Dear Senator McSally,
I’m writing to you as a combat veteran, a Persian-Farsi Linguist for Military Intelligence in the Army. I served in Iraq in OIF I-II (2003-2004). More than our small connection through service to our country, however, you and I have a shared experience that usually no one ever speaks about.
This isn’t how I want us to be sisters-in-arms. This isn’t the way I wish for servicewomen to be connected, but I had to speak up, because I’m also an MST survivor. I was raped by a fellow unit member in December of 2003, and with an almost childlike naivety, I trusted the system to give me justice. I reported it because, at the time, I thought I had done nothing wrong. I didn’t think about my military career, but maybe I should have. I believed in my command, who is supposed to be there to protect and support its service members. I was wrong.
I learned very quickly just how deeply the system can cut. The investigation was a sham, my commander treated it as a joke. He took great pleasure in telling me, in front of the entire company, that my case was found unsubstantiated, and went on to tell the men to “not worry. If someone reports something but you did nothing wrong, you won’t get in trouble.” He laughed. The guys laughed.
I was labeled the girl who lied, the girl who cried rape, but also became the girl who had to continue to work with her rapists everyday. I began to blame myself, both for the rape and for having the audacity to report it. In the end, when I learned my rapist would be staying on American soil, I chose deployment to Iraq over remaining at Fort Polk. Eventually, in 2008, severe PTSD pushed me out of the uniform I still loved.
I say all this not so that I can tell you that you’re not alone—you already know that. There are too many of us, so many that we could make up our own battalion, enough to start our own separate war.
I tell you this instead to simply say thank you. You’re bringing attention to this very serious issue in a way that many of us can’t. I was just a specialist, simple rank and file, and although, after years of silence, I have learned to try to tell my story in the only way I can, your honesty and intense bravery has finally dragged this dirty little military secret back into the light. I hope we can keep it pinned there. Your bravery is incredible because even though we’re in the era of #MeToo, we’re also in the same era of Brock Turner and #HimToo. Your bravery is also invigorating, because I hope that as a collective, we can now raise up our voices and say we’ve had enough. Something needs to break, and it shouldn’t be us anymore.
The system needs to change. Thank you for stepping forward and spearheading that change.
Ryan Leigh Dostie