A survivor of sexual assault in the military stepped forward Thursday at the urging of an Anchorage women’s political action group. The survivor’s story provides insight into the atmosphere within the AK National Guard that has led to the recent Office of Complex Investigations censure of the Guard’s response to sexual assault cases and the firing of the head of the state’s National Guard, Major General Thomas Katkus.
Melissa Jones was a 27 year old specialist in the Alaska Army National Guard when she says she was raped in her off – base apartment in Anchorage. Jones, speaking by teleconference from her home in Paris, Illinois, relayed a disturbing tale of denial and backpeddling on the part of the military authorities who were supposed to handle her case. Jones had reported the attack to her immediate superior, who told her to tell the unit’s chaplain. Her unit commander then told her he’d have to share her report with her sergeant. So three people knew about the attack. Jones took a week’s leave, then:
“When I returned to duty, I found that my rape had become known to many people throughout the National Guard building. I was even confronted by a member of my unit, telling me that he had heard two different stories about what had happened to me. The first story was that people were saying that I was gang-raped by my entire company, the second story was that someone had broken into my apartment and raped me. When I asked him where he had heard these rumors, and he informed me that he had heard the latter from my commander.. our commander. “
The leaked information soon was used as an excuse by the Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator’s office to ignore her claims.
“However, when I took leave and came back, I was denied the opportunity to even talk to their office, because my story had been leaked throughout the entire National Guard and they said that they could no longer talk to me.. or would no longer accept my report.”
Jones says she is a little unsure of many of the details of the assault, but she does remember the date – January 15, 2007. She had been with a group of National Guard peers at popular local bar, but she says she’s sure someone slipped something into one of her drinks, prior to the assault. She claims she remembers little of the attack. She says she did not file a report with Anchorage police.
Two months after Jones failed to get action from her superiors, she was deployed to Iraq for the better part of a year. In mid 2008 she again attempted to pursue reporting her case, but was rebuffed. After that she left Alaska, and resigned her active duty position. And she did not get counseling until 2011, four years after the fact. Jones said she is now getting a discharge from the military because she suffers from PTSD, and major depressive disorder. She at one time considered suicide.
Jones says at the time of her assault, she believed it was a random event, and that she did not dream that other Guardsmen could have been involved.
“At the time I couldn’t fathom the thought of it being one of my military peers. It wasn’t until after I got reinvolved in this situation in 2013, that I found out how many other victims came after me. And then, of course, my story and their stories were so similar.”
During her discussion with reporters, She named commanders in the Guard at the time of her assault, her immediate superiors, and their superiors, all of whom, she alleges, ignored her claims. In response to reporters’ questions, Jones said the Office of Complex Investigations did not contact her for it’s recent report. But last summer, the Secretary of the Army’s Inspector General’s office did contact her.
She says the recent OCI report is a first step, but “other changes need to happen, but at this point it is one step at a time. “
“Several of the other advocates and I have recently requested changes to the current sexual assault policy through the National Guard IG office. We have asked that disciplinary measures be implemented, and enforced, for individuals that breach confidentiality regarding sexual assault victims. There needs to be accountability. Alaska statute 39 -25-900 states that breaches of confidentiality can be charged as a misdemeanor. We ask for nothing less than that.”
Jones was invited to speak to reporters in Anchorage by the Alaska Women For Political Action, a non- partisan group dedicated to the political awareness of women in Alaska, according to the group’s secretary, Sue Levi. Levi says her group sought Jones out.
“My intention is to advocate for women. Women who have been raped, or battered, because of my background in counseling women who have experienced these traumas. I feel that someone should stand up to them, and get the word out to the public. “
Jones says she became re-involved with the issue when she realized how many other women had been assaulted in the years between 2007 and 2013. She says if she knew then, what she knows now, she would have stepped up to her chain of command more.