Milwaukee vets march on despite past
Under the uniform and red, white and blue
Mounds of scar tissue and vast expanses of ink cover Carly Johnston’s body — a constant reminder of an inner hell. For her, it is the unseen wounds which are the deepest. A scar on her chest represents a moment in her life she will never forget. Infrared burns are all remaining of her rapist — his name.
For Johnston, physical scarring is result of years of emotional and physical damage from beatings and rapes. It has been a long road to recovery for her, a road she is still on. Placing a razor or lighter to her skin would temporarily ease the pain inside of her.
The U.S. Department of Defense began record keeping on military sexual assaults in 2004 after a sex scandal erupted at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado involving numerous cadets. According to a 2012 Department of Defense report, more than 30 percent of women in the military have been sexually assaulted. Since 2004, reported sexual assaults increased 228 percent in 2012. In the report the Defense Department admits sexual assault is a gross underestimate.
The assaults are a rising trend across the United States, but the assaults also strike closer to home in Wisconsin, and even in the Greater Milwaukee area.
In late 2006, into early 2007, within six months, Johnston was beaten, raped, deployed and then threatened discharge from the Army.
“It was a rough time for me,” said Johnston, a Washington County native. “But I was the luckiest person out of all of them.”
The soldier who dealt the beating, was charged for other violent crimes in Germany. He was alleged to have stabbed a bar patron in the neck with a broken beer bottle.
In 2010, her then fiancé raped her. Johnston had kicked him out of the house for acting perverse toward her daughter. His name was tattooed on her chest. He was never charged.
Now, remnants of blotchy ink and pitted scar tissue are all that physically remain of the rapist.
“I just got out of inpatient health because I was trying to kill myself almost every day,”
The burns and cuts Johnston inflicts on her body are a coping method. Effective or not, she said it helps to a degree. Once she can no longer endure her own pain or the pain from her assailants she turns to the Veterans Affairs. Rather than resort to suicide, again, she seeks help.Carly said. “You’ll be fine, you’ll be thinking everything is better, then all the sudden it hits you in the face.”
Building a new foundation
“Either people call me and say I want treatment or I have been exposed,” said JoAnn Wolf, Military Sexual Trauma coordinator at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. “We listen to them and determine the best plan for get that woman help.”
As of November of 2013, Wolf has received more than 110 referrals for MST.
For some patients, not all, they just want something, anything to make them feel human. Self-harm is a method, but doesn’t meant it’s suicide.
“Part of it is to feel. It’s not a suicide attempt, it’s just to feel,” she said.
There are different types of healing offered through the VA, prolonged exposure, cognitive process, group therapies, peer support groups and many more. The VA recognizes sexual assault in the military. At the Milwaukee VA, veterans have the option to meet with a MST/PTSD qualified person for an assessment and referral to treatment. There is also a Women’s Clinic at the Milwaukee VA, designed for women who want to forego male treatment.
Treatment is not always well received by veterans. Sexually assaulted veterans are good at concealing emotional and physical injuries.
“They dissociate,” said Wolf. “It works as a function of coping.”
Which makes it difficult to provide help, even though programs exist, if a veteran hides it well enough, the treatment process never begins unless there are circumstances that lead to other issues such as drugs or alcohol.
Connie Spratt’s method of coping with her sexual assaults was drugs and is now alcohol. She previously attended therapy and still does now, but it’s more to pacify her doctor.
She spent more than two weeks in October 2013 in a drunken stupor after physical and sexual assault memories came back to life.
For Spratt, who was sexually assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers on separate occasions, resorting to cutting in addition to alcohol and drugs landed her in the hospital thrice.
The mother of two, said it is difficult for her teenage daughter to comprehend why her mother has trouble with alcohol, why its hard to trust people or let people into her family’s life. At the time of the first sexual assault, she was afraid to resist. For fear. For exploitation. For being young. For being female. Forever scarred.
“I wasn’t saying anything,” said Spratt. “I was just petrified at the time because I was only 19 and the person that did it…was older than my dad.”
