Kelsey Harbor (Jagla), USMC Veteran and survivor of MST, Board of Director for MSTM
Once upon a time, I believed in the theory of the “Boy who cried Wolf”. I believed in the power of my word.
That changed long before my first Military Sexual Trauma as a poolee in the Marine Corps. From that moment on I knew my word in the military was not my bond: my sexuality and gender were.
From the moment I decided to join the Marine Corps. I was sexualized. My recruiter traded me a drug waiver for sexual favors. My MCT instructor cornered me multiple times to feel me up. A female MCT instructor told me this is “just the way it is and to suck it up”. An instructor for MOS school told me many times cornering me in my room and making me bend over for his amusement that “no one would believe me”.
When I was charged with disobeying a direct order immediately after reporting all of my assaults, I knew it was true: no one believed me.
It didn’t matter how “real” I was, it didn’t matter how many people knew me and knew how honest I was, how many people knew how “blunt” or Knew how I kept it “100” AT ALL TIMES, at that point I was only a female marine, “a walking mattress”, a subhuman sex apparatus that couldn’t be trusted no matter my how impeccable with my word I have always been. Nothing I would say would hold any weight.
I then thought back to the times growing up when I told adults in charge that unwanted sexual advances continued to happen to me, it was always dismissed: always brushed under the rug. When I talked about my adult male family member making me watch porn VHS tapes when I was 5 years old, nobody believed me. And even before that, a little boy to tried “play house” with me, taking his clothes off and laying on top of me, with adults laughing it off for months each time that I brought it up, like I must be some kind of “ fast girl” if I already had my first boyfriend before I hit double digits in age.
When I told adults another boy was having me get naked in his tent to do things that made me feel uncomfortable, and yet again they didn’t believe me, I began to understand that society doesn’t seem to care about what happened to my body.
What was the problem though? Was it because I was young? Was it because I didn’t understand the way of the world?Or was it simply because I was female? After all, a man can say “I’ll pay you back Friday, you have my word.” A woman cannot do the same thing.
Why has no one ever believed me the FIRST time?
Why does it take so much, why does it take for this campaign for people to listen?
Why are my words of truth not as sacred as my assailants’ innocence?
A man can say “my word is my bond” and shake on it then instantly receive the trust of another man or woman.
A woman? A woman when giving her “word” is questioned, pushed aside, laughed at, humiliated and made to seem lesser human with the same physical words that we speak.
Why can’t our words be our bond?
I think that’s the main question here.
A woman should not have to explain why what she’s saying is true.
A woman should not have to say “please believe me.”
Yet here we are, doing a “believe me” campaign to again push for the right for our words to be believed to be as truthful as a man’s.
We are still begging people to believe us.
At one point these campaigns won’t be necessary.
At one point myself as a woman will be able to look at any man or any other woman and say “I WAS RAPED” and be believed.
We will be able to say “I was raped” and get JUSTICE.
And at some point “the boy who cried Wolf” will be “the person who cried Wolf”.
But we’re still socially conditioned not to listen to female voices, and especially not if they are angry and emotional. But you see, we’re RAPE survivors: we have every right to be angry and emotional, but no one seems to believe us if we are. What’s the respectable, emotionally appropriate way to say “I was raped,” and have someone believe me?
I’ve said it as a little girl, dressed in a pretty Sunday school dress. I’ve said it as a tween, swimming in hoodies and pajama pants. I’ve said it in a military uniform, and today, I say it with a blazer and no bra, and at least now you’re listening, even though many of you still don’t believe me.
It doesn’t matter what I was wearing. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing right now. What matters is that I never should have been sexually abused, assaulted, or raped, but I will be believed.
It’s the time for us survivors now. We won’t back down. We won’t let you shame us for our gender or our appearance or the way we survived: the fact that we are still here is a power that grows stronger with every day, and together we are here to say that we will be believed.
Founder & CEO of the Military Sexual Trauma Movement
Janelle Marina Mendez
Turning Pain in to POWER!
Janelle Marina Mendez is a dynamic activist and passionate community leader based in the Hudson Valley area of New York State, proudly identifying as a disabled veteran of the United States Marine Corps. She manages her disability and has thrived in her career, currently working as a Vice President - Wealth Management Financial Advisor for CitiGroup Global Markets Inc., also known as Citi Personal Wealth Management. As Founder and CEO of the Military Sexual Trauma Movement, a national grassroots advocacy organization run by affected veterans with disabilities, Janelle’s activism is creating an impact. Her activism extends into local politics where she has run for office and remains civically engaged. She does all of this in her spare time away from her high powered career in finance.
According to Reuters, veterans who report MST are 70% more likely to commit suicide compared to a non-MST veteran. Tens of thousands of veterans have committed suicide as a result of Military Sexual Trauma.
