Redmond veteran breaks silence of 'invisible war'
Military sexual assault survivor shares story, seeks change
"I left to do one thing, which was to serve my country, whatever that meant, not realizing that one of those things could be this (sexual assault)," Redmond veteran Judith Burger-Myers said Tuesday.
Burger-Myers joined the Army before she even graduated Mountain View High School in Bend, eager to begin her adventure.
But she said shortly after she enlisted, she was sexually assaulted.
Not once, not twice, but three different times, in different units, in her three years of service, both in the U.S. and overseas.
Burger-Myers didn't tell anyone, she didn't report it -- she knew better.
"I didn't report because I watched another woman report, and I saw what happened to her," Burger-Myers said. "And I wasn't going to suffer that, on top of what I was already going through."
Burger-Myers says she saw others get ridiculed, humiliated -- there were threats of withholding promotions.
And even now, she says she doesn't regret her silence 20 years ago.
" I don't wish I had reported," she said. "Not as things stood then, and not as things stand now, because I wouldn't have had justice. I would have had more persecution."
Now, she's broken that silence and crying for change.
Burger-Myers recently attended a conference in Washington D.C. She won a scholarship to attend a conference held by the Service Women's Action Network.
It was a two-day event for military sexual trauma survivors, their families and supporters to tell lawmakers their stories.
She and other survivors hope Congress will pass the Ruth Moore Act, a bill aimed at helping sexual assault victims get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I have been denied from the VA for my claim for MST (military sexual trauma) because I didn't report," she said. "I know five other people from Central Oregon who are fighting for benefits based on MST, and they're struggling."
Burger-Myers is urging lawmakers to also pass another law. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act – or STOP Act -- would create a military agency that specifically investigates and handles sex crimes.
Burger-Myers says the process of reporting sex crimes desperately needs to be changed.
"You report to your commander, so your commander has all the power on deciding whether there will be anything done, what will be done, for you, or for the accused," she said.
She said even commanders who mean the best might be reluctant to push the report higher up through the chain of command.
"How their unit is run, what their numbers are, how many crimes are reported in their unit -- those determine whether that person gets his or her next promotion," Burger-Myers added.
She said it's tough to share her story, but she wants it to end. And she said she's urging people to not keep their outrage silent.
"I want the American people to know, I want our community to know what is happening, so they will contact our congressional leaders, our senators," she said.
Burger-Myers says she knows a tough battle lies ahead in Congress, and for victims of military sex assault.
" We say as a society that are military are our heroes, and that's true," she said. The people that volunteer are willing to sacrifice themselves and their lives for our nation, and that means horrible things sometimes -- and that shouldn't mean rape."
Burger-Myers told her story to NewsChannel 21 as a new report from the Pentagon revealed that military sexual assault is at a record high -- jumping by more than one-third since 2010.
The report shows the numbers increased by 35 percent since 2010, from 19,300 service members believed to be victims that year to 26,000 in 2012.
A high-ranking military official who is supposed to protect service members of sexually abuse was recently charged with sexual assault himself.
It's news that doesn't surprise Burger-Myers one bit. She also names several service men who were given their positions back after being charged with sex crimes.
"Who wants to report that they've been assaulted, when they know nothing's going to happen? she asked.
And to her, they are not crimes only targeting women.
Men are victims too said Burger-Myers.
"This isn't a gender-based thing," she said. "This is a power-based thing, and a cultural thing."
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