Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The woman with the long red hair and glasses spoke haltingly, "I didn't realize why I was acting the way I was and neither did he.  It ruined our marriage."  The woman is Laura Watterson and she was offering testimony to a US House Armed Services Committee hearing this morning.  Sexually assaulted in 2001 and suffering from PTSD and MST (Military Sexual Trauma), she sought help and attempted to utilize policies already in place only to confront a system that ignored the policies, didn't care about her sexual assault and devoted 'help' time to silencing her.  As much as the sexual assault traumatized her, the military 'response' was equally traumatizing.  "I began therapy at the VA because I lost everything as a result," she explained.  She had followed the rules ("I reported it as I was supposed to"), she was told by her supervisor and his supervisor "that it would be taken care of and I trusted that."  But she was betrayed and there was more interest in silencing her than in holding the assailant accountable.
Laura Watterson: Part of my wellness is testifying today, forcing me to get out and do things that are challenging because they are more important.  I'll leave here today but hopefully my message will not leave.  If I had a caring SARC representative, I believe that I would not have ended up in the mess that I have ended up in.   
The subcommittee was the Military Personnel Subcommittee and the hearing was entitled Sexual Assault in the Military: Victim Support and Advocacy. US House Rep Susan Davis is the chair of the committee.  In her opening remarks, she noted, "Sexual assault is a complex problem where most, if not all, aspects are interrelated.  Such a topic does not lend itself to a single hearing.  As a result, we have chosen to hold multiple hearings on discrete topics so that members and witnesses can have in-depth discussions about various issues to build towards a comprehensive understanding of the problem.  This will guide our deliberations on what can and should be done next.  Today we will be focusing on victim advocacy and support.  Our next hearing will look at current and planned Department of Defense programs to prevent sexual assault.  I would like to say that we are encouraged by the level of commitment, resources, and expertise that the services are applying to prevention programs to educate service members and change cultural norms.  Finally, we will hold a hearing to examine how sexual assaults are prosecuted by the military."
That maps out some of the subcommittee's tasks for the year.  As part of that exploration, Davis had a question after all the witnesses had offered testimony.  Along with Laura Watterson, witnesses on the first panel included the Air Forces' Capt Daniel Katka (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator), the Army's Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwatch (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator/Victim Advocate) and the Navy's Chief Petty Officer Tonya D. McKennie (Victims Advocate).
US Rep Susan Davis: Ms. Watterson, clearly the system did not keep you safe and I know you don't believe it keeps other members of the military safe today either.  But the time that we are talking about, it was prior to some new policies that were put in place and, with the work that you've done and your advocacy, I wonder if you could speak to a few instances where you think perhaps the system would have served you better and in those cases when you don't think anything that has been done really would have made a difference.  I think you alluded to some of that in your testimony but if you could go back and talk to us a little bit about that, that would be very helpful.
Laura Watterson: Well one big thing is the confidentiality so that the victims do feel safe and be able to tell them that, you know, I have insomnia, I'm throwing up all the time, I'm drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels at night, you know, all that kind of stuff.  They need to feel safe that they can tell someone about that so that they can go get treatment and in my experience with working with active duty and also working with veterans recently there is a big problem with many many many bases and commanders who have tried to brush off what the mandates and the law are that have already been put in place.  There's one commander in, for example, who treated me like I was an absolute idiot.  He was completely cocky about the whole thing and I read off the mandates about this is what you're supposed to be doing for your troop and you're not doing it all.  For example, I had one that was a male victim of MST [Military Sexual Trauma] and they were not protecting him as well.  They were allowing people to walk by him and call him "f*g."  They were allowing people to beat him up because they were saying that he was a f*g.  He was being administered psychiatric drugs by his peers and not a medical professional, it was his peers and he was still in training he was -- it wasn't basic training but he hadn't gotten the training for his job, that's where he was.  And it was it was disgusting and it has been I had to, I've had to call the IG and I asked these troops and things, "Have you talked to your IG yet?"  "What's an IG?" Well have you talked to your SARC [Sexual Assault Response Coordinators] yet?  "I don't think so."  And a lot of the SARCs, they have the initial meet and how are you doing and then that's it.  They don't call to check up and see how you're doing or let's make sure you get into the hospital and make sure your meds are correct -- basic -- [. . .] to take car of them, to make them feel like they have someone because most of them their families are very far away and especially in training they probably don't have any friends either.  But that is a large thing.  The SARC needs to be able to have enough power to fight the commander when the commanders are ignoring and basically mocking the system that is supposedly been put in place.  That is a huge, huge problem.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Thank you.  I'd like to actually turn to our folks here and see.  Could you respond and help us with that as well because I think there is a big question of whether the SARC comes to a commander and says "Listen we've got a problem here" and nothing happens, what kind of authority do you have to follow up?
