Shut Up and Put Up: A Military Culture of Retaliation – Including Diagnosis – When Rape Happens 


Sometimes as a journalist one thing leads to another and you suddenly find yourself going down a dark rabbit hole that you hadn’t planned to visit. That’s what happened to me recently when I was writing a piece about how the Veterans Administration’s mental health system and the military in general were failing women in need of care following sexual assault.

I interviewed a lot of women veterans who had suffered military sexual assault while serving their country for that piece and what I heard wasn’t pretty. Nor were the things they said about what had happened to them when they sought help, or when they tried to tell their stories. That’s the part that led me down the rabbit hole, because the truth is retaliation is rampant in the military against those who tell the truth about what happens to victims of abuse.

“It’s a culture of silencing,” one source who’d been warned not to talk to the media told me. “They take away your First Amendment right to free speech.” Then he called me, twice, in a panic.  “Don’t use my name,” he said. “I still work for the VA.” Soon afterwards I got a call from another source who asked that I water down her comments. “My husband still gets his care at the VA,” she explained.

But don’t take my word for it. In May 2015 Human Rights Watch released a report called “US: Military Whistleblowers at Risk” in which it detailed retaliation for reporting sexual assault. “Military service members who report sexual assault frequently experience retaliation that goes unpunished,” the report said after its 18-month investigation in partnership with the human rights organization Protect Our Defenders. “Despite extensive reforms by the Defense Department to address sexual assault, the military has done little to hold retaliators to account or provide effective remedies for retaliation,” the report said, adding that “the Military Whistleblower Protection Act has yet to help a single service member whose career was harmed.”

Let’s put a human face on this travesty. “A Sergeant told me he would kill me if we ever went into Afghanistan because ‘friendly fire is a tragic accident that happens,’” a female soldier told Human Rights Watch.  Another reported that she was assaulted by a cook whose colleagues harassed her so much she couldn’t eat in the mess hall. She “lived off of cans of tuna” for seven months. In another case a female Marine’s name and photo were posted to a Facebook page where other Marines could comment. “Find her, tag her, haze her, make her life a living hell,” someone wrote. Another soldier said she should be silenced “before she lied about another rape.”

Is it any wonder that one advocate I interviewed said she advises women who come to her for help to “get out right now because you life is on the line.” She told me “it’s not unusual for women to go missing” or to have their deaths called a suicide.

A study conducted by the Rand Corporation in 2014 revealed that 62 percent of women who reported unwanted sexual conduct to military authorities experienced some form of retaliation. The study also found that 35 percent of women reporting sexual assault suffered an adverse administrative action, 32 percent suffered professional retaliation and 11 percent were punished for infractions after reporting. It didn’t count the number of women who receive pseudo-psychiatric diagnoses like “Borderline Personality Disorder” which is often used to damage or end a victim’s career.

“These sickening stories of retaliation against survivors should make every American angry,” Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) has said. “We keep hearing how previous reforms were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime. Yet there has been zero progress on this front and this mission is failing. Survivors will not be able to get the justice they deserve until we change this business-as-usual climate without any real accountability and create a professional, non-biased and independent military justice system.”

Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, agrees. “When no one is held accountable for retaliation, it creates a hostile environment for all survivors, and sends a message to criminals that they can act with impunity. When a survivor who reports sexual assault is 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than they are to see their rapist convicted, it demonstrates the military has a long way to go to fix this problem.”

After talking to so many brave women who have suffered terribly, first by being raped and then for telling the truth about it, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’ve written their stories here and elsewhere, which has led me to wonder occasionally if I will be retaliated against in some way. So if you don’t see another column from me, please come looking for me. Maybe you should start with that ultimate black hole – a military brig – where someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to Al Capone may well be watching over me.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Yes, cover ups of sexual abuse is a huge problem, in the military and beyond. Utilizing psychiatric misdiagnoses and drug torture to cover up child abuse has historically been known, according to an ethical pastor of mine, as “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” Apparently the psychiatric industry has been covering up child abuse for the religions, and the medical industry has been profiting off of such child abuse cover ups, for decades. No doubt this “dirty little secret” way of covering up sexual assault has now absolutely run amok in this country, including within this country’s military.

    As a matter of fact, the most common trait of all so called “schizophrenics” today is child abuse or adverse childhood experiences being diagnosed as “psychosis.” According to some of John Read’s research, 2/3’s of all abused children brought into a hospital get labeled as “psychotic,” while only 10% of non-abused children receive this label. Here’s a brief article about his theory.

    But I have a different concern since my research has found that the “gold standard” treatment for “psychosis,” the neuroleptic drugs, are known to actually create both the negative and positive symptoms of “schizophrenia.” The negative symptoms are created via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome, which often gets misdiagnosed by psychiatrists with delusions their “atypical” neuroleptics are “wonder drugs.”

