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Military sexual assault victims speak out about their attacks

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Service Women's Action Network members pose in front of the Capitol while in Washington for the Truth and Justice Summit. (SWAN) Service Women's Action Network members pose in front of the Capitol while in Washington for the Truth and Justice Summit. (SWAN)

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, issued a public message Thursday to all soldiers in which he said the "bedrock of trust" between soldiers and their leaders has been violated by a recent string of misconduct cases.

He said the Army demonstrated competence and courage through nearly 12 years of war. "Today, however, the Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment," he wrote.

"It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission," he said.

There are thousands of unnamed military sexual assaults victims and only 13 percent of the cases are ever actually reported. At the Truth and Justice Summit in Washington, D.C. last month, hundreds of those survivors gathered to take action.

"They can't hide from this anymore," said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. "There is not a quick fix … The military can't train its way out of this problem."

Currently, both male and female lawmakers are working to remove the decision making power on sexual assault cases from commanding officers.

"I don't know how you can say that having 19,000 sexual assaults is discipline and order," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). "'What we need to do is change the system so victims know that they can receive justice."

WNCN caught up with two sexual assault survivors at the Truth and Justice Summit. These are their stories. 

 Bobbie Jo Weisgerber, Navy

"If there was going to be anybody I was going to trust, it was going to be a Marine," said Bobbie Jo Weisgerber, a U.S. Navy veteran.

Weisgerber says she joined the Navy in 1989 shortly after graduating, and her first duty station was in California.

"It kind of went south from there," she said.

On her day off, Weisgerber says she wanted to go to a carnival, so she went with a "nice guy" recommended by a mutual friend.

"We were driving along, and the site where the carnival was supposed to be -- we drove past that," she recalled. "He kept driving and I started to get a little worried, and I started asking questions."

Weisgerber said the man, who was a Marine not stationed on her ship, drove her to "a very remote location and proceeded to assault me."

"He had every intention of raping me, but because I angered him so much and I guess flustered him where he just wouldn't continue," she said.

Weisgerber reported him, which resulted in him being dishonorably discharged from the military, fined and demoted in rank.

"It kind of gave me a new hope that, ‘OK, they're going to take care of me if something happens … it's all good,'" she said.

But then it happened again. She said she was stationed in Concord, Calif., in the early 90s when life in the Navy went from bad to worse.

"There was another gentleman on board the ship that more or less took over my life," Weisgerber said.

"He raped and sodomized me on a normal basis," she explained.

On her birthday in the summer of 1991, she said she wanted to celebrate alone because of the repeated abuse. So she rented out a hotel room, but says her attacker followed her with his friends.

"They bought me a birthday drink. I started blacking in and out," she recalled. "I woke up naked in a hotel room, and there I can't even count how many people were in that room. People were watching -- nobody was getting up to help.

"There were at a time over 70 men in my room [who] I worked with on a daily basis. People would be taking turns. One gentleman actually came up twice. And the only reason I remember that was because of his eyes.

"He came up twice and raped me twice and apologized and said, 'I'm sorry, I just can't help myself.'"

Weisgerber reported the incident and says eventually most of the suspects were court-martialed. But she says the entire proceedings were a mess because of the lack of evidence.

"No rape kit was ever done on me … because what I found, what they call somebody who is a multiple assault victim is that it's more like soup. There is such a mixed up gene pool going on with everybody that you can't pin down one person specifically," she said.

Weisgerber says she was then honorably discharged, with a diagnosis of a borderline personality disorder.

Patricia Gregory, Army National Guard

"My attacker was part of the full time staff," said Patricia Gregory, an Army National Guard veteran. "He came across as very fatherly -- comforting."

Gregory is also a survivor of sexual assault. She says the attack occurred while she was in the ROTC in the late 80s, but she did not report the incident nearly 20 years later.

"I did not file a report until 2008. For a long time I denied that it happened," she said.

Gregory says she was attending ROTC Advanced Camp at Fort Bragg and explains, "I was not physically prepared for it."

In July 1989, she was hanging out with friends when her attacker offered her a ride. "Fort Bragg in July is miserable, and he had air conditioning in his car."

Shortly afterwards, she says she got in his car.

"The next thing I know, his hand is going up my shorts," she recalled. "He pushed me back and he raped me. He pinned me down -- and it was a benched seat -- he knew I was struggling.

He knew I was in a compromised situation because if I had said, ‘Hey, I've been raped,' they would say, ‘Oh you're just trying to get out of this.'"

Both Gregory and Weisgerber say change needs to begin with the military code of law that currently allows commanding officers to make most of the decisions.

In the last few weeks the Department of Defense unveiled a new sexual assault prevention strategy that will strengthen programs for prevention, investigation, accountability and advocacy. But many survivors say that's not enough.

"They got rid of the problem: me," Weisgerber said.

Pentagon press secretary George Little says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is considering changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that would prevent commanders from reversing sexual assault convictions, along with other efforts to improve training, assist victims and strengthen discipline.

Hagel has also ordered the retraining, recertifying and rescreening of all sexual assault prevention and response personnel as well as military recruiters, who also have been accused in recent sexual misconduct cases.

"He is going to spare no effort to address the problem," Little said, adding that additional training is "foundational" to any credible effort against sexual assault.




Eileen Park

Eileen joined WNCN after years of working as a foreign correspondent. During her time off, she enjoys relaxing with her dogs, reading, and exploring the Triangle. More>>

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