Capt Daniel Katka: Yes, ma'am.  We report directly at my base we report directly -- and in the Air Force -- to the Vice Wing Commander, essentially the second on the base, which helps tremendously, by the way.  So we are able to kind of go and interact with commanders.  Of course  not to  tell them what they must do but recommend highly -- with the vice -- [with] their understanding that the vice wing commander is who we report to.  So it helps us tremendously in advocating for the survivor and whatever his or her needs are. 
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: We're very similar, ma'am.  We do a monthly sexual assault review board  and we report everything involved in the program to the senior  movement commander at whatever institution we are happen to be on for me that happens to be the division commander and it is reported up from there.  [. . .]
US Rep Susan Davis: And quickly Chief McKennie, I'm out of time.  
Chief Petty Officer Tonya McKennie: Well the Navy, where I'm affialited in San Diego, all our SARCs are civilian personnel so they are not normally subject to military intimidation. 
They have free reign and a lot of leeaway in being able to deal with any commanding officers or military personnel.  So in my experience, we do not have that problem.
Under questioning from US House Rep Loretta Sanchez, Katka defended the use of volunteers for Victims Advocates in the Air Force.  As opposed to making it a paid position.  He insisted it keeps the position filled with dedicated people.  What clever little spin. Equally true is that a paid position is taken more seriously by everyone in the environment.  Equally true is that an all volunteer force is addressing a serious and deeply embedded cultural crime (Sanchez noted at least 600 assaults had taken place in Iraq) with limited resources and those resources include limited training.  Equally true is that when you refuse to create a paid position, when you refuse to create a real training program for those who do the job, the bulk of the volunteers are constantly treading water just to keep up and that undercuts any advancements that might be made.  Of course, that could be the entire point of making the positions volunteer and not permanent, paid positions. 
But don't worry, Kafta likes calling around looking for volunteers.  So it's an unpaid position and it's one Katka is qualified to staff how? 
Sorry to break it to Katka but he doesn't seem trained to staff and until the Air Force moves beyond the attitude that Victims Advocates are as 'disposable' as candy stripers, don't expect to see any improvement. Sanchez asked him, "Do you see that the volunteers, because this is based on volunteers, do you see that it's most women stepping forward to volunteer?" 
"Yes," replied Katka, noting that as many 70s VAs are on his base and "we have about 15 that are men."   "There is a challenge," Katka says, "I'll admit to you."  Asked for how to make it better, Katka said he'd try but somehow never got around to doing that. Unless he thought his continuity binder -- his notebook -- was somehow the road to improvement.
Asked near the end to offer her evaluation of whether or not she saw any improvement, Laura Watterson replied:
To be honest, no.  I've seen a lot of new mandates and a lot of new whatever but the fact is that the majoirty of what I've seen and dealt with and heard from other survivors is that nothing has changed.  They are still using the McDowell check list to basically they can turn it around and make it look like the person is lying.  And so someone who comes forward and wants to report it could be charged with conduct unbecoming, filing false charges and -- if either the victim or the rapist/assaulter is married -- they can be charged with adultry.  That is a big reason why people do not come forward and other women will see what happens to one woman -- bascially getting their life torn apart because they went forward and asked for help.  They get stalked by the friends of the perpretator, it's -- I don't see any change.
2008 demonstrated that nothing has been done.  Maria Lauterbach was a Marine.  She came forward to charge Cesar Armando Lauren with rape.  The military did not take it seriously and they did not take Maria seriously.  Maria was forced to continue to work with Cesar, her rapist, and his friends.  She was not protected.  She was not given help.  She was pregnant from the rape.  Possibly encouraged by the lack of response from the Marine command, Cesar took it further.  He murdered Maria.  He dