Brian Lewis has given me permission to post his oral testimony given yesterday before the US Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on Military Sexual Trauma.
Chairwoman Gillibrand and members of the Subcommittee,
Thank you for holding this hearing today on sexual assault in our military. I am humbled to be
sitting here today as the first male survivor to testify in front of Congress on this very important
topic and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for making this historic event possible. I
also want to take a moment to thank my partner Andy and all the spouses of survivors of military
sexual trauma survivors. They shoulder a very large load and deserve our recognition.
I enlisted in the Navy in 1997 and advanced to the rank of Petty Officer Third Class. During
my tour on the USS Frank Cable, I was raped by a superior non-commissioned officer. I was
ordered by my command not to report this crime. After my command learned of this crime, I
was misdiagnosed with a Personality Disorder by the current director of the Defense Center of
Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. I filed retaliation claims to no
effect. I was given a general discharge in August 2001. My petition to change my discharge from
a general discharge for a personality disorder to a medical retirement for PTSD was denied by
the Board for Correction of Naval Records. I carry my discharge as an official and permanent
symbol of shame on top of the physical attack, the retaliation, and its aftermath. I fear it will be
discussed when I apply for law school, when I apply to take the bar exam, even when I apply for
a job. I wonder what opportunities it may destroy for me. No one should be forced to undergo
such painful and inappropriate treatment. However, I choose not to dwell on what the past has
brought my way. I will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree and I will graduate
in December with a Master of Science degree. I plan to go to law school and I choose to work
toward stopping this crime in our military. I have had to pay for all of these degrees on my own.
I am here today because I am not alone. My story is all too common. Protect Our Defenders
regularly hears from active duty personnel seeking help as they are being denied opportunities
to report, generally retaliated against, diagnosed with errant medical diagnoses or being
charged with collateral misconduct after reporting the attack. The culture of victim blaming and
retaliation while failing to punish the perpetrator must end.
The DoD regularly acknowledges the crisis. They estimate 19,000 sexual assaults occur each
year and 86 percent of victims do not report mostly out of fear of retaliation. Of those 19,000
victims about 10,700 are men and 8,300 are women. To translate this into percentages about 56
percent of victims in our military are men. This is the part of the crisis that the Department of
Defense refuses to acknowledge.
Now what can we do to stop sexual assault in our military? First we must recognize that rape is
not just about sex, itís about violence, power, and sometimes about abuse of authority. General
Franklinís recent action to set aside the guilty verdict against Lt. Col. Wilkerson of aggravated
sexual assault is yet another example of an abuse of authority taken by a Commander that will
have a chilling effect on military judges, prosecutors and juries, and inhibit victims from coming
forward. A system that elevates a single individualís authority and discretion over the rule of
law often precludes justice and hinders it long into the future. Colonel Wilkersonís victim has
been in contact with Protect our Defenders and she wants you to know (QUOTE) ďI endured
eight months of public humiliation and investigations Ö Why bother to put the investigators,
prosecutors, judge, jury and me through this if one person can set justice aside with the swipe of
a pen?Ē I have here and would like to submit her full statement for the record.
Reforms to-date have clearly not successfully addressed this epidemic because they have
targeted the symptoms without addressing the root cause, which is that the military justice
system is fraught with inherent personal bias, conflict of interest, abuse of authority, and too
often a low regard for the victim. Whereas civilians have the constitutional protections of an
independent judicial system, service-members do not. Service-members must report an assault
their commanders. However, if commanders take action and prove that an assault occurred, they
also prove a failure of their own leadership.
Congress put commanders in charge of violent sexual crime - from victim care, through the legal
and investigative processes and adjudication. Commanders have too often failed to care for the
victim or prosecute the perpetrator. They have failed to end this long standing epidemic.
We also need to ensure that prevention efforts are inclusive of male service members. The
majority of prevention efforts are targeted toward females. As I demonstrated, men are a
majority of the victims in the military. We cannot marginalize male survivors and send a
message that men cannot be raped and therefore are not real survivors.
Survivors of MST need a fair review of their discharges. The military has shoved many
survivors out the back door with inaccurate, misleading and very harmful medical diagnoses
like Personality Disorders that effect their benefits and future employment opportunities. We
need to establish a system separate and apart from the Boards for Correction of Military Records
to examine these discharges and grant survivors the medical retirements they are due from the
Department of Defense. Currently the BCMR only changes about 10 percent of discharges.
These discharges make it much harder for veterans to find meaningful employment and often
impossible to use their earned education benefits.
In conclusion, this epidemic has not successfully been addressed in decades of review and
reform by DoD or by Congress. Some of the reasons for this include men being invisible,
ignored as survivors of military sexual trauma, inherent bias and conflict of interest present in
a broken military justice system. The reporting, investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of
sexual assault must be taken out of the chain of command and into an independent office with
professional military and civilian oversight. The established discharge review process is a rubber
stamp that causes life-long harm, and needs overhaul. Congressional legislation created these
systems that are inherently biased, unfair, and don't work. It is now Congress's duty to pass
legislation so service members can receive justice that is fair, impartial, and finally addresses the
military's epidemic of sexual assault.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my remarks. I am prepared for your questions and those of