemming from that night. Six months later, she was kicked out with an other-than-honorable discharge — one step below honorable discharge — which means she lost her benefits.

Now, 14 years later, she has decided to speak out again, emboldened by the mounting pressure on the Pentagon to resolve its growing sexual assault epidemic.

She went public with her story Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. She is among the scores of service members who have lived in silence for decades and are now stepping forward to fight for an overhaul of the military's justice system and demand their own cases be re-examined.

"To see that what happened to me 14 years ago is still continuing to happen now, for me that was a big reason why I felt the need to come forward," she said. "I can finally say I have the strength."

Marine Corps and Navy officials declined to comment, saying they do not discuss specific cases. The Marine Corps has said it takes sexual assault allegations seriously and continues to improve in responding to and preventing rapes within the ranks. All branches have been implementing sexual assault prevention programs in the past year.

Retaliation is part of a military-wide pattern that has prevented countless cases from being reported and investigated, exacerbating the epidemic, according to victims' advocates. A Pentagon report released earlier this month found 62 percent of sexual assault victims in the military who reported being attacked say they faced some kind of retaliation afterward.

"It's an ongoing problem that is not getting better, it's getting worse, as the latest statistics out of the Pentagon show," said Brian Purchia, spokesman for Protect Our Defenders, which has been helping Thompson. "Unfortunately commanders are conflicted: When a sexual assault occurs on their watch, it reflects poorly on them and that's why it's shoved under the rug. The perpetrators frequently out rank the victims, which is also why there is this bias. They're going to trust people they've known — not an 18 or 19-year-old just new to the service."

Thompson said military culture will not change until the system changes. She will speak today at a news conference in Los Angeles with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to show her support for her bipartisan bill that would put the cases in the hands of military trained prosecutors.

Service members now must report any crimes to the chain of command, even when their superiors have been involved.

"Too many survivors of military sexual assault are afraid to report these crimes because they fear retaliation, and they don't believe they will get justice," Boxer said. "They deserve a system that encourages victims to come forward knowing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice."

Thompson said she was not afraid to report the crime but paid heavily for doing so.

The investigator called her a liar, and military authorities checked her hands for needle pricks after accusing her of using drugs. She said she never used drugs. She was reassigned to another unit, removed from her job and told to report to an office, where she had nothing to do for months.

Then she was kicked out. She continues to suffer from her other-than-honorable discharge, which stripped her of her benefits and she believes has led to her missing out on Defense Department jobs.

"I felt the Marine Corps re-victimized me again after getting raped," said the 32-year-old mother of three.

Thompson said she shut down after getting out, refusing to talk about her rape. She was afraid of men, especially Marines. To this day, she keeps her dog nearby when she showers and sleeps with lights on in her house, even when her combat Marine husband is home.

"That fear is still with me 14 years later," she said.

But the fight is there too. Thompson requested her records in December. She said they showed the drug use allegations against her came from her perpetrator's friends.

She is now appealing her case to the Department of Veterans Affairs and is seeking compensation related to military sexual trauma. After that, she plans to also appeal her discharge status to get it upgraded to honorable.

Several service members have filed lawsuits in the past two years, alleging retaliation after they reported being raped. Among them was another former Marine, Elle Helmer, who said in her lawsuit that after reporting her sexual assault in 2006, the military investigated her for public intoxication and unbecoming conduct. She left the military soon after.

The extent of the assaults came to light when the Pentagon released a report earlier this month estimating that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs. That figure is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.

Only 3,374 of these crimes were reported, resulting in just 238 convictions. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing next week on legislation to combat military sexual assault, including the bill sponsored by Boxer and other lawmakers.