    “Neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome is principally characterized by the same symptoms that constitute the negative symptoms of schizophrenia—emotional blunting, apathy, hypobulia, difficulty in thinking, difficulty or total inability in concentrating, attention deficits, and desocialization. This can easily lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment. Instead of decreasing the antipsychotic, the doctor may increase their dose to try to ‘improve’ what he perceives to be negative symptoms of schizophrenia, rather than antipsychotic side effects.”

    And increasing the neuroleptics, or adding more psychiatric drugs, can result in what’s known as anticholinergic intoxication syndrome. The central symptoms of which are indistinguishable from the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia.”

    “Central symptoms [of anticholinergic intoxication syndrome] may include memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, hyperactivity, twitching or jerking movements, stereotypy, and seizures.”

    This syndrome is also called anticholinergic toxidrome, and can be created with the following drug classes:

    “Substances that may cause [anticholinergic] toxidrome include the four ‘anti’s of antihistamines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antiparkinsonian drugs[3] as well as atropine, benztropine, datura, and scopolamine.”

    Ironically, combining these same drug classes is the recommended cure for “bipolar” today. Which means much or all of the so called “bipolar” today is likely anticholinergic toxidrome, misdiagnosed as “bipolar.”

    Obviously, perpetuating a societal belief in today’s scientifically invalid DSM disorders has resulted in a huge problem of sexual assault cover ups with these made up disorders, and is resulting in a lot of sexual abuse victims being turned into “bipolar” / “schizophrenics” with the psychiatric drugs as well.

    It strikes me it’s time to rid humanity of this paternalistic “dirty little secret,” which is used way too frequently to cover up “zipper troubles.” My best to you, and keep speaking truth to light.

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    • Obama is simultaneously the patron saint of all kids picked last in kick ball,’and confessor to the killing establishment of the much fawned other special’forces-if you haven’t yet come done from your euphoria over the death of Ben Ladin, I have news for you-it was an assassination.

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  2. It looks to me as if holding the perpetrators accountable would result in the loss of a significant percentage of the military command personnel. If this kind of thing is tolerated or even promoted, it means the administrative authorities know all about it and are either looking the other way or encouraging or even perpetrating the retaliation. To have nearly two-thirds of reporters experiencing retaliation says that this isn’t the action of a few outliers – it is military policy being enforced from the highest levels. It also reflects the highly sexist atmosphere that exists in the military and our society as a whole.

    This is not a matter for policy change – this is a matter for culture change, just like the prosecution of police officers abusing their power. Only when the higher-ups are held accountable for what happens under their command, as well as for creating a new culture of support for victims and intolerance of rape and the sexist harassment that goes along with it will we see any real change in these statistics.

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  3. Thank you for this very enlightening article.

    Absolutely retaliation for calling out abuse is the modus operandi of a bullying society. And when the authority looks the other way, it becomes a downright toxic society. This was my story going through the mental health system, exactly.

    I agree with Steve, this is about who is in charge, because it is a big and very dangerous mess of a culture that happens under their watch. I’d call that extreme negligence; and if hate and victim crimes are being perpetrated right under their noses, then it is criminal negligence.

    Courageous voices of truth are needed, here, to bust up these toxic systems of abuse and cover-up. I don’t see any other way. The legal system sure doesn’t help, it’s part of the closed toxic system.

    Speak up and wake up is the answer, to my mind. Courage now needed more than ever.

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  4. A good friend of mine also named Fred chose to go into the Marine Corps . In Hawaii in the 1960’s during training on a long march with loaded pack he broke his foot and couldn’t continue . The sergeant in charge ordered him onto his feet to continue . Fred could not stand up . He was left behind . Hours later in the dark Fred arrived at base camp having crawled for miles to get back . He was examined and found to have a broken foot and was treated . When those in charge heard what happened Fred was thrown into the brig for months given a psychiatric diagnosis and “prescribed librium” . When they shipped him back home to Illinois he was addicted to the librium and given “psychiatric care.” He was on it for the rest of his life , self attempts to wean off failed , and eventually after fighting them for decades the VA gave him a full 100% disability pension . He laughed and called it cash therapy . He had only 1/2 dozen years left to live . Effects of librium tightened many of his muscles. He had much pain . In his 60’s his spine bent in half . He walked bent over . During his last stay in a VA hospital a doctor there offered to operate on him promising he would have less pain . Fred agreed and after recovery from the operation the surgeon walked into Fred’s room and asked if the pain was now relieved . Fred told him that now it was worse then ever. Without a word the surgeon turned and walked out of the room. When I spoke to Fred on the phone he told me there was a veteran in the room next to his that grunted in pain all day and night. He said they ignored him . We talked about great camping experiences we had had in the past . I was sorry I could not afford to travel from Oregon to Illinois to visit my close friend . He was rare in the level of his goodness as a human being , as I ever met . Within a week his wife told me that Fred himself pulled the tubes from his body so he could die in peace . It’s not a surprise to me that that women are so badly abused in the military . Evidently Abuse is part of military tradition . I don’t know what to do about it .

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