FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WNCN) — Protecting abusers and making victims feel like the criminals – that’s what sexual assault victims and their advocates say continues to happen in the military.
After a series of CBS News reports spotlighting how sexual assaults in the military are handled, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said they need to “do better” and leaders must have the courage to speak up.
Advocates say part of the problem is what happens after people speak up.
They say victims and advocates are retaliated against, including soldiers being pushed out of the military and their advocates getting fired.
Victim advocate and veteran Erin Scanlon says she was sexually assaulted by a Special Forces soldier in 2016.
“It’s sad how frequent it is and how easy it is to be covered up,” Scanlon said. “It’s just easier for everyone in the military if you don’t report it.”
Scanlon said the process of reporting a sexual assault is “very difficult because it is a constant fight to get what you need.”
She says reporting the assault backfired against her.
“I just wanted a fair shot at justice that’s all I asked for, and I did what was expected of me in trying to hold a perpetrator of a crime accountable, and instead I was made out to be the criminal,” Scanlon said. “It should be whatever is best for the case, but it was really what was best for the military and their image.”
The soldier in her case was found not guilty during a court martial in 2018.
“It was essentially a completely unfair trial, everything was stacked against me,” Scanlon said “I had a victim advocate who stood up for me — she was fired.”
A victim advocate at Fort Bragg reached out to CBS 17 after seeing the CBS special reports about sexual assaults in the military.
She doesn’t want her identity known, but like Scanlon, she says people are retaliated against if they do speak out and try to change things.
“You’re stopping them from getting promotions, you’re ostracizing them and sometimes a lot of these victims are being re-assaulted,” the advocate said. “I hate to say that the military is protecting their own, but they are.”
Scanlon says that fear is a common emotion after reporting a sexual assault.
“I felt forced out because I felt like I wasn’t being listened to,” Scanlon said. “Other advocates are so scared to get retaliated against, that they just kind of roll over and do what’s easiest for the military, which is usually not what’s best for the victim.”
Both women say oversight is needed to handle sexual assault cases in the military.
“The solution is to get the soldier away from the command that’s hurting them,” the advocate said.
“The military cannot be responsible for keeping themselves in check, it’s just not going to work,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon urges people to look deeper into the problem.
“It’s not a military problem, it’s an American problem,” Scanlon said. “If the defenders of our country can’t defend each other from inside, this is a threat to national security because it destroys our military’s readiness.”