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sayer wrote:
This is beyond disgusting. The reality is not only the perpetrators but also the commanders then enable their assaults should be prosecuted and punished criminally.
on May 31,2013 | 06:10AM
pcman wrote:
IRT sayer commanders should be prosecuted. Which commander and where do you start, at the Commander in Chief, the President? The commanders from the top to the bottom did not do the crimes. I sat on a courts-martial and convicted an airman for murder in the second degree. The decision was turned over to 'not guilty' by a 3-star General, way up the chain of command. He said the evidence was circumstantial and there were no witnesses. In rape or sexual abuse, most time there are no witnesses, and often the facts are muddied over by alcohol, drugs and/or both. Not easy to decide who is telling the truth. Not easy to decide what facts are 'true." Sit on a jury trial when you have the chance.
on May 31,2013 | 07:51AM
sayer wrote:
It's true it's not easy to ascertain these facts; however in every other field of life if people knowingly enable to commit a crime they are in some way culpable. That's why an external investigative team is needed to evaluate cases of sexual assaut so they evidence can be looked at objectively.
on May 31,2013 | 12:09PM
Anonymous wrote:
Thorough clean-house required !! All those who lied in their statements to be held accountable. All the CO's need to be released from service ! All the individuals to be "made whole" !!
on May 31,2013 | 06:13AM
pcman wrote:
IRT Anonymous on "clean house." If there are no COs, who would run the military units to defend the country? You don't make any sense. Everyone is dreaming if they think the military can control sexual abuse like it is only done in the military. The percentage of sexual abuse will be higher in the military than in civilian life because you only have the sexually-active age group (18-50) in the military. There are no preteens and elderly who probably have low sexual abusers. If you "clean house," who would be allowed in the military. Just non-sexually oriented people? Keep dreaming. That won't happen.
on May 31,2013 | 08:03AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
IRT pcman, poor example of an excuse. You perpetuate the military excuse that males between 18-50 are too sexually active to control. Funny ,males 18-50 are they highest group in prison. So up the standard upon entry to the military to get rid of these riff raff.
on May 31,2013 | 08:58AM
Anonymous wrote:
Sorry ! remove "made whole".
on May 31,2013 | 06:14AM
localguy wrote:
I would hope new leadership will direct all services to review these cases of obvious retaliation and correct their mistakes. Reinstate her with an honorable discharge along with any other who also were retaliated against. Sad to say this is a case where military leaders failed in their primary duty of taking care of our service men and women.
on May 31,2013 | 06:15AM
pcman wrote:
IRT localguy on "reinstate discharge to honorable." Any person who is released from the service on a 'less-than-honorable' discharge can apply for an honorable discharge one year after being discharged. It could be granted if the person stays out of trouble over the year after the discharge, and the person can show that it is important to his livelihood. As a commander, you have to decide who is telling the truth. You also have to decide what effect you would have on your unit's ability to do its mission if you made the wrong decision. Siding with the liar can be devastating to unit moral and discipline. If you side with a liar, your subordinates would not want to follow your lead. My belief is that commanders would not side with a liar. Such a commander may as well resign because the truth will eventually catch up and there would be hell to pay. Just my opinion. But, as we know from our politicians, many times liars and people who side with them, often succeed in life.
on May 31,2013 | 08:34AM
sloturle wrote:
SPEAK OUT!! its the best thing to do.
on May 31,2013 | 06:59AM
pcman wrote:
IRT pcman above: Sentence 6: Change "moral" to "morale"
on May 31,2013 | 09:03AM
Maili2 wrote:
Good for her, she will have a better audience with the new focus on terminating military sexual abuse. I'm happy she is getting some media attention now and sorry to hear what happened to her
on May 31,2013 | 07:03AM
cojef wrote:
Dirty little secrets that need to correct the "code of silence" practiced by the male gender that have information relating to assaults or rape.
on May 31,2013 | 08:38AM
pcman wrote:
If I had daughters (civilian or military), I would advise them to be aware of the situations when rapes occur and to stay away from those situations. Most women already know this, but some are willing to take their chances. If they are sexually offended (harassed, abused, discriminated against, etc, short of rape), tell the offender right them and there. If it happens again, report it. In the military, if it is the commander who is doing the offense, report it to the next sexual abuse official up the chain of command. One thing good about the military is that the chain of command goes all the way up to the President.
on May 31,2013 | 08:56AM
onwardupward wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on May 31,2013 | 08:37AM
sayer wrote:
I agree. It's a culture of abuse obviously, just like the Catholic Church was. It's not just an individual problem.
on May 31,2013 | 12:11PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
This is another example of a culture that has not adapted to the change of time. The military hierarchy has not changed since WW1, there focus has only been war. Write a blank check to the Pentagon and we think they will do right. The backlog at the VA admin is an example of this. This Sexual assault rampage now and in the past will cost the tax payers big money in lawsuits. Why? Because people all the way to the top and everyone in between knew about these assault. Lawyers will have jobs for the next twenty years concerning VA issues and Sex assaults.
on May 31,2013 | 08:50AM
MakaniKai wrote:
“She was afraid of men, especially Marines”.....yet is married to a Marine????????? Therefore she is around the Marine Corps on a daily basis. "That fear is still with me 14 years later," Then why not get as far away for the Corps as possible? S/F
on May 31,2013 | 09:23AM
MakaniKai wrote:
“She was afraid of men, especially Marines” but is married to a Marine? Therefore she is around the Marine Corps on a daily basis. "That fear is still with me 14 years later," If so; why not get as far away for the Corps as possible? S/F
on May 31,2013 | 09:25AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Here we have a law to protect females and some of them use it against men that they want to sabotage as a prank.
on May 31,2013 | 12:12PM
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