This week, the House of Representatives passed the Ruth Moore Act of 2015, which will ease the process of getting help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma (MST). A challenge that sexual assault survivors in the military have faced is the burden of proof for sexual assault, which often results in further barriers that prevent them from gaining access to resources and benefits. As the sponsor of the bill, Representative Chellie Pingree, explained, “there are veterans who are suffering from PTSD because they were sexually assaulted, and they are not being treated fairly.” This bill helps survivors navigate those barriers by allowing a statement from the survivor to serve as sufficient proof.
Ruth Moore is a Navy veteran who has used her own experiences of military sexual trauma to lead the fight for fellow survivors. In 1987 at the age of 18, Moore was raped by her Petty Officer. When she reported the assault, she was told to “move on”. She was raped again by the same person as retaliation for reporting. You can hear Moore tell her own story and hear about her fight for justice in this video (her remarks start at 18:00) from our 2013 Celebrating Women Breakfast.
Former NYWF grantee partner Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) has been a leading voice on behalf of women veterans. SWAN works directly with a marginalized population of women veterans to provide services, and act as both a safe place for psychological healing as well as a resource center for legal referrals and information. In addition to their direct service work, SWAN has undertaken a number of policy & advocacy efforts, including combating military sexual trauma. The issue of MST is a pervasive one, with 79% of women serving in the military since Vietnam having reported experiences of sexual harassment. In 2012, a confidential Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted. Of those, 3,374 cases were reported. Despite these statistics, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often not recognized as a result of military sexual trauma by the US Veterans Affairs Bureau and VA hospitals. Anu Bhagwati, Former Executive Director of SWAN, explained that “survivors of military sexual assault and sexual harassment are betrayed twice: first by the military who all too often fails to support the victim; and by the VA which has for years systematically rejected MST disability claims based on this unequal and unfair regulation.”
For more information on the issue of military sexual trauma, SWAN’s work on behalf of women veterans, and how you can get involved, please visit SWAN’s website: www.servicewomen.org.