Gilbert resident JoAnn White says she was wounded while serving with the Air Force during the Vietnam War and has not been able to work since. Her injuries were not inflicted by a foreign enemy. She said she was raped and sexually assaulted during her military career by men who were supposed to be on her side.
White says her pain is as emotional as it was physical, and was exacerbated by a system that shrugged off her reports without investigating them.
So White has looked on with satisfaction recently as a group of 16 men and women who were raped and assaulted during active service filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon and as legislation was introduced in Congress to expand legal rights and protections for such victims.
"What I had to deal with in the Air Force just about destroyed me," White told The Arizona Republic. "I hope telling what happened to me will help other women. I am fed up and tired. I want the word out there."
Last year, 3,158 sexual assaults were reported by men and women serving in all branches of the Armed Forces, according to the Department of Defense's Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. But the department estimates that last year's number reflects only about 13.5 percent of the total number of assaults on men and women in active duty last year.
Advocates like Panayiota Bertzikis, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Military Rape Crisis Center, said those victims often fail to report attacks for various reasons, including pressure from supervisors and peers.
Bertzikis is a plaintiff in the February lawsuit, which accuses the military of allowing a culture that fails to prosecute sex offenders and instead punishes victims who come forward.