Janelle Marina is one of the fortunate MST survivors who also survived her own suicide attempt: an intentional overdose. The pain of the sexual, physical, and psychological trauma was so intense that this young Marine who was only eighteen, began to believe that life wasn’t worth living, after the trauma of the brutal rape and hazing she endured, she narrowly survived. The pain of the flashbacks of what she endured on active duty was far too much for her to bear.
Her Chain of Command (CoC) taunted her with names like WOOK (woman outside the kitchen), Walking Mattress (WM), Hoe, and Slut; Janelle was ruthlessly violated by her superiors after a nude photo intended to for her boyfriend leaked and was shared with all of the Marines on base. Janelle was seventeen years old.
When Janelle Marina reported what happened to her, Janelle's superiors placed the blame on her and began a hazing so severe that she developed Chronic-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Over the course of 3 days she was choked, molested, harassed, spit on, had a metal chair thrown at her, was starved, and denied sleep. Upon request of legal and medical attention, she was denied these basic human rights and was locked in a room for 15 hours. In the aftermath of this harrowing trauma, she was informed by her chain of command that hazing and sexual abuse are part of the culture she signed up to experience as a female Marine.
Following these experiences, she was raped by a Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) who was trying to avoid deployment with his unit. Janelle woke up unable to remember what occurred. She looked down at her clothes to see she was wearing a wife beater and boxers. She immediately went to her Sergeant (Sgt) who called NCIS. Janelle was sent to a naval hospital where she was given a rape kit which included a toxicology report, both of which came out positive. The findings determined she had five sleeping pills in her system and had been roofied. Upon returning to base, Janelle was arrested for underage drinking and sent to Norfolk Naval Brig, where her father hired a private attorney and the case was dismissed.
Women who report sexual assault are 12X more likely to receive a negative (retaliatory) outcome from reporting Military Sexual Trauma than the offender being held accountable.
She often asked herself, “How did I get here?” throughout the course of this woeful torment.
Janelle grew up in a working class suburb just outside of New York City where she was raised with her older brother and two younger sisters. Her parents both worked as civil servants, her mother a postal worker turned bus driver and her father a police officer. Even in a two parent home, Janelle’s childhood had its share of challenges. Her family struggled financially when her father was injured while responding to a domestic dispute and became physically disabled. The financial burden of the medical bills combined with the pressure on her mother to manage the whole of the family’s affairs tore the family apart. The ongoing stress led to her parents’ divorce , ultimately her mother losing custody of her due to child abuse. These experiences shaped Janelle’s worldview, even as a youth. She learned at an early age to fight for what is right and just in a world where she witnessed firsthand the unfair treatment of women. Janelle Marina made a promise to herself to one day be a part of the change she wanted to see in the world.
As a teenager, Janelle loved sports and did fairly well in her studies; she dreamt of attending university to become either a scientist or a politician. Unfortunately, due to her family's financial circumstances, this was a dream deferred for her. Janelle was attracted to the elite and powerful image of the United States Marine Corps, and considered her military enlistment to provide a way out of home life she so desperately wanted to escape from, knowing military service would provide her an opportunity to get an education she knew her parents could not afford.
Janelle’s torturous experience with Military Sexual Trauma proved to serve as her primary motivation to turn pain into power. The more she fought to survive and to actualize justice, the more she witnessed the systemic injustices that she fights to change today. Unfortunately, Janelle’s experience is not unique: there are countless service members, both men and women, who share this experience, but are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation.
62% of women who report MST report receiving a retaliatory outcome.
Upon her release from the military, Janelle Marina received a retaliatory discharge and found herself vulnerable, penniless and homeless. Barred from access to the VA’s healthcare, there was no one to help mentally or emotionally, drawing her survive by entering the sex and drug trades. She was repeatedly denied access to benefits. Her story led her to pursue justice and achieve her goal through the Movement's first major success, the passage of the No Bad Paper Bills which became law in New York State. These groundbreaking laws are the first in United States History to protect against both retaliation and discrimination. Janelle Marina's experience led to her core belief in intersectional justice. These laws protect veterans who experience MST, veterans with disabilities and LGBTQIA veterans. Her story is truly one of turning pain in to power.
According to HRW.org, 53% of homeless female veterans are victims of Military Sexual Trauma.
The tide began to turn in her favor when Janelle landed her first job in finance. Due to the discipline, high standards, and competitive skills Janelle developed in the U.S.M.C. combined with both her internal fortitude and deep desire for justice, Janelle was promoted multiple times in the financial services industry during the recession of 2008. Once stable and thriving in her career, she began to focus her efforts on pursuing her dreams by beginning to attend college and enter the political arena. During this time Janelle was struggling with substance abuse issues and began seeking out therapeutic treatment.
