Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban preventing female soldiers from officially serving in combat -- a decision that raised the urgency on efforts to address the festering crisis of sexual assault within the U.S. military. That crisis -- which claimed more than 50 victims of sexual assault a day in the latest year of Defense Department data -- is the subject of the Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary Invisible War. In this series, The Huffington Post invites victims and advocates to speak out about sexual assault in the military.
Just a few days ago, I met Kori Cioca, subject of the documentary The Invisible War. Kori's story of abuse at the hands of a commanding Officer while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard is powerful, harrowing, and endlessly sad. In so many ways, Kori still bears the scars, both visible and invisible, of her rape. And yet, Kori has refused to allow her story to be one of tragedy rather than triumph. By sharing her story, Kori has ensured that it is she and not her perpetrator who has a voice, who has power. By sharing her story, Kori has bared her scars to the world and encouraged all those whose wounds have not yet healed to stand up, to stand proud, to stand strong.
Kori is among the many activists who fight the invisible war in hopes that one day they will help to give voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. And just as Kori's story and activism are essential to ending the invisible war, so too is your own story and your own activism. You see, the invisible war is fought each and every day by the brave men and women in uniform who say to their peers, "enough is enough." It is fought by the survivors of military sexual assault who say, "never again." It is fought by the parents or partners of soldiers who say, "I love you and I support you." And it is fought by you as you declare that no woman or man in this U.S. military will ever again feel the devastating impact of a sexual assault.
Many months ago, I made this declaration. One of my closest friends confided in me the story of her sexual assault at the U.S. Naval Academy, and together we vowed that no soldier in the U.S. military should ever again be forced to bear the scars of sexual violence. As the daughter of a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, the wife of an Officer in the U.S. Air Force, and a friend to many active-duty servicemen and women, it is my duty to ensure that those I love and respect are never hurt by this senseless violence. The scars of this invisible war run deep, but I feel certain that if I act, if I speak, if I love, I can help those scars to heal.
Let us move forward from this ground-breaking film and say, "what can I do?", because the time for action is now. Call your representatives and urge them to support the Stop Act. Donate to groups and organizations that support victims of military sexual trauma. Be outraged! Be passionate! If this film has moved you as it moved me, then join me in this fight. Together, we fight the invisible war to make the U.S. military stronger. Together, we fight the invisible war because every person, regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, race, or rank deserves respect, love, and happiness. Won't you join me in this fight?