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

08/29/2014 11:44 am ET | Updated Aug 29, 2014

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?"

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."

CONVERSATIONS