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Combating the military sexual assault epidemic

Updated: 05/21/2014 5:34 PM
Created: 05/21/2014 4:59 PM WNYT.com
By: Elaine Houston

Kelly Busch likes being out in nature. At the Guardian House, she often can be found sprucing up the grounds. However years ago she found herself out in nature for a whole different reason.

“I lived in the woods in Florida for 8 or 9 months,” explained Busch.

How does someone who once served her country end up homeless and living in the woods? Busch blames some of it on the treatment she faced from fellow soldiers during her four years in the army, starting in 1978.

“I've been sexually assaulted twice and physically attacked more times than I care to really…” she said as her voice trailed off.

She said she never reported it because it was an unwritten rule that nothing would be done.

“It just was not done, because it was going to be swept under the rugs,” said Busch.

Fast forward to today and she was among those carefully watching the high profile case in March of an Army brig. General charged with sexual assault--  she says she wanted to see if anything had changed--and wasn't happy to see he avoided jail time.

“It makes you angry,” said Busch. “It’s just the way it was back then. That’s the way it is. Apparently, it’s not getting any better.”

Joselina Ortiz, who served in Iraq, says sexual assault is common place in the military.

“For every woman enlisted in the military, I think everyone knows someone whose been raped or they've been raped themselves,” said Ortiz.

She also says she had a friend in the navy who was sexually assaulted.

“She regrets ever reporting it. It took literally three years to even get the case heard,” said Ortiz.

It is those kind of challenges facing female vets that has New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand fighting for the Military Justice Improvement Act, to remove military commanders from deciding whether a sexual assault case should be prosecuted.

She recently came up short on getting a bill to the floor that would have changed military policy. However, she vows not to give up.

“We are never going to stop fighting for this reform. It is essential that the decision maker not be in the chain of command,” said Gillibrand.

“I agree with the senator,” said Busch. “It should not be tried in the military courts.”

Gillibrand argues forcing victims to report sexual assaults to their commanders victimizes them again.

“We heard from the survivors the reason they aren't reporting is because they don't trust the chain of command will do anything,” explained Gillibrand.

They think they were doing the right thing but the fear that came with it the scrutiny is really the big thing,” agreed Ortiz.

Without treatment, Busch who was diagnosed with "PTSD" says those fears and challenges from sexual assault remain.

“I came home with a bad drug and alcohol problem,” she said.

Now, she’s finally getting help.

“I'm getting the help I should have had years ago, but I didn't. I thought 'I’m stronger than that.'”

For more information on the proposed bill Senator Gillibrand is trying to get into law, please click here.

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