During the weekends, I tend to watch more TV, and my viewing consists of various news shows, news reports, and Harry Potter. This past weekend, news reports were flooded with Harvey Weinstein and the stand against sexual harassment and assault. Then, on Monday morning, I found myself typing on my Facebook Status “ME TOO.” I went into the bathroom at work and started to cry. In 2015, I was diagnosed with military sexual trauma (MTS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – 25 years after my experience with sexual assault in the Military. There are many others like me, and who like me are finally working on coming to terms with what we experienced.
In 2015, a study published by the American Psychological Association asked a group of female veterans about their sexual trauma experience. They were divided into two groups: Pre 9/11 and Post 9/11. Nearly half of the Pre 9/11 group reported sexual contact against their will during their military service. In the Post 9/11 group, reports of unwanted sexual contact dropped to 30%. A majority of those who reported sexual abuse met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. The research also found that the association between sexual trauma and its negative effects on health such as cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, and other physical and mental illness was most pronounced among older female veterans.
The struggle is real. Getting a disability claim based on MST can be incredibly difficult. In 2014, disability claims related to sexual trauma during military service were far less likely to be approved than PTSD claims. The VA has begun adding resources for women in recent years, but it’s still a challenge to get women to receive help. But also, the VA doesn’t do the best job with gender-specific services. In 2015, the VA reported that only 19% of women veterans used VA services. Changes need to be made.
So, back to my “ME TOO” moment. Yes, it stays with me, but I’ve been taking the time to stop being so hard on myself. I found the place inside me that knows it wasn’t my fault. I found that place that suffered within me and I allowed it to strengthen me. But most importantly, I’m able to tell others what I experienced and hopefully it will make a difference.
Lucy Chinea Del Gaudio—advocate for veterans and women’s empowerment—is a US Army veteran, YWCA Bergen County volunteer and supporter, 2nd Vice Commander of American Legion Post 18 (Weehawken, NJ), member of Team Red, White and Blue, and IT Infrastructure Specialist for Prudential Insurance Company of America. Lucy received the 2015/2016 Point of Light President’s Volunteer Service Award. Lucy is also a wife and mom of four awesome kids, and loves music, movies, and books.