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Maine lacks proper support for military sexual assault victims

A proposed bill from a Milbridge, Maine woman recently grabbed national attention. The Ruth Moore Act of 2015 was passed through the House of Representatives in late July, with aims to protect veterans who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from sexual assault while on active duty. Ruth Moore, the namesake of the bill, was sexually assaulted on two separate occasions while serving in the Navy during the 1980s. According to the Bangor Daily News, Moore dedicated several decades of her life following the attacks to raising awareness for military victims of sexual assault.

The bill intends to not only promote educational awareness of the prevalence of PTSD that sexual assault survivors often experience, but it will also make benefits more accessible to survivors through Veterans Affairs (VA).

Survivors of trauma are often offered varying types of benefits and help from the state in an effort to support residents. Here in Maine, for example, we have state-led programs to combat homelessness and assist survivors of general sexual trauma, harassment or domestic abuse. There are even literacy programs that teach adults how to read and write. However, military sexual trauma (MST) is one area that is often overlooked and undervalued. Oftentimes, those who experience MST or general sexual assault also experience PTSD and depression following the assault.

According to data collected by the VA’s national screening program, an average of 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men experience MST. However, less than half of these service members will get the attention and justice they seek when they report a sexual assault. Further, a startling number of citizens on active duty often do not proceed with allegations of MST, out of fear for themselves or that they will be turned away by the military. The chain of command that exists is another reason that many survivors don’t get very far with their attempts to charge their offenders.

As exemplified by Ruth Moore, who didn’t receive any sort of benefits or attention after speaking out about MST, many survivors also fear that they will not get the recognition or support they require. Maine offers programs such as Penquis, Rape Response Services and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault to offer support to Maine residents who have been victims of sexual trauma.

However, the VA only offers certain limited programs, which pale in comparison to external resources. The Ruth Moore Act intends to combat exactly this dilemma in Maine. The Act, proposed by Ruth Moore and further supported by U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree, will provide better advocacy for MST survivors, as well as abolish the political “red tape” many survivors are often faced with while attempting to seek justice.

Still, the state does not have many programs to aid survivors once they return from overseas duty. One compelling, but often rhetorical question remains: why does the state promote programs for generalized sexual harassment or trauma, but fail to offer similar, or even better benefits for the brave citizens who defend our country?

It’s time we pay more attention to the facts: MST is a very real and serious phenomenon that affects over half of active-duty service members every year. We need to change the way we approach not only sexual assault, but also how the state treats survivors of MST. It’s time to change the conversation and the passing of the Ruth Moore bill is a step in the right direction.

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