According to DAV.org when a veteran has a history of MST, they are 10X more likely to develop substance abuse/addiction issues.
In the process of becoming civically engaged, Janelle set her focus on finding ways to evolve into an impactful leader who could lend her powerful voice for women, veterans and service members everywhere who share her experience but are afraid to speak up. Through her courageous advocacy, Janelle began to find great healing in sharing her survival story, connecting with veterans in pursuit of their rights everywhere. Today, advocating for survivors of MST has become her calling, one in which she proudly fights for today.
Contact: Deidra Hubay
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Military Sexual Trauma Movement Awaits the Commandant’s Response
Movement Founder Janelle Marina Mendez writes a powerful open letter to USMC Commandant in a request for collaboration
PENTAGON JULY 17 - With growing anticipation from the veterans and service members it represents, the Military Sexual Trauma Movement awaits response from the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
With the aid of the Movement’s online Reporting Tool, the movement has successfully begun to influence military leadership and commands to hold service members accountable for a multitude of offenses such as the unconsented sharing of personally explicit photos, blatant advocation for violence against minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, and the blatant advocation for the sexual and physical violence against women.
Much of what is reported through the tool is Cyber Misconduct. The Movement asserts that perpetrators of MST typically show a pattern of behaviors such as concerning online social media posting. Currently, military culture does not foster a safe place for MST survivors.
Retaliatory practices are a suffocating threat to victims of abuse that can leave victims feeling like they have no choice but to suffer in silence, which can lead to suicidal ideations or worse. In 2014, 25% of the 5,983 MST cases reported were restricted reports, meaning the perpetrator was never held accountable. Of the 4,501 unrestricted reports filed, 62% of the individuals felt they suffered retaliation.
One way we assist is by taking action on the reports we receive from active duty and veteran individuals via our Reporting Tool that want to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. We have maintained a 0% retaliation rate for anyone who has reported an offense through the Movement by keeping these individuals anonymous.
However, The Movement has found that it was being met with resistance from some of the Commandant's subordinates in finding justice for these issues. We maintain that the MST Movement will stop at nothing to find justice for a broken community, specifically the growing number of people who rely on us to advocate for them.
The MST Movement advocates for survivors of MST from every branch of service, regardless of their gender or identity. As those seeking our advocacy await a military that ensures everyone in service to their country is safe in their work environment, we will continue to insist that senior leaders step up, raise their standards, hold offenders accountable, and end this hostile military culture instead of enabling it.
“Using this Reporting Tool to report social media activity that was directed at me really gave me a lot of relief,'' one anonymous user of the Tool reported, “I was scared to go to work because I was afraid of being targeted some more, but when the MST movement took it up for me, the Marine who was responsible was investigated, held accountable, and removed from the shop where we worked. I’m able to show up every day and complete the mission without fear of retaliation, because I have remained anonymous. The MST Movement was a godsend in a hostile work environment, and I hope more people can trust them like I did.”
“This work here is important as we move into a new era. Janelle Marina Mendez (MST Movement Founder) is really making headway here bringing to light what we all closed a blind eye to! Getting in front of the problem one step at a time and just like that, SUCCESS! Let’s lead this all the way to the front!” - Sgt Jason Handlon, USMC Veteran
MSTM’s District of Colombia Movement Leader and MST veteran Grace Lungu: “I love how this (reporting process) is so organized! It’s not about just us as MST survivors. It’s about preserving the future of our children who will grow to be powerful leaders.
“I've already had to contact numerous commands regarding Active Duty members that engaged in heinous online behavior such as advocating for rape and domestic violence, the murdering of Muslims and Transgender individuals, the unconsented sharing of personally explicit photos, and making fun of PTSD related suicide and dead migrant children.", stated the Movement's Communications Director, “It’s past time we hold offenders accountable and ensure leaders are upholding the standard.”
We firmly believe now is the time to move in a new direction in which the social welfare of active duty personnel is at the forefront of any military leader’s actions. We look forward to working with the Commandant and the rest of senior military leadership to solve this horrific issue that continues to remain unaddressed. We are optimistic that together we can achieve this common goal and write a new story, one of progress, inspiration and compassion. It is time to bring healing to the victims and families whose wounds remain open and ignored.
Read the Military Sexual Trauma Movement's Chairwoman and CEO Janelle Marina Mendez's Open Letter.
