Editor’s Note

State of Refuge

By Randy Gragg July 22, 2011 Published in the August 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

WITH NEARLY 40 years retrospect, Carrie Jones can sound almost forgiving about the malicious, repeated abuse and sexual assaults she experienced during her two years in the US Army. “The military was not set up for women,” says the 61-year-old pioneer of the armed forces’ lurching gender integration. “It’s like everything the government does. They enact it. Then they go ‘Oops.’ So I was in that oops stage.”

Jones (who consented to be interviewed under a pseudonym) is one of three Oregon women profiled in senior editor Kasey Cordell’s stirring piece on military sexual trauma,“The Hidden War”. Each of her subjects entered the military with high hopes and ideals and some sturdy talents for serving their country. Each left wrecked by an enemy they never imagined: their fellow soldiers. And each suffered a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that researchers are now concluding can actually be worse than that triggered by combat situations.

The assaults and abuse these women endured may have happened years or decades ago, but as Cordell methodically outlines, the problem endures. Though the number of active-duty military women who report being sexually assaulted shrank by 2 percent from 2005 to 2009, the actual numbers of victims continues to grow. The Department of Defense (DOD) has initiated numerous programs to educate its servicepeople in rules of conduct and to take more decisive action when those rules are broken. The Veterans Administration is expanding its counseling services and protocols to deal with the rush. But even as we went to press in late June, the Government Accountability Office issued a stinging report on the DOD’s efforts to change. Not only are the redefinitions of sexual abuse and assault that Congress mandated in the Uniform Code of Military Conduct proving constitutionally slippery (the poorly defined issue of “consent,” for instance, has led to at least two acquittals), but the DOD’s Inspector General has failed “to develop a policy or a process to monitor and evaluate sexual assault investigations and related training.”

In short, our military is still very much in its “oops stage”—one that is sure to become more complicated as gays and lesbians begin their forthright integration into the military. Cordell’s story explores how every instance of abuse can lead to a lifetime of painful repercussions.

With our high percentages of emigrating divorcees, Oregon has long been something of a refuge to women starting new lives. So, too, with these former servicepeople who came to Oregon years after their tragic encounters. And true to our spirit, as Cordell reports, the Oregon Legislature made important first moves this last session to make our state even more welcoming: by signaling to the rest of the country that the epidemic of military sexual trauma must be stopped and, for those who have suffered, that we’re here to help.

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