Tonight, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services is providing a free showing of The Invisible War, which will be followed by a panel discussion. This film is powerful and eyeopening, and does a remarkable job at shedding light on the secrecy of rape in the military.
If you are in the area, please join us! We will be at The University of Maine at Farmington, Roberts Learning Center, room C23, at 6:30 PM. If you are not in the area, please check out The Invisible War website to find a showing of the film near you: www.invisiblewarmovie.com
We would like to share with you a blog post from one of the participants on tonight’s panel…
Jennifer Norris: “What’s Your Status? Making Life Happen…”
I think my recovery really started once I realized that I was not alone. Once I reached out and learned that there were others like me and others who were fighting and advocating for people like me, I was incredibly empowered. I am a military sexual trauma (MST) survivor. And, for years I accepted other’s definitions of me, but not any more.
I loved serving in the United States Air Force and it broke my heart when my career was ended sooner then it should have. I felt like I lost my identity and I was a fish out of water after over a decade of service. But at the same time, it was bittersweet. While serving, I felt like I was stifled and couldn’t talk but now that I am a civilian, I am free to speak my mind and fight for those after me, who are forced to choose silence for the sake of their career.
I reached out for help almost immediately after the assaults, not knowing that mental health counseling for PTSD from MST may affect my career in the future. When I found out that it may, I tried to pretend that it didn’t happen and I was fine. And because I chose to run from my problems, I eventually reached a breaking point. I felt like I was giving up the good fight which is not something I am known for. I don’t know if I would have made it out alive without the help of the Veterans Affairs.
While some in my Chain of Command were emotionally beating me down, the VA was building me back up, protecting me, and helping me to cope with getting fired for being raped. It was the VA that recommended that I should not sign a consent form for the security clearance investigator. It is because of the VA that my medical records remain private to this day. After feeling like the rug got pulled out from underneath me, I gave myself time to grieve, hit rock bottom, then climbed my way back out of it. With the help of my husband, our family, and the VA, I focused my energy on getting healthy. I made getting healthy a full-time job. I took control of my treatment and when I felt like something was missing, I went looking for it. It took me years to get to a place where I was ready to help others.
Instead of going back to work full-time, I decided to volunteer. I was not ready to go back to work for a man after years of abuse at the hands of men. And I had lost interest in the things I used to be passionate about so I had to discover my new passions. I contacted the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and let them know who I was and that I wanted to get involved in some way. Not long after contacting them, I got a phone call from SWAN asking me if I was interested in talking about my own experience in support of H.R. 930, An Act to Improve the Disability Compensation Evaluation Procedure of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Veterans with PTSD from MST, sponsored by Rep Chellie Pingree of Maine. I agreed to go on our local television station and discuss my own story because the VA and the compensation were so instrumental in my own life. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. I felt totally exposed but in the end, I realized that the truth will set me free.
After that segment aired on local television, I was contacted by the Administrator of Carri’s Dad on Facebook. Carri’s Dad is a group started by Gary Noling, who lost his daughter, Carrie Leigh Goodwin, to the military’s sexual assault epidemic. He warmly invited me to his closed group and this connection helped open my eyes. I welcomed the space to vent because I didn’t know anyone else that I felt comfortable talking about my experiences with aside from the VA. I was slow to warm up but eventually felt like a part of something. I had finally found the peer support that I so desperately needed. I felt broken and my MST brothers and sisters really understood. It wasn’t until after I met my new family that I realized what my role in life was going to be. I decided to put all of my life and soul into helping others work through the confusing, entangled emotions that accompany military sexual trauma. It was because of Gary and Carri (pictured above) that I was inspired to stand for those who have not survived.
During this time I learned about the Military Rape Crisis Center (MRCC) and met the Executive Director of the organization via Carri’s Dad. I really respected and admired the work that they had done and continue to do to this day. I also learned about their website, My Duty to Speak. After reading some of the stories, I decided that I would write about my experiences too. I could send it in anonymously and I knew that it would be healing to put the story in writing in an attempt to let it go. I did just that and it was one of the most healing experiences ever. I now work full-time for MRCC as a National Victim Advocate.
A couple months later and shortly after being permanently medically retired from the USAF, I decided to attend the Truth and Justice Summit sponsored by SWAN. Although I felt like I was doing pretty well considering where I was just a year earlier, I still felt that truth and justice was something that has not been adequately addressed by the Department of Defense. It is something that I am especially passionate about and I started a research and awareness page as a result, Justice for MST Survivors. I stand for both survivors of MST and those that did not survive. I also believe strongly in making current laws more strict and strengthening victim’s rights. A Senator from Maine was receiving an award from SWAN for their efforts in helping pass the Defense STRONG Act so I really wanted to be there to show Senator Susan Collins that I appreciated her efforts too. While there, I met Representative Chellie Pingree from Maine as well.
Then I traveled four hours away to Brookline, Massachusetts and met up with a new MST sister friend and Rep Niki TSongas. Rep TSongas invited me to help introduce the The Invisible War at this viewing after I contacted her via Twitter. I contacted Rep TSongas to thank her because she too was instrumental in getting the Defense STRONG Act passed. The screening of the Invisible War was an eye opening experience for me. I knew that Military Sexual Trauma was a problem but I did not realize to what extent until I saw this movie. As a survivor, this movie was by far one of the most validating experiences ever. I sat through that movie and felt the pain of my MST brothers and sisters. I watched that movie with adornment for the people who were willing to step out and discuss their traumatic experiences in an effort to help change things. The movie gave me a new sense of confidence and courage, that I had before, but now it was unstoppable. I felt like my experiences had finally been validated by someone which is all that mattered to me.
As a result of my own experience with the Invisible War movie, I wanted to share that experience with others. I wanted to use that movie as a training tool for civilians, veterans, veteran care providers, and the military. I found out that another veteran’s advocate in Maine had purchased the rights to the movie, so I contacted Lt Col Terry Moore, USAF Ret, and offered to assist in any way that I could. We have been partnering up ever since in an effort to bring as much public awareness to the issue as possible. I have found yet another life long friend. We both support taking the Chain of Command out of the investigation process. We both agree that the Invisible War is an incredible documentary.
And then Protect Our Defenders (POD) came into my life. I was honored to join my fellow MST brothers and sisters on the Advocacy Board. I believe in everything that POD stands for and it was easy to become one with that team. They are a survivor based organization that strongly believes that we need a voice. I joined them in Washington DC to request that the House Armed Services Committee hold formal hearings on sexual assault in the military. POD warmly welcomed me to the team and we warmly welcome others to be part of our team. We are working on ways to help make others feel comfortable joining our cause. Like my own experience, healing came from being included and being part of something bigger then me. We all come from different places and we want other survivors to know that they are accepted regardless of where they are at in their healing process too. Like POD, I feel that we will get real change if Congress hears from those that have been impacted the greatest by this epidemic, us.