EUGENE, Ore. — Hundreds of female veterans are in town connecting with their comrades, trading service stories, and learning about crucial services available to them.
Oregon has an estimated 28,000-thousand veterans, and many of them were in Eugene for the Oregon Women Veterans Conference.
The badges of honor, service and sacrifice filled the Eugene Hilton Friday as dozens of veteran women gathered to seek support, education, and resources to carry them beyond their military careers.
Also seated are some with permanent scars. Those like Judith Burger, a survivor of sexual abuse in the us military, which is an often untalked about issue.
We brought up the topic of sexual assault and surprisingly the response was the same–yes, it’s happening–yes, it happened to me–but it’s still very hard to talk about. Still, some did share their stories in hopes of keeping this dialogue going.
“I am a survivor. And while I served, I did not report because I saw what happened to someone who did report from the same person who assaulted me. I saw what happened to her and her career and her life, and that was not going to be me,” said Judith Burger.
Burger isn’t alone. The Department of Defense’s latest statistics show 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in 2011.
“That can be groping, grabbing, coercing–so basically holding up promotions, holding up in order to have sex to full on rape,” Burger said.
Burger says the issue isn’t about sex. It’s about aggression, power and tradition.
Not all survivors are ready to show their faces. Another woman asked us to withhold her identity but wants people to know the issue needs attention.
“If I said something, I would have been kicked out and it would have looked like it was my fault,” she said.
She says she too never reported her abuse.
“These guys are supposed to be heros, but how can a hero be a rapist?” she said.
The women we spoke with though say not all is lost.
“It is being talked about more, and it should be talked about more, and there are a lot of services available,” said Mandee Juza, Readjustment Counselor and MSW Social Worker.
There are vet centers in Eugene, Bend, Salem, Grants Pass and Portland.
“We provide individual and group therapy for veterans,” Juza said.
For Burger, she says it must start with women feeling confident to report the crimes.
“I think it will change just like all other social change. And people who can step forward, speak, be brave, and let the people who can’t necessarily be the voice up front, hold them up,” Burger said.
Most of the women recommended seeing a movie called The Invisible War and say that helped them through their struggles. It’s a documentary highlighting sexual assault in the military. In the meantime, for those struggling we’ve provided links to find help.