Transcript: Sen. Mazie Hirono’s Q&A w/ Jeremiah Arbogast & Jessica Kenyon on military sexual assault, PTSD & suicides

Partial transcript of Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-Hawaii) Q&A with Jeremiah Arbogast and Jessica Kenyon on the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs handling of post traumatic stress disorders and suicides of service members who suffered military sexual assault. The hearing before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel was held on Feb. 26, 2014:

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
… Thank you both for testifying this morning. One of the concern that this committee and the larger committee – the main committee – has is the fact that thousands and thousands of these sexual assaults occur and they are never reported. Would you share with us particularly from your own experience why this is so and what we can do to enable more of the survivors to report these crimes?

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
Could you elaborate the question again?

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
Thousands of – the figures are some 22,000 plus sexual assaults occur in the military in a given year and only a very insignificant number of these crimes are ever reported to the chain of command, and I wanted to ask for your thoughts on why this is so and what we can do to enable more people to report these crimes – enable more service members to report these crimes.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
In the DOD, reporting to the chain of command – it’s horrific. You know, it could be a perpetrator in your chain of command. It could be your direct supervisor. In my case, it was my previous supervisor. He used his influences to try to get to me, torment me over the time that I was, you know, raped and to the time the investigation was going on. Then I endured going, you know, to his home wearing a body wire and then I had to endure the Article 32, and I had to endure the court martial. So you could see the patterns of different traumas that I was subjected to. So anybody that would see something like that – any service member will be like, you know, “I’m not going to report this.” And thousands of veterans – the VA finds thousands of veterans a year that finally report military sexual trauma. I don’t have the exact numbers but I know it’s alarming.

You know, taking it out of the chain of command – you know, I’ve talked to some active duty commanders and they have specifically said, “If I don’t have to deal with sexual assault, I can continue going on with what my mission is to make the unit ready and deal with these everyday problems of what needs done in whatever the command is, whether it be engineering, motor transport”. They would like to do that – concentrate on that because a sexual assault is more or less a burden on the command and then it creates a morale problem and a cohesion problem…So that’s the only thing I can think of that would…

You know, going back to my testimony where it says that SAPRO official made the comment that let’s tell them – let’s just tell perpetrators don’t rape. Okay, so you get all the perpetrators in the room and tell them don’t rape but you’re going to still allow them to serve?

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
I know in your testimony that – one of the observations you made is that there should be some very specific specialized training in working with survivors of military sexual trauma.

I do agree with you because on the civilian side there are many states that require prosecutors, for example, to get very specialized training when they deal with rape victims, and apparently that is something that you would suggest for the military.

Ms. Kenyon, would you like to give us your thoughts on my question?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Yes, thank you, Senator. I would add generally the attitude – sexual assault is under-reported in the civilian world as well, and it’s not to disregard the military environment in which it makes it even more hostile. I would also point out that I can only correlate it and understand who would a cop report a rape to within their own unit, you know, that wouldn’t cause other police officers to possibly spread a rumor. That’s the only civilian thing I could possibly think that would correlate with a perversion of justice this way.

So, I would also stop publicly putting posters up with rape myths, like “wait until she’s sober”. These types of things like that – a different type of candy-coated victim blaming.

There’s a lot of studies in regards to the perpetrators are repeat offenders. They prey on this. It is not a sexual act. It is a power act. It is not about the sex. It is about usually taking them down a notch.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
And would you agree it should also be treated as a crime?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Oh, absolutely.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
You work with survivors of military sexual trauma. So the during the period when you had to undergo repeated traumas, have there been some positive changes to how the military helps survivors of military sexual trauma?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
I do believe the 2004 implementation of the SAPRO office, despite it not having power, the option to report unrestricted and restricted did open a few doors. However, the loopholes are so great that the command can still exploit them regardless. For example, if you were a survivor of sexual assault and you wanted to go to a counselor but you report is restricted, which is all within your rights, what would you tell your commander? Giving that information to a commander allows them to investigate it and go further with an unrestricted report, whether they cooperate or not. This was threatened to me. And already ostracized based on a previous investigation, I could not allow the commander who threatened to question everybody in my hangar – that’s 260 people – and create that kind of environment in which everybody knew what was going on, not just most of them.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
So while there’ve been some improvements, given the severity of the problem, more can be done.

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
We have a very long road ahead and it is amount of baby steps, and I do hope that we can take it step by step. And public prosecutions will go a long way to showing both victims and perpetrators as justice can and will be done.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
And you two support removing the chain of command from the decision to prosecute these?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Absolutely. I believe that there’s enough on the commander’s plate, and the fact that there’s just entirely too many conflicts of interests as well as just even if they want to do the right thing, there’s pressures from every direction that creates an almost impossible environment in which justice can be served even – and I hate to say this – but even to the perpetrators.

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