Society has never been polite to or protected survivors of sexual assault. They’re either blamed for the assault or ridiculed for coming forward; especially if their attacker holds a prominent position in the community. There are some survivors who have been brave enough to tell their story in order to educate the public on how common being sexually assaulted is. From there, a sense of community has been built among survivors. By believing and standing with each other when it feels like nobody else will. What about the survivors that don’t have the same access to that community? Being in the Military is seen as its own entity, one that claims to be a “brotherhood” but there are consistently men being left behind.
According to the Department of Defense, in the 2019 fiscal year there was a 3% increase in sexual assault reports, a 17% increase in confidential disclosure of an assault without an official investigation, and a 10% increase in formal sexual harassment complaints. Many would see these stats as just that, stats. There are college campuses that probably hold numbers very similar to theirs. The issue is not just the stats, but what’s been happening after the disclosure. Instead of rallying behind and protecting their fellow soldiers, there is proof that soldiers who report their assault can end up dead.
The most recent being Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes. In May, Fernandes reported that he was touched inappropriately by a male superior. Following his report he was transferred, and once the word spread around his new unit he was ridiculed and hazed. Fernandes went missing for over a week before he was found dead, hanging from a tree in Temple, Texas, about 28 miles from Fort Hood. Temple police, the lead agency on the Fernandes case due to jurisdiction, have claimed that there is no foul play suspected.
Fernandes was not the only missing Fort Hood soldier to later be found dead. At least 7 other soldiers have been discovered deceased since March, including Vanessa Guillen. It’s no coincidence that these missing soldiers have reported some form of sexual assault from peers or superiors before their deaths. This is a fear tactic in order to silence current survivors who may have not yet reported and to keep future victims from doing the same. There needs to be some accountability in Fort Hood; our soldiers deserve protection too.