Speier works to end military sexual assaults

February 20, 2012 12:52:47 PM PST
It's known as the military's dirty little secret -- sexual assault and rape affect one in three service members, double the rate of the civilian population. One Bay Area congresswoman committed to changing things.

Diana Coontz was 17 when she was raped in the military. Lamanda Cummings was 18, as was Katie Weber. Megan Pinasco was 18 when she says she was raped the first of three times.

They were patriotic teenagers when they enlisted because they wanted to serve their country. Instead, they were each brutally assaulted by one of their own.

"Sexual assault has no place in this department," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said.

But Panetta says there could be as many as 19,000 sexual assaults in the military each year. But, only about 3,000 are actually reported out of fear of retaliation.

"I was scared because my offender was in my chain of command, so I felt by reporting it, it would just aggravate it," Pinasco said.

The women mustered their courage to tell their stories in a meeting with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

"He turned into some animal and attacked me, raped me, ripped my clothes and when I tried to get away, several times, he was pulling me back by my hair," Weber said.

When they tried to report the military rapes, they were victimized again.

"Word moves through the unit; they become pariahs, they are not trusted, the presumption is they are lying," Speier said.

They had planned for a long term career but, were discharged from service early. Now, they suffer every day with military sexual trauma.

"I was so emotionally disturbed and suicidal and they kept saying they would use my sex life against me, after the rape," Cummings said.

Their rapists are walking around, free men.

"My bill would develop a sexual predator data base," Speier said.

Speier has introduced a bill, called the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP). It would directly affect the way victims report assaults.

"What my bill would do is take it out of the chain of command, so that a victim reports it to a separate office, that is staffed with experts in prosecution, investigation, case management," Speier said.

No one protected these veterans. But they now want to protect other defenders.

"It's our time to speak up, because if we are able to stand up and find our voices, our rapists no longer have the power," Coontz said. "We have our power back. We can stand and unite together."


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