Huffpost Women

Thousands Are Sexually Assaulted In The U.S. Military Every Year. These Are Some Of Their Stories.

Posted: Updated:
Print

In 2009, Jessica Hinves, then an Air Force fighter jet mechanic, said she was raped by a member of her squadron -- a man she had considered a good friend.

Hinves' rapist never stood trial. Her case was thrown out of court by a commander who told her that though the man who had raped her didn't "act like a gentleman," he needn't be punished for it. Later, Hinves was reportedly discharged from the military “against her will” for post-traumatic stress disorder. Last year, she told PBS that she felt incredibly "betrayed" by her unit, by her friend, by the legal system, and the military at large for failing to mete out justice and tossing her aside when she needed the most support.

There is an “epidemic of rape in America’s military,” says photojournalist Mary Calvert, whose haunting new photo essay "The Battle Within" tells the stories of Hinves and other survivors of military sexual violence. Most of these survivors, she told The Huffington Post this week, face a "travesty of justice."

In 2012, an anonymous Pentagon survey revealed that 26,000 people (12,000 of them women) were victims of sexual violence in the U.S. military. But of these, "only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and just one in ten of those cases went to trial," Calvert wrote on her website. "Most military rape survivors are forced out of service and many are even compelled to continue working for their rapists."

In light of these tragedies, how, asks Calvert, can the U.S. continue to promote itself as a "beacon of freedom and human dignity to the rest of the world?"

Scroll down for a glimpse of Calvert's photo essay. Story continues below.
  • Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA/Corbis
    May 19, 2014 -- Fayetteville, North Carolina: U.S. Army Private First Class) Natasha Schuette, 21, was sexually assaulted by her drill sergeant during basic training and subsequently suffered harassment by other drill sergeants after reporting the assault at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While Staff Sgt. Louis Corral is serving just four years in prison for assaulting her and four other female trainees, Natasha suffers daily from PTSD because of the attack. Now stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she attends a civilian counseling session because it is too difficult to get regular counseling appointments in the U.S. Army.
  • Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA/Corbis
    April 18, 2014 -- San Diego, California: Brittany Fintel served in the U.S. Navy, she was grabbed and pinned down on a bed by her Lead Petty Officer while she was stationed in Bahrain on the USS Gridley. Another sailor witnessed the attack but turned and left as she screamed and fought off her attacker. She reported the attack and was told she had an "adjustment disorder," taken off the ship and eventually was separated from the navy due to PTSD. She joined the military to see the world and get her college paid for, but her experience in the Navy shattered all her sense of trust. "They kick the victim out. The victim is more fucked up in the head than apparently the rapist," she said, weeping on her couch at home in San Diego. Her PTSD service dog "Indiana" is never far from her side.
  • Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA/Corbis
    April 21, 2014 -- San Diego, California: Melissa Bania holds her banner before hanging it on the foot bridge across from the entrance to Naval Station San Diego. U.S. Navy Military Sexual Trauma survivors got together at Brittany Fintel's San Diego, California home to make banners inscribed with their sexual assault experiences in the U.S. Navy. That evening, under cover of darkness, they hung them on a foot bridge in front of the entrance to Naval Station San Diego.
  • Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA/Corbis
    Jan. 23, 2013 -- Washington, D.C.: Technical Sergeant Jennifer Norris was drugged and raped by her recruiter after joining the U.S. Air Force when she was 21 years old. Nancy Parrish, President, Protect Our Defenders, comforts her as she breaks down after testifying before the sparsely attended House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, to discuss sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
  • Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA/Corbis
    Jan. 5, 2014 -- Clermont, Florida: Suzie Champoux mourns the death of her daughter, Army Sgt. Sophie Champoux who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while in the U.S. Army.


Calvert, who specializes in the documenting of gender-based human rights issues, says she's been deeply moved by the stories of these survivors of military sexual violence and their fight to be heard.

"I have been so impressed with their courage and willingness to share their most devastating experiences with me," she told HuffPost. "Most of them are still seeking justice and all of them struggle to live with the lifelong challenges of [military sexual trauma] that include depression, substance abuse, paranoia and feelings of isolation. Survivors often spend years drowning in shame and fear as the psychological damage silently eats away at their lives: many frequently end up addicted to drugs and alcohol, homeless or take their own lives."

Ultimately, Calvert says she hopes her work will "bring sustained awareness" to this pressing issue. She has hope, she says, that change is not just possible, but in our reach.

"Beyond the shock of discovering that so many sexual assaults are happening in America's military, people are now talking about this issue and beginning to realize that those are our mothers, daughters, sisters and brothers in uniform who are being bullied and victimized," she said. "The U.S. Military is beginning to address this issue and I hope that positive change will happen soon because the system is just not working right now."

See Mary Calvert's entire "The Battle Within" series at Maryfcalvert.com.