Military sexual assault victim: "The humiliation of the retaliation was worse than the assault."
NSFW & TRIGGER WARNING: At 1:42, Ariana Klay's husband, Ben, describes parts of the actual court case that use pretty strong language. The entire piece goes into detail about the trauma she faced from her assailants and from the military court.
As the military continues to insist that its leaders should be allowed to continue deciding when and how to prosecute sexual assault, two Marine veterans spoke at a press conference in support of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's bill putting those prosecution decisions in the hands of actual legal experts. According to Ben Klay, a former active-duty Marine and reservist, the current system "gives commanders who do not have an interest in proving the worst failures of their commands the authority to decide whether those failures happened. They cannot be impartial nor can those who work for them be."
Klay's voice quivered with rage as he spoke, and with good reason. His wife Ariana was raped in 2009 after being transferred to what she described as "a command where harassment was common and condoned."
She continued on to say of her commanders:
"... incentives were as much to deny the problem as they were to retaliate against those who might choose to report [...] He decided, in writing, that calling officers sluts and whores was not harassment, and that any harassment was deserved because of what I wore or that I'd complained about it. It was the retaliation and condoning of harassment that I believe made those who harmed me feel protected and encouraged."
Ariana Klay was retaliated against when she reported being assaulted; she said "the humiliation of the retaliation was worse than the assault, because it was sanctioned from the same leaders I once would have risked my life for." As for the prosecution of her rapists, according to her husband Ben it was treated as "a distraction," a characterization the gruesome details he relates fully support:
"It is organized to be that way. Military justice is a secondary duty for a commander. Something he didn't sign up for and a distraction from his mission to fight wars. Imagine a business executive who runs a company and has to oversee the prosecution of felons who perform valuable work for him. He'd be as interested in prosecuting as commanders are, and his workers would be confident about what they could get away with."
The military leadership's response to Gillibrand's effort to get these decisions put in the hands of people trained in the law, tasked specifically with dealing with sexual assault and other crimes, and not implicated in the environments that embolden rapists, is this:
Pentagon and service leaders would rather "address this problem inside the institution," according to Defense Department spokesman George Little.
"We think we can work this internally."
The military has proven time and again that no, they cannot "work this internally." The case of Lavena Johnson alone is proof of this, as the military still insists that her death was a "suicide." Or listen to the survivors who speak in the documentary "The Invisible War."
In 2010, 108,121 veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma, and 68,379 had at least one Veterans Health Administration outpatient visit for related conditions. Also in 2010, The Department of Defense processed reports of 3,198 new assaults but estimated the actual number of assaults to be closer to 19,000. However, these reports only resulted in convictions against 244 perpetrators.
The military has failed to protect its own, and it has punished them for seeking justice. It's clear that the only way to serve justice is to take its enforcement out of the hands of the commanders.