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Copyright 2009 Carolyn Gage

Medals for Military Sexual Trauma: A Proposal


On March 16, 2009, a bill titled the Military Domestic Violence
andSexual Assault Response Act (H.R.840) was referred to a House
subcommittee. This is a bill to reduce sexual assault and domestic
violence involving members of the Armed Forces and their family
members and partners through enhanced programs of prevention
and deterrence, enhanced programs of victims services, and
strengthened provisions for prosecution of assailants.1 I want to
propose that part of these services and programs include the
awarding of medals to victims of Military Sexual Assault.
Medals provide tangible testaments to valor, courage, loyalty. They
give occasion for public recognition, and in the cases where they are
awarded posthumously, they can provide for some closure. Finally,
they offer incentive. They aggressively proclaim that surviving assault
is valorous, something to be proud of; thereby counteracting any
herd-animal instinct to separate from the wounded.
The first medal for rewarding heroism by American soldiers was
established bywho else?George Washington. It was called the
Badge of Military Merit, and it was intended to recognize any
singularly meritorious action. The year was 1782. Later, during the
Civil War, a Medal of Valor was created and signed into law by
Abraham Lincoln. This morphed into the Medal of Honor, which is,
today, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States
government.
The criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor is distinguishing oneself
conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above

and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an


enemy of the United States. After the Medal of Honor, there is the
Military Cross for an act of extraordinary heroism undertaken in the
midst of great danger and at great risk to oneself. Then there is the
Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Cross and so on. The Purple
Heart is awarded for being wounded or killed while in the service. The
US Military awards an array of medals for all kinds of things: for
serving in a particular region (Antarctica Service Medal), in a
particular war (World War II Victory Medal), or in a unit that has
performed valorously (Army Valorous Unit Award). And, yes, there is
even a gendered medal, the Womens Army Corps Medal, awarded
to women who served in the Corps during World War II.
Its time for the military to create a new category of medals,
specifically to deal with Military Sexual Trauma. Military Sexual
Trauma has become so common, it has been designated a syndrome
with its own acronym: MST. What is MST? According to the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs, it is sexual harassment that is
threatening or physical assault of a sexual nature. The military's
definition of sexual assault includes rape; nonconsensual sodomy;
unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to
commit these acts. These traumas occur when a person is in the
military, and the location, the genders of the people involved, and
their relationship do not matter. 2
Just how common is it? According to the website of the Military Rape
Crisis Center, one in three women in the military will be sexually
assaulted. Two out of three women in the military will be sexually
harassed. Congresswoman Jane Harmon from California has done
the math: A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely
to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.3

And what about the perpetrators? Two interesting statistics: First,


according to Helen Benedict, the author of three books about sexual
assault, the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more
than one in ten new Army recruits. And, as Benedict notes, When
you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being
redeployed the picture for women looks bleak indeed.4 Second,
according to the Department of Defense's own statistics 74-85% of
soldiers convicted of rape or sexual assault leave the military with
honorable discharges and their rape convictions do not appear on
their record!5
And how are the women dealing with this? The real question is how
are they being dealt with? Apparently, over 90% of all females that
report a sexual assault are discharged from the military before their
contract ends. From the 90%, around 85% are discharged against
their wishes. Almost all of the 85% lose their careers based on
misdiagnoses that render them ineligible for military service. These
would be things like adjustment disorder, personality disorder and
pre-service existing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are
conditions that would, of course, be ineligible for VA treatment after
discharge.6
And speaking of PTSD, out of every other type of trauma that can
occur in the military, sexual trauma is the number one cause of
PTSD. Of the women who claim to have experienced MST, 40 to
60% developed post traumatic stress disorder.7
Its important to note that victims of MST are more prone to
developing PTSD than victims of sexual trauma outside the military.
Why is this? Because the longer it takes the victim to get into safe

and supportive circumstances, the more severe the PTSD. In fact,


appropriate response within the first hours, or even minutes can
make a huge difference.8
On a military base, this getting to a safe, supportive environment can
be a problem for a number of reasons. If the MST has occurred in the
work space, this traditional safe haven is now a trigger for anxiety
and bad memories. The soldier who has been assaulted on the job
does not have the option of quitting, and may be required to continue
working with her assailant/ harasser, demonstrating respect and
obedience for him. She remains at risk of further victimization, and,
obviously, this is tremendously stressful.9
Friends or colleagues in the military, especially serving in a combat
zone, may consider it inappropriate for her to file a negative report
that could be divisive, disruptive, or demoralizing to her unit. They
may not believe her, or they may find it expedient to say they dont
believe her. Victims of MST who report, but who are not believed or
who are blamed, suffer more severe symptoms of PTSD. Failing to
report, however, will result in lack of critical medical and emotional
assistance. 10
The lesbian who is a victim of MST has another layer of stress,
regarding
being
outed
and
subsequently
discharged.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an independent watchdog
organization over the Department of Defenses implementation of the
policy Dont Ask, Dont Tell, Dont Pursue, reports how lesbianbaiting is used to intimidate all women in the military:
[w]omen, straight and gay, are accused as lesbians when
they rebuff advances by men or report sexual abuse. Women

