Over the past several days, like many other people I have been distrubed by the news conference and the review of Mme. Deschamp's report on sexual harassment - sexual assault within the military. I have also read her report and have folllowed some of the discussions on social media. It is an emotional topic with people taking strident stances on one side of the issue or the other. Those people who are rightly proud of their service and who did not witness these things cannot believe it and voice their belief that the report is unrepresentative of our military. On the other side, are those people who did witness and experience these things directly and live with the consequences, years and decades later. I truly wish I could have the relative innocence of the first group, that these things do not happen. I know otherwise. Over the years, the vast majority of military women and some men I have seen for PTSD or chronic depression were related to unrelenting sexual harassment and sexual trauma during their service years. Among these people, the most enduring legacy is betrayal: either because their reports were not taken seriously or because their supervisors were the perpetrators. Their relationships and marriages are often in tatters, they are afraid to go out in public, and they often blame themselves for not doing more or wondering if they brought it on themselves. Even so, many of them do not want the label of victim because it simply re-enforces shame and powerlessness; survivor status at least gives them some hope. For their sakes, I hope that the attention to this subject and the contents of the report can provide some validation or even vindication for the things they may have expereinced in uniform. For those who want to defend the system and there are many of us, defend your own service but leave open the possiblity that these things can happen, often behind closed doors and out of our immediate awareness.
John J. Whelan
John J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the author of Going Crazy in the Green Machine, available now on FriesenPress.