Why did Sen. Doug Mastriano water down a resolution honoring military sexual assault survivors? | Aryanna Hunter

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

I hate politics.

The ads, the narratives, the manipulations. Sometimes it all just gives me a headache and I look for the nearest exit.

Aryanna Hunter (Capital-Star file photo)

Most people see what happens after bills or resolutions are written and published to the world to criticize and critique but not many get to see behind the curtain where legislators negotiate what they want included and how it can benefit their narrative.

Through my work with the nonprofit, What A Veteran Looks Like, raising awareness around military sexual trauma and the #MeTooMST campaign, I was made aware of a potential resolution to designate a week to honor survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. State Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, a staunch advocate for survivors, led this charge back in March.

What a great idea right?

I often talk about how military sexual trauma (MST) is the worst kind of friendly fire in the military. What better way to honor the courage of the men and women who have survived than to designate a week to their battle overcoming stigma and shame?

When the proposal sent to Senate Republicans – specifically Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, a retired U.S. Army colonel, the edits returned months later to the resolution toed the Department of Defense line, and watered down all of the work advocates have been doing for years in this space. 

A resolution to state the perseverance, strength, and resolve of military sexual assault survivors for a week to men such as Mastriano was just too much. Possibly because it meant that he failed as a leader to all the young men and women like me under his command who were assaulted and never saw justice. 

The revisions removed all of the affirming language around what survivors have had to overcome and instead praised Defense Department efforts to combat the epidemic. This changing of the resolutions’ perspective from survivor to perpetrator just further victimizes survivors by the Pentagon.

American service members are patriots not props. Politicians forget that at their peril | Aryanna Hunter

 Mastriano started off the massive edits by first adding the following statement to the resolution:

“WHEREAS, THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HAS AND CONTINUES TO TAKE SIGNIFICANT RESPONSIBILITY AND EFFORT TO HELP THOSE VICTIMIZED BY SEXUAL ASSAULT AND IS SETTING THE STANDARD FOR BOTH PUNISHING PERPETRATORS AND ASSISTING SURVIVORS.” 

This bold addition to a resolution to support survivors doesn’t align with what many survivors will tell you is a lack of responsibility taken by those in military leadership. We can easily point to the most recent case with the murder of Vanessa Guillen as proof.

Even with immense public outcry those in her direct chain of command have held no responsibility for her murder even though she had reported being sexually harassed and then killed by that same soldier. 

When I see Vanessa Guillen, I see a reflection of myself and every woman who serves | Aryanna Hunter

The edits to the resolution continue in a way that further separates the Defense Department from holding any accountability to why those who are survivors of MST don’t report what has happened to them.

When advocates wrote:

WHEREAS, military victims of sexual assault face many of the same reasons for failing to report sexual assault that include embarrassment, fear and shame, and where professional and personal duties are more difficult to separate;”

Mastriano wrote:

“WHEREAS, AS IN CIVILIAN LIFE, shame and stigma create a barrier to reporting military sexual assault EVEN WHERE FORMAL BARRIERS DO NOT EXIST;” 

It’s important to be clear that formal barriers exist in both the military and civilian life, and by taking the ownership off of the Department of Defense, we will only continue to see a rise in the rates of MST.

Finally, Mastriano adds:

“WHEREAS, THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HAS FOCUSED ON THIS ISSUE FOR 15 YEARS AND INSTITUTED INITIATIVES IN THE MILITARY INCLUDING EDUCATIONAL AND REPORTING STRUCTURES FOR SURVIVORS;” 

Yet, we are shown through the United States Department of Defense’ 2018 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military that the reporting rates of sexual assault increased by 10 percent from 2017 and additionally in 2019’s report they were up another 3 percent from 2018. We can’t continue to maintain the false account that the educational programs have done anything to reduce the number of men and women victimized.

The United States military is a total institution. One that doesn’t have to abide by the same laws as the rest of America.

There is inherently a problem when those who retire from said institution, that have negatively impacted so many, are now the ones who are attempting to rewrite the laws and even just resolutions that can empower those who have suffered at their hands.

If Mastriano wanted to show leadership, as a retired Colonel should, he should be praising efforts by advocates, sharing the stories of survivors, and recognizing that even though he was a part of the institution that has failed so many women and men who have served our great nation, he won’t perpetuate the failed narrative that the Department of Defense has done all they could.

When politics begins to be more authentic and less about a brand, a manipulation, a narrative for reelection maybe politicians such as Mastriano will finally live up to the office they hold, and I will hate politics a little less.

Opinion contributor Aryanna Hunter, of Pittsburgh, is an Iraq War veteran, author, advocate, and founder of What a Veteran Looks Like and MeTooMST. Her work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.