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US Military Sexual Assault


Sexual assault is alarmingly common in the U.S. military, and more than half of the victims are men. According to the Pentagon, thirty-eight military men are sexually assaulted every single day. These are the stories you never hear—because the culprits almost always go free, the survivors rarely speak, and no one in the military or Congress has done enough to stop it.

1. Kole Welsh | Army, 2002-2007
When Welsh was drugged and raped by an officer, he initially decided to keep the attack to himself. “I had actually let the assault go, because I didn't want it to interfere with my career. I wanted to be an officer, and I just said, ‘Bad experience, won't let that happen again.’” Two months later, he was called into a room and told he had tested positive for HIV. “I was removed from the military and signed out within a day. It was a complete shock.” The man who attacked him was a serial rapist and had infected as many as 20 other men on the base. Although military officials refused to punish him, through Welsh's efforts the officer was charged in civilian court. 

2. Steve Stovey | Navy
After turning 25, Stovey joined the Navy to see the world: Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Fiji, the Persian Gulf. His first year and a half as a signalman on the USS Gary was "the greatest time of my life," he says. In late September 1999, Stovey was sailing to Hawaii, where he'd be joined by his father on a Tiger Cruise, a beloved Navy tradition in which family members accompany sailors on the final leg of a deployment. On the morning of September 20, two weeks before the warship was due in port, three men ambushed Stovey in a remote storage area of the ship, where he'd been sent to get supplies. They threw a black hood over his head, strangled and sodomized him, then left him for dead on a stack of boxes. Stovey told no one. He was certain that his attackers, whose faces he hadn't glimpsed, would kill him if he did. A couple of days later the ship docked in Hawaii, and his father, with whom he was extremely close, came aboard. Stovey was unable to tell his father about the attack, and it was years before he spoke about the experience with his father, his family or anyone else. Before the attack, Stovey was outgoing and full of optimism. Today, although he suffers from nightmares and serious physical and emotional problems, the VA has denied his PTSD claim.

3. Trent Smith | Air Force. Enlisted 2011
Nineteen years old and new to his base in Germany, Smith was invited to dinner at an officer's home. “He was a senior aide—he had a direct line to the top. Being invited over to his house, I just took it as I should go.” When the officer made advances on him, Smith froze, and was eventually coerced into sex against his will. “Looking back, I ask myself, why didn’t you do anything? It wasn’t like he held me down or tied me up. I didn’t want to cross him. I really didn’t feel like I had any choice. I had just turned 19. It could be my career. I froze and went along with it.” Smith filed a report which resulted in a fruitless investigation and psychological counseling. He was relentlessly teased and eventually “excommunicated” by his fellow airmen. He was eventually diagnosed first with PTSD and then with schizotypal personality disorder, resulting in an honorable discharge from the Air Force.

4. Mike Thomson | Marines, 1997-1999
In infantry training, Thomson tore ligaments in his ankle. It wasn’t a visible injury, so he was accused of faking it by several men in his unit. “After I was assigned to base, three individuals started singling me out. They would intentionally bump into me. When I was asleep, somebody punched me in the face. A month later, I was pulled out of the shower. They kicked me and beat me with a plunger, and I don’t know if I lost consciousness or not, but the next thing I remember is my wrists were taped to the bedframe and they were holding a knife to my throat. Then they took turns sexually assaulting me. I wasn't ‘afraid’ to report it—I was ashamed and disgusted. Guys aren't supposed to be raped. I didn't want to tell anybody about it. I didn't want to say anything.” Thomson was transferred to a clerking job,  where he began stealing cards and magazines from the mail. Once he was finally discharged because of his injury, he began stealing more and more until he was finally caught when he stole a check. He was sentenced to a year's house arrest. Today Thomson is married with two kids and trying to make a life for himself and his family.

5. Heath Phillips | Navy, 1988-1989
At age 17, Phillips reported early to his ship and needed a place to stay. He was invited to stay with a group of fellow sailors in a hotel, where he passed out after being drugged placed in his beer by one of the sailors. When he woke up he was being assaulted by 6 sailors. He filed a complaint, but as he had to berth in the same section of the boat as his attackers, they went on to beat and sexually terrorize him for the next two months.“The main attacks were at night. When you're being dragged out of your bunk literally by your ear, you can't fight, because they're doing these funky things with your fingers, twisting them, and they're ripping your mouth open, and then they got another guy that has his fingers in your nose or in your eyes to make you open your mouth. That's what always used to bother me: I'm screaming, yelling, fighting, and nobody is even moving their curtains to look. I went AWOL; I couldn't take it no more. I tried hanging myself.” Finally Phillips began jumping ship. When he was caught, he was offered court martial or an honorable discharge, and he took the latter.

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