who are top performers in nontraditional fields also face


perpetual speculation and rumors that they are lesbian.11
Women find that reporting an assault can result in the initiation of an
investigation against them instead of the perpetrator.
The subject of sexual assault in the military is too exhaustive for the
scope of this proposal, but NOW has done an excellent job of
collecting articles about the epidemic and what appears to be a
cover-up on the part of the Pentagon, as well as research into why
soldiers rape.12
The Proposal
Medal of Worth: For anyone in the service who has been a
victim of Military Sexual Trauma.
Medal of Courage: For anyone in the service who has reported
her Military Sexual Trauma.
Medal of Loyalty: For anyone in the service who has supported
a victim of MST in reporting it to the authorities.
Medal of Heroism: For anyone in the service who has
supported a victim of MST in reporting a perpetrator who is in
the recipients unit.
Medal of Exceptional Valor: For any gay or lesbian in the
service who reports Military Sexual Trauma.
There is already a Valorous Unit Award, and I would recommend that
it be awarded to any unit that, as a unit, supports a victim of MST in
reporting, especially if the perpetrator is also in the same unit.

The sexual assault victims who are overseas should all receive
Purple Hearts. They have unquestionably been wounded. Under the
criteria for the medal, a wound is defined as an injury to any part of
the body from an outside force or agent A physical lesion is not
required.
And certainly, these assaults are occurring as a result of military
operations while serving outside the territory of the United States.13
The only thorny issue is that the enemy attack is from soldiers who
are supposed to be on the same side, but if Pat Tillman could be
awarded the Purple Heart for being a victim of friendly fire, why not
these women who are being sexually harassed and assaulted by their
fellow soldiers in such epidemic numbers?
Gary Trudeau, Doonesbury cartoonist, had the same idea in his
comic strip, when Melissa, an Iraq veteran and MST victim, is given a
candy purple heart by B.D., a man who was erroneously awarded a
Purple Heart for cutting himself on a beer can top. 14
And, finally, it is highly appropriate to award the MST medals
posthumously, and this is tragically true when the victim has chosen
to take her own life.

Veterans of Domestic Wars Survivor Medallions


Veterans of Domestic Wars Survivor Medallions were designed and
created by Breaking the Silence, a Fresno based not-for-profit
organization dedicated to raising awareness about child abuse by
community education and survivor empowerment. Breaking the
Silence awards these medallions to survivors of any form of domestic
war (child abuse, interpersonal violence, stalking, sexual assault,
homophobic bullying or assault, sexual harassment, and so on) who
choose to break their silence in any way.
The text on the medallion is "Veterans of Domestic Wars" on top and
"Survivor" on the bottom. The symbol on each side is the symbol for
power. The hands in the center signify unity and diversity.
Any survivor of any form of domestic war only needs to contact
Breaking the Silence at breakingthesilence@dragonpack.com to
claim his or her medallion. The medallions are generally awarded in a
ceremony, where others can bear witness to their survivorship. For
those long distance, if Breaking the Silence can't setup a ceremony at

their location and they can't come to one in Fresno, the medallions
are awarded via mail. All expenses for the medallions are paid by
Breaking the Silence.
Organization Contact Information:
Breaking the Silence
PO Box 26483
Fresno, CA 93729
7
(559)225-9331
http://bts.dragonpack.com/
BreakingTheSilence@DragonPack.Com
VDW Survivor Medallion & VDW Survivor Medallion Design 1997 Breaking the Silence All
Rights Reserved (Credit for the name Veterans of Domestic Wars: Betsy Salkind. Photo by Corky
Draconi.)

Footnotes:
1 Washington Watch.
http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/111_HR_840.html
2 Veterans Health Administration (2004). Veterans Health Initiative:
Military Sexual Trauma. Available online:
http://www1.va.gov/vhi/docs/MST_www.pdf.
3 ABC News: The Blotter from Brian Ross
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=5760295&page=1
4 Benedict, Helen. The Private War of Women Solders, Salon.com,
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military/in
dex.html
5 Ibid. Stop Military Rape.
6 Ibid. Stop Military Rape.
7 Resources/ Informative Articles: Why Military Sexual Trauma May
Cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Casa Palmera,
http://www.casapalmera.com/articles/symptoms-of-posttraumaticstressdisorder-and-military-sexual-trauma/
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.
11 Damiano, Christin M. Lesbian Baiting in the Military:
Institutionalized Sexual Harassment Under Dont Ask, Dont Tell,
Dont Pursue, in Journal of Gender, Social Policy, & the Law, Vol.8
7:501-502. http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/genderlaw/07/73damiano.pdf?rd=1
12 NOW Read This/ Category: Women in the Military.
http://www.now.org/news/readthis/index.html?cat=108
13 Americal Division Veterans Association: Purple Heart
http://www.americal.org/awards/ph.htm
14 Slate: Daily Dose
http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=
20090111