The Oshkosh police were unable to pursue charges against the Army sergeant who assaulted, which would have been a fourth degree sexual assault because there was no physical evidence. Once Spratt told her parents, her father tried to drive up to the unit with a shotgun to confront the sergeant.
“Of course, I went up there with a shotgun,” said Spratt’s father. “She is my daughter, what do people think I would do?”
During the assault Spratt contemplated running away, but the only option was when the sergeant walked a few feet away to grab a chair so he could sit. He didn’t walk far enough away so she could run.
“It wasn’t poetic, it wasn’t sweet,” Spratt said. “I remember every touch, every second of it. I remember the sound of the chair because he got tired of standing…”
Some soldiers in her unit said the sergeant was transferred to an all-male army unit and was not criminally charged in neither military nor civilian courts. According to the soldiers, the sergeant was allowed to transfer because there was evidence warranting military charges.
Within a week Spratt went to the Milwaukee Military Entrance Processing Station in Milwaukee and was transferred from the National Guard to active duty Army. She was sent to Taylor Barracks in Germany.
She had been there a month and was at a unit barbecue. She had one whiskey and coke.
“I was in and out of consciousness,” Spratt said. “The next morning I woke up and this guy, Johnson [not real name], was leaving my room. He called me a dirty hoe. He did whatever he wanted to me that night.”
A fellow female soldier, Tonya helped her to her room that night. Wiping her face with a cool cloth because she was sweating so much. Another soldier remembers helping her up the stairs. Neither recall Kessler being in the room with her when the two left Spratt to sleep.
The soldier who raped her, honorably exited the Army within a month after the rape. No charges filed against him.
Spratt said the lack of trust in fellow soldiers, and the Army’s leadership style, kept her from reporting the rape.
“I’m a big girl, I just pull up my pants and move on.”
Waiting on the big wigs
“Our service men and women deserve better and it is time to act,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin, Wisc. (D). “The men and women in our armed forces serve with courage in defense of our freedom every single day.”
Baldwin said that in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in late November of 2013.
She is a member of a bipartisan group of women in support of addressing military sexual assault.
Of the 12 service women participating in this project, nine had been sexually assaulted or raped. Carly Johnston is the only service member to have her assailant convicted. The Defense Department reported less than 3 percent were convicted in 2012.
The female troop population in 2012 was nearly 210,000. Thirty percent of those women reported sexual assaulted. That number may be higher though. A plan-of-action is proving difficult to formulate for the Defense Department, according to its report, an accurate count of sexual assaults are unknown:
“Because sexual assault is greatly under-reported, it is difficult to assess changes in the number of offenses that might have occurred during a given time. Instead, published research tends to focus on other more tangible, measurable outcomes such as changes in knowledge, skills, and behaviors associated with prevention.” -2012 Defense memo introducing annual sexual assault findings
The chain-of-command has been an issue for these women in reporting sexual assaults. The defense department, in the 2012 annual sexual assault report to the Pentagon, stated about 75 percent of females were unable to report assaults because of some barrier: chain of command, threats, professional backlash, verbal and physical abuse.
Sen. Baldwin is the part of the growing population of 30 women in the U.S. Senate. During her speech on the senate floor, she talked about a need for reform against sexual assaults in the military. She has cosponsored three bills
- The Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2013, S.548
- The Ruth Moore Act of 2013, S.294, access to veteran disability benefit
- The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S.967
Senate Bill 967, The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, proposes an overhaul in how a service member will report a sexual assault. The military justice system will have full authority rather than commanders. Currently, commanders have authority to refer allegations to military police. Provided the allegation makes it to the commander.
Johnston was one of the lucky ones, she said. She got a conviction. Justice, for her, is still far out of reach. If she hadn’t broken Army protocol and circumvented her chain-of-command, being the lucky one, she may not.
“There’s never going to be justice,” Johnston said. “He’s living his life and I’m not. He took something from me that I’ll never get back.”
Instead of waiting for justice, she is taking justice in her own hands. Johnston is a psychology student. She wants to work with rapists and sexual assault perpetrators.
“If I can make on less victim out there, just one, that will be some sort of justice.”