Our Military Sexual Trauma Movement believes in inclusivity and diversity. We firmly believe that intolerant views towards women, minorities and the LGBTQIA communities are reasons for the profound amount of sexual violence in the military. We believe in equal rights for all. Many individuals from the LGBTQIA community face many of the same issues that veterans who experience MST face, such as homelessness, involuntary sexual servitude, discrimination, denial of benefits and lack of access to education and healthcare. Often times these stressors lead to mental illness and suicidal idealization.
We believe that service members who commit their lives to fight for freedom, deserve to have the very freedoms they are fighting for and they are often denied those rights. The U.S. Military has a history of discrimination, sexism and racism that runs deeply in its culture due to toxic leadership mindsets that we are fighting to put to rest. Our diversity is what makes our nation as powerful and impactful as it is in the global arena. Our movement is about embracing and protecting the rights of everyone who joins the United States Military.
Every military policy that silences individuals such as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the "Transgender Bans" must be challenged and overturned. Authenticity is the truest form of freedom. Serving with honor means that you have the ability to live your life authentically while serving on active or reserve duty. In order to truly live out our values as a nation we must live up to the standard of really being the land of the free. This statement must apply to all of us. When we create an America where freedom only applies to a few and our very own service members are not protected because of races, sex, gender, religion, etc. we are failing as a nation, right here on our own soil.
We create an un-necessary struggle which creates a systemic issue of forcing LGBTQIA community members in to the slave trades as a result of lack of opportunity. All of this can be prevented by implementing our LGBTQIA Freedom Bill of Rights. We ask that you sign on to support our cause and help us create awareness about the our bill of rights. You are fighting for us so we are fighting for you.
Our LGBTQIA Freedom Bill of Rights includes:
Living out an individual's preferred lifestyle without retaliation, the ability to serve irregardless of gender or sex status, access to medical treatment needed to live out an individual's preferred lifestyle and protection from retaliatory discharges on the basis of a service member coming out and choosing to live out their authentic lifestyle.
Albany, NY June 3- During my visit to the NYS Assembly in Albany, New York, we were able to have meaningful progress for our movement. Our Military Sexual Trauma Movement is about advocating for survivors on local, state and national levels of government in order to effect changes that protect survivors of MST.
Albany, NY June 18- New York State’s legislature has passed the first in a series of policy reforms pushed by the Military Sexual Trauma Movement, Inc. The historic three bills have passed both The Assembly A.8095; A.8096 & A.8097 and Senate S.6467; S.6527 & S.45. The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Didi Barret (D) is the first of its kind in the nation and represents a huge victory for victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and for the LGBT community.
A.8096/S.6467 and A.8097/S.6527 directs the State Division of Veterans Affairs to maintain a discharge upgrade advisory board and another bill authorizes this board to issue advisories to the Armed Forces Review Boards on discharge upgrades. The so called “Bad Paper Bills” create a path to a discharge upgrade for those who have received a retaliatory discharge.
MST Movement founder, Janelle Marina Mendez highlights the need for reform saying, “Retaliatory discharges are notoriously difficult to fight and further victimize vulnerable veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and it’s another tool used by the military to punish service members from the LGBTQIA community for simply being who they are.”
“Refusing to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of veterans in the LGBTQ community or those who are struggling with PTSD, TBI, or Military Sexual Trauma, is unequivocally immoral,” said Assemblymember Barrett. “These individuals honorably fought for our country and our freedoms. There’s no reason ‘bad papers’ should keep them from accessing the resources they need when they return home.”
A.8097/ S 45 extends State benefits and services to veterans who served honorably but received “bad papers” or a “less than honorable discharge.” MST Movement founder, Janelle Marina Mendez heralds the passage of the legislation as “an important step toward setting up a support system for victims of MST who have been retaliated against with bad discharge papers. Being able to access State benefits for mental health and housing, can be the difference between a veteran accessing mental health services and turning to illicit drugs and homelessness. Our petition urging New York State to support victims of Military Sexual Trauma continues to carry the voices of Veterans who are crying out for help. We are now calling on Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law. These laws will save lives for Veterans in New York State.”
The reforms for NYS Veterans are one step toward the realization of the MST Victims Bill of Rights. The MST Victims Bill of Rights is a package of reform proposals meant to provide protection to victims from the severe retaliation that they face and lack of critical services. The Military Sexual Trauma Movement, Inc. is formed to protect service members who have experienced military sexual trauma by advocating for the implementation of the Military Sexual Trauma Victims Bill of Rights. The Military Sexual Trauma Movement, Inc. will serve to advocate for survivors and create a community that will serve as a sign of hope for future generations of young people entering the United States Military. For more information visit EndMST.org
Now, we are urging Governor Cuomo to sign these bill in to law making New York State the first in the nation to protect both classes of vulnerable veterans: MST and LGBTQIA.
Please sign and share our petition supporting the NYS Bad Paper Bills! We appreciate your support!