By DEBBIE HALL
Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and granddaughters are members of military and serving our country. Yet, the hidden trauma and longest best kept secret is the rampant sexual assault of female military personnel, lack of convictions and blaming the victims to the point women leave the military with trauma not covered by the Veterans Administration.
In the early stages of the documentary on women in combat by Phil Valentine (producer, writer, director) and Mike Bedik (producer, cinematographer, editor, composer, co-writer), the producers asked female interviewees if they had any personal or secondary knowledge of military sexual trauma. At every event attended, nearly every female service member interviewed had experienced harassment—and the vast majority of them had experienced an assault or an attempted assault. Many women were speaking about what happened to them for the very first time.
After producing the award-winning documentary in 2007, “Who Will Stand” about the effects combat related post traumatic stress disorder on returning veterans, Valentine and Bedik produced “Women of War” about military sexual trauma.
“One comment we received during screenings and film festivals of ‘Who Will Stand’ was ‘why you didn’t interview any female service members?’ I only met two and neither one of them wanted to talk,” explained Valentine. “So our executive producer decided to do a documentary on how PTSD manifests itself differently in women than in men. At one of our first interviews a female service member broke down and told us a story about being raped by her drill sergeant. She asked me if I had ever heard the term military sexual trauma or MST, and I answered no. She explained that one of every three service women is sexually harassed or assaulted. I was enraged and immediately contacted our executive producer to change the theme of our film. Our researched proved her statistics to be true and that the problem, although many times promised to be corrected, still exists.”
As the film details, in September 1991 at the 35th annual symposium held at the (then) Las Vegas Hilton, Navy and Marine Corp aviators held a two day debrief on Operation Desert Storm with about 4,000 attendees. What appeared to be a strategic council and a gathering of military became the first time for public awareness of sexual trauma present in the military. Known as Tailhook, the careers for 14 admirals and 300 navy aviators were damaged and the military vowed that the problem of sexual harassment and assault within the military will be stopped. As the film details, military sexual trauma remains and permeates those serving in the armed forces.
The producers featured Dr. Mic Hunter, author of “Honor Betrayed,” and stated his book is one of the most definitive books written about sexual abuse in the military. Dr. Hunter believes the military has set up a situation for predators. The book and documentary detail first-person accounts from American servicewomen and men who were sexually abused by their comrades, including one woman whose case was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Since the policies the military adheres to is created through congress, change in the military must begin there as well,” said Valentine. “We need the American people to pressure their congresspeople and we need to get more women in the mid-level political positions where policies are created.”
To view the documentary, visit womenofwardocumentary.com. The book, “Honor Betrayed,” is available on Amazon. A resource for military sexual assault survivors is the Military Rape Crisis Center in Phoenix. It’s free, immediate and anonymous help at stopmilitaryrape.org or 802.578.4769