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Panel Addresses “Invisible War” of sexual assault in the U.S. Military

Hamline’s Women’s Resources Center hosted a panel following the screening of documentary “Invisible War.”

Nate Correia, Senior Reporter

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Hamline’s Women’s Resource Center hosted a panel to raise awareness of sexual violence among a lesser-known demographic – veterans. The three speakers of the panel, Hamline Alum and victims advocate Mercedies Carlson, Sheila Laughton of the Women’s Veterans Initiative and Suzanne Al-Kayali, director of Women Against Military Madness, are all veterans of the United States Military.

“We like to think that this won’t happen to me. But that’s not true,” said retired Air Force officer Sheila Laughton.

The panel showed a documentary entitled Invisible War, a film about sexual assault in the U.S. Military. As the film implies, the U.S. Military is a highly organized and very strict environment. Of course, it is a traditionally masculine environment that is relatively new to allowing women to serve in it.

Suzanne Al-Kayali explains that no matter who joins the military, everyone comes into it with some preconceived notions. All panel members were in agreement that the hyper-masculinity brought into the military is a factor in the rampant rates of sexual assault. Al-Kayali shared her view that several men who enter the military enter it wanting to prove their masculinity, both to themselves and to others. Often this means doing something sexual. Many of those who want to commit sexual assault look for who they think will be the most vulnerable targets, and in a hyper-masculine mindset this often means the women who are serving alongside them. 

“Rape is not about sex,” Laughton added. “It is about control.”

According to “Invisible War” at least 6000 sexual assaults within the military are registered each year. Out of these only 250 result in an actual conviction, in other words less than 4% of these sexual assaults receive any sort of punishment. There are a variety of reasons for this, the largest among them are the shame that comes with trauma along with officers refusing to report the incidents for fear of their own reputations.

“Invisible War” also shows that the net result of hyper-masculinity and underreporting is that at least one in four women serving in the U.S. Military experience at least one incident of sexual violence. Also, while it is undoubtedly less common, some are surprised to learn that a growing number of men have also spoken out about their experience with sexual violence in the military.

“Predators in the military don’t have to try very hard to figure out who’s in a vulnerable state,” Carlson explained. “The unit already singles these people out.”

Laughton agreed, adding that to these sexual predators, that vulnerability was more important than gender.

“[Whether a victim is male or female] it’s all about trying to maintain a feeling of self-control,” she said.

Attendees found these points very informative.

“It was surprising to learn about this because I had never heard about any of it,” said junior Yesenia Pliego.

The trauma from this does not stay in the military. Most veterans carry this experience with them wherever they go. Hamline is no exception. Many veterans come to Hamline and continue to suffer from PTSD and other trauma-related illnesses.

Despite all of these unfortunate realities, a change is being made.

“The good news is that there has been a start,” panel host and center coordinator Sam Schmitt said. “To see that you’re not alone can be very important.” 

Schmitt made it a major point of the panel that the Hamline Women’s Resource Center has made assisting sexual assault survivors a priority. Resources and emotional support are available at any time for those who need them.

“We want to show support for veterans who have been sexually assaulted. We’re here for everyone,” Schmitt said.

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Panel Addresses “Invisible War” of sexual assault in the U.S. Military