Sexual assault happens too often, and no part of society is exempt. Neither our state nor our military is the exception.
As part of my commitment to veteran outreach, I recently met with Erin Askew, US Army veteran and founder of The Misty Foundation, which provides a bridge and resources for women who have served our country and experienced sexual trauma, whether they were Active Duty, National Guards, or Reservists. Erin is an injured veteran who knows there is limited support for female veterans who experienced sexual assault or domestic violence while on military duty. I was deeply troubled by the implications of Erin’s message but am in awe of her efforts to help these women.
Askew shares that, though the VA has several programs to address the needs of women, there is still a tremendous need for gender-specific programs, better screening, and increased awareness of trauma-informed care and the impact of domestic violence and military sexual trauma. While the statistics of reported assault is disturbing (
an estimated one in six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime), we know countless assaults go unreported, which is truly haunting. Unreported incidents typically mean the victim went untreated and was likely in need of care, even as they left the military and started lives in the civilian sector.
There’s a common mantra within the military community that those in uniform are a slice of our population that represents the greater American demographic. Unfortunately, this rings true in the darker areas of our society as well, including sexual assault and domestic violence. In Idaho, reports of sexual and domestic violence vary by year and community, but a Statistical Analysis Center report sponsored by the Idaho State Police shows alarming data for incidents between 2009 and 2015. The report reveals that someone the victim knew committed the sex crime in 96% of cases. Even more troubling for victims is that only 24% of reported sex offenses between 2009 and 2015 resulted in an arrest, compared to 49% of other violent crimes. This suggests that the gap between incident and justice is significant. I believe whether a victim is a veteran or civilian, the true number is much, much higher, which means the need is great.
We must help. These people are, for the most part, our mothers, daughters, sisters, and, in too many cases, our veterans who, at one time, committed to giving their all for our country. Don’t you think they’ve given enough? It’s time for us to answer the call and be responsive to the needs of the violated and broken.
One important way to address this is by having more women in seats of power and more women’s voices in the rooms where decisions are made that impact us. Our communities, on average, are very nearly evenly split by gender, yet our representatives are overwhelmingly male.
I advocate balance in all things. I advocate for victims of sexual and domestic assault, and we need a fair and equal forum to begin an even-minded approach. Seriously consider all candidates, but remember: our government, like our military, needs to represent society—and our government and military need to step up and face the ugly reality of crimes against women.
If you are or know a veteran or civilian victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, be a friend. Be a good citizen. Reach out and refer. Closing our eyes will not fix a problem we own. We must stand together or fall.