On December 8th, 2020 an independent panel review of Fort Hood found that the command climate at Fort Hood is “permissive” of sexual assault and harassment while the efforts to address the problem by the Army is “structurally weak and under-resourced, as well as ineffective.” This report comes after a year that saw at least 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die either by suicide, to homicide or accidents, including the gruesome murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
As one of the largest grassroots Veteran-led membership organization, Common Defense members have served in all of the different branches and are all very familiar with the flawed military Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program and programs alike across military branches. We are also very familiar with the pervasive sexual harassment and assault problem in the military. Just last month the Veterans Administration reported that one in three women members of the U.S. military have Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Although the highest number of service members experiencing MST are women Veterans, anyone, regardless of gender, can be the victim of sexual harassment or assault and experience MST.
“After reading the recent Ft Hood report, listening to the congressional hearings on Ft Hood and, grieving over the murder of PFC Guillen; I was immediately transported back to being a new tech school student after my assault and walking in on the assault of my dorm roommate at my first duty station. We didn’t receive justice then and the culture hasn’t changed for ‘female’ warriors in any branch of service. It is disheartening to know women’s voices and experiences of sexual assault are still being swept under the rug by leadership up and down the chain.” US Air Force Veteran, Sgt Malissa Torres.
According to a recently-published U.S. Dept. of Defense report, retaliation against those reporting MST is the norm; 66% reported retaliation after filing a sexual assault complaint, 73% of retaliators were above the MST victim in rank. By looking at these statistics and from our own lived experiences while serving in the military, it comes as no surprise to us Veterans that the independent review panel’s investigation reported that “the result was a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP Program and directly related to leadership failures.”
“What happened at Fort Hood is not unique or new. During my time in the Navy, my leadership failed me when I reported the sexual harassment I had experienced, and that was recent from 2011-2015. It is incredibly disappointing that nothing has changed since then.” US Navy Veteran, Jennifer Nikodem.
Institutionally, the military continues to fail to protect our service members from a harmful culture of unhealthy power dynamics and toxic masculinity.
“In my experience, my command didn’t treat my claims seriously, fairly, or with any compassion. Leaders should NOT put their friendship among high-ranking members over the welfare of their soldiers. This culture of cronyism among leadership is damaging to our military and victims are suffering from this stifling ‘norm.’ Reporting shouldn’t be a burden, it should be encouraged. In my case it became too heavy of a burden to carry, I had to work with the assailant for years which made my MST worse. This type of response discourages other members from coming forward. Men are taught that ‘perception is reality’ when they deal with women, this culture ends up putting a label on the victims that do report as ‘troublemakers,’ which leaves them being ridiculed and ostracized.” Marine Corps Veteran, Cpl Hether Zeckser.
The Fort Hood report reveals what we as Veterans know: those who serve in our Armed Forces face a deeply toxic culture of abuse that is entrenched at every level of the military. To protect our troops from sexual harassment and assault, military leadership must implement a true policy of zero tolerance. Such a policy also requires support and commitment from the highest levels of civilian leadership, beginning with the Secretary of Defense. The Veterans at Common Defense demand that Congress steps in and passes transformative legislation to address this issue, which has gone unchecked for far too long.
Team Common Defense