Sexual Violence Victims Say Military Justice System Is Broken
Sexual Violence Victims Say Military Justice System Is 'Broken'
QUIL LAWRENCE and MARISA PEÑALOZA
March 21, 2013 3:05 AM
Morning Edition 7 min 48 sec
Myla Haider took a roundabout route to becoming an agent in the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, or CID. Wars kept interrupting her training.
"My commander wanted to take me to Iraq as the intelligence analyst for the battalion, so I gave up my seat in CID school," Haider says.
She speaks in a steady, "just the facts ma'am" tone. Once a cop always a cop, the 37-year-old says.
Her commander from the 101st Airborne, retired Lt. Col. Marty Herbert, describes Haider as a sharp, even-keeled analyst, standing out in a battalion of hundreds. Haider went with the 101st to Kandahar in 2002, and then to Iraq in 2003.
"On the invasion, it was me and three other guys living in the vehicle for days at a time," she says.
If you wanted to bathe, you could use one of the four precious bottles of water in the daily ration, Haider recalls.
"There was no privacy; it was just sand as far as you can see," she says. "I didn't change clothes; we were in chemical suits for two weeks straight."
Paradoxically, it was a good time in her life. Under fire, Haider says, those soldiers from the 101st became her brothers. She never felt sidelined because of her gender, never felt the least bit threatened living among the men. In the downtime there was plenty of joking around — they'd peg each other with a Nerf football. In such close quarters, there were hardly any secrets.
“ When I reported [the rape], it was a very small part of my life. But by making that choice, my reporting of it took over my life, ruined my career and wound up, ultimately, getting me kicked out of the Army.
- Myla Haider, former Army criminal investigator
Except Haider was carrying a heavy one.
Before she ever went to war, during CID training, Haider was raped. With some experience already with the military's attitude toward rape, she decided not to report the attack.
"I've never met one victim who was able to report the crime and still retain their military career," she says. "Not one."
Haider made that decision and was at peace with it; she left that one terrible incident in the past. In many ways the camaraderie with male soldiers in the 101st, forged in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped her heal. Soldiers there treated her with respect and helped her remember not all men, not all soldiers, are sexual predators.
But the past wouldn't stay buried. A few years later, after she'd become a CID agent, Haider got a phone call from an officer who was investigating a possible serial rapist — the soldier who raped her.
It was a moral dilemma, with an obvious course.
"All of the other women who were involved in the case had been attacked after I was attacked," Haider says. "So I thought the only right thing for me to do was to be involved."
A Reluctance To Report Attacks
Her reluctance to report the rape initially is one that victims' advocates understand too well.
"It's a very telling story about a broken system," says Susan Burke, an attorney who has sued the Pentagon on behalf of many rape plaintiffs, including Haider.
The Department of Defense estimates there are about 19,000 sexual assaults in the military per year. But according to the latest Pentagon statistics, only 1,108 troops filed for an investigation during the most recent yearly reporting period. In that same period, 575 cases were processed — and of those, just 96 went to court-martial.
"They were only willing to go forward on a small fraction, and then of those, only a portion, only 96 of them, get court-martialed," Burke says.
Then — at court-martial — the officer who convened the trial can change the charge, reduce the sentence, or even overturn the verdict.
That's what happened last month in a case at the U.S. Air Base in Aviano, Italy. A military jury had convicted an officer of sexually assaulting a houseguest while she was asleep. The general presiding over the case — the "convening authority," in military-speak — threw out the verdict, without explanation.
The Aviano case spurred a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, where senators grilled the Judge Advocate General from each of the services about the continuing issue of rape in the military.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked the Air Force's JAG, Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, if he thought the Aviano case was handled justly.
"I think that the convening authority reviewed the facts and made an independent determination, and he did so with integrity," Harding replied.