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Sexual assault response An art project brings to light the lasting impact of the abuse on veterans, soldiers and civilians

By Susan Palmer The Register-Guard Appeared in print: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, page B3
The hand-painted words crowd each other on some T-shirts, appear sparsely on others. But perhaps the most powerful T-shirt in the Clothesline Art Project at the Eugene Veterans Administration Clinic is a black one with no words. Its creator, a victim of sexual trauma in the military, expressed the lasting impact of the violation with a simple red outline of a heart, a jagged hole cut through its center.
Victims often find it difficult to talk about sexual abuse, said veterans clinic social worker Sonja Fry, who counsels area vets suffering the painful aftermath. The art project, set up in a small room at the clinic, is a way to give them a voice, she said.
When the display opened earlier this month, Fry started with 16 T-shirts. Another five have come in since then. April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month nationally, and similar clothesline projects are on display at the Eugene and Springfield libraries. The Springfield clothesline will move to Lane Community College for display beginning Monday.
The rate of sexual assaults and rapes hasn’t changed much in the past decade, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which reported 248,300 victims in 2007, but U.S. Department of Justice analysts estimate that 60 percent of such crimes go unreported.
In the military, sexual assault represents a troubling phenomenon, and the Department of Defense has been trying to measure and combat the crime since 2004, when it created the office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Annual reports on the number of incidents since then show an increase almost every year. In 2008, for example, there were 2,908 incidents reported across all the services, up 8 percent from 2007.
The rise in numbers may simply reflect growing awareness and willingness of victims to report incidents, say Department of Defense officials. Of the 2008 assault reports, 51 percent of the service member victims said their attackers were other service members, and 29.8 percent involved service members victimizing civilians.
“Sexual assault tears at the very fabric that holds us together as a military community, and it has a devastating effect on victims,” said Eileen Lainez, a Department of Defense spokeswoman. “(It) is a national problem and we can and must do better as a military and as a nation.”
The Armed Services now require that all units have a victim advocate and an individual trained to respond to reports of sexual assault. The Veterans Administration has a longer track record in dealing with the fallout from sexual violence. Since the early 1990s, the agency has recognized the need to support victims.
Federal law requires VA health clinics and hospitals to ask all veterans if they are victims of military sexual trauma, a term that encompasses a range of unwanted sexual contact from verbal harassment to rape. For those who answer yes, the VA must provide free counseling and other health services.
A VA study published in 2007 found that 22 percent of female veterans and 1 percent of male veterans reported experiencing military sexual trauma. Like victims in the broader civilian population, many suffer silently for years, Fry said.
That’s what happened to Travis Honea, a Eugene resident and Army veteran who served two four-year stints in the military in the 1980s. Sexual trauma has haunted Honea for decades, she said. She and another soldier were raped by a stranger during a training bivouac while they were on guard duty, but never told anyone what happened.
“You don’t tell,” Honea said. “You never tell, because of the way you get treated.” Months later, Honea’s sergeant told her the only way she could advance was to perform a sexual act with him, Honea said. She consistently refused the repeated advances and as a result caught the least favorable assignments, she said. When she finally complained to a supervisor, she was treated as though she had done something to invite the unwanted attention, she said.
After leaving the military in 1991, Honea was plagued with emotional problems and drug and alcohol abuse. It wasn’t until she went to the Eugene VA clinic in 2005 for a service-related knee problem that someone asked her if she had experienced military sexual trauma. “I was mad at first,” Honea said. “I was, like, are you kidding me? They make you ask that question?” The clinic offered her counseling. Honea accepted, and the experience was life– changing. “Now I can put a name to what’s wrong,” Honea said. “I didn’t know why I had all these problems with alcohol and drugs, why I couldn’t sleep at night with night terrors and sweating profusely. … It’s helped me calm down a little bit. It’s taught me how to be in the present moment, not to dwell on the past.” Victims experience a range of symptoms, including depression and post traumatic stress disorder, Fry said. But it’s a kind of trauma that’s hidden from view. Honea’s T-shirt for the art project speaks to that hidden-ness. The white shirt has handprints all over it and scrawled across the center of the shirt is the word “faceless” partially concealed in the hand prints.
“You don’t stand out in a crowd. Unless you come out and tell somebody you’ve got PTSD, nobody would ever know,” Honea said. Honea advises other veterans who may be suffering in silence to go to the clinic. “I would say, go, run fast. I think there’s some good people at the Eugene VA that can help. If you’re female and don’t want to see a male or male and don’t want to see a female, you don’t have to.”

Sexual assault responseAn art project brings to light the lasting impact of the abuse on veterans, soldiers and civiliansBy Susan Palmer The Register-Guard Appeared in print: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, page B3The hand-painted words crowd each other on some T-shirts, appear sparsely on others. But perhaps the most powerful T-shirt in the Clothesline Art Project at the Eugene Veterans Administration Clinic is a black one with no words. Its creator, a victim of sexual trauma in the military, expressed the lasting impact of the violation with a simple red outline of a heart, a jagged hole cut through its center.Victims often find it difficult to talk about sexual abuse, said veterans clinic social worker Sonja Fry, who counsels area vets suffering the painful aftermath. The art project, set up in a small room at the clinic, is a way to give them a voice, she said.When the display opened earlier this month, Fry started with 16 T-shirts. Another five have come in since then. April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month nationally, and similar clothesline projects are on display at the Eugene and Springfield libraries. The Springfield clothesline will move to Lane Community College for display beginning Monday.The rate of sexual assaults and rapes hasn’t changed much in the past decade, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which reported 248,300 victims in 2007, but U.S. Department of Justice analysts estimate that 60 percent of such crimes go unreported.In the military, sexual assault represents a troubling phenomenon, and the Department of Defense has been trying to measure and combat the crime since 2004, when it created the office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Annual reports on the number of incidents since then show an increase almost every year. In 2008, for example, there were 2,908 incidents reported across all the services, up 8 percent from 2007.The rise in numbers may simply reflect growing awareness and willingness of victims to report incidents, say Department of Defense officials. Of the 2008 assault reports, 51 percent of the service member victims said their attackers were other service members, and 29.8 percent involved service members victimizing civilians.“Sexual assault tears at the very fabric that holds us together as a military community, and it has a devastating effect on victims,” said Eileen Lainez, a Department of Defense spokeswoman. “(It) is a national problem and we can and must do better as a military and as a nation.”The Armed Services now require that all units have a victim advocate and an individual trained to respond to reports of sexual assault. The Veterans Administration has a longer track record in dealing with the fallout from sexual violence. Since the early 1990s, the agency has recognized the need to support victims.Federal law requires VA health clinics and hospitals to ask all veterans if they are victims of military sexual trauma, a term that encompasses a range of unwanted sexual contact from verbal harassment to rape. For those who answer yes, the VA must provide free counseling and other health services.A VA study published in 2007 found that 22 percent of female veterans and 1 percent of male veterans reported experiencing military sexual trauma. Like victims in the broader civilian population, many suffer silently for years, Fry said.That’s what happened to Travis Honea, a Eugene resident and Army veteran who served two four-year stints in the military in the 1980s. Sexual trauma has haunted Honea for decades, she said. She and another soldier were raped by a stranger during a training bivouac while they were on guard duty, but never told anyone what happened.“You don’t tell,” Honea said. “You never tell, because of the way you get treated.” Months later, Honea’s sergeant told her the only way she could advance was to perform a sexual act with him, Honea said. She consistently refused the repeated advances and as a result caught the least favorable assignments, she said. When she finally complained to a supervisor, she was treated as though she had done something to invite the unwanted attention, she said.After leaving the military in 1991, Honea was plagued with emotional problems and drug and alcohol abuse. It wasn’t until she went to the Eugene VA clinic in 2005 for a service-related knee problem that someone asked her if she had experienced military sexual trauma. “I was mad at first,” Honea said. “I was, like, are you kidding me? They make you ask that question?” The clinic offered her counseling. Honea accepted, and the experience was life– changing. “Now I can put a name to what’s wrong,” Honea said. “I didn’t know why I had all these problems with alcohol and drugs, why I couldn’t sleep at night with night terrors and sweating profusely. … It’s helped me calm down a little bit. It’s taught me how to be in the present moment, not to dwell on the past.” Victims experience a range of symptoms, including depression and post traumatic stress disorder, Fry said. But it’s a kind of trauma that’s hidden from view. Honea’s T-shirt for the art project speaks to that hidden-ness. The white shirt has handprints all over it and scrawled across the center of the shirt is the word “faceless” partially concealed in the hand prints.“You don’t stand out in a crowd. Unless you come out and tell somebody you’ve got PTSD, nobody would ever know,” Honea said. Honea advises other veterans who may be suffering in silence to go to the clinic. “I would say, go, run fast. I think there’s some good people at the Eugene VA that can help. If you’re female and don’t want to see a male or male and don’t want to see a female, you don’t have to.”

2 thoughts on “Sexual assault response An art project brings to light the lasting impact of the abuse on veterans, soldiers and civilians”

  1. Be careful about the VA. They have been covering up for rapists, for ever.

    When you tell the VA that you have been raped, you could wind up with a list of false “mental illness” diagnosis.

    They might even want to drug you. They get billions in funding for abusing raped women, putting them in mental institutions, generally, abusing raped women to cover up for rapists.

    Be careful about the VA, you do not want to wake up in a rubber room with all those mentally disturbed GI’s

    That is what the VA will do for a raped woman. Tell her she is “crazy” because she can not handle being raped.

    Then, they throw you to the male mental patients, to teach you another lesson in rape.

    Be careful of the VA, that is why they get billions in funding. Disposing of the rape victims.

  2. Beverly,
    You may have found things to be less than satisfactory in your experience with the VA but what you have done by posting your reponse is simply made the problem bigger and you have taken the focus off the real issue. Please, refrain from posting such negativity about the VA in the future.

    I hope that you rethink your position about the VA and ask for the help that you obviously need. Give yourself a chance at the life that you deserve. If you don’t find the help that you need, move on to the next VA facility until you get the response you are looking for. Dont take no for an answer.

    I have been recieving treatment through the VA for 2 1/2 years. 18 months of that was in an inpatient treatment facitily that I WILLINGLY went to. It was absoulutly the best decision I have made in my life! I suffered alone with my trauma for 15 years.

    I can’t even begin to explain to you what positive advances I have made due to the treatment that I was given by the VA. I was most certianly do not agree with your position about the VA and request that you hold your tounge in the future because statements like yours only harm women who could be getting the help that they need and deserve. Give them a chance and help them to open their minds to the posiblilty that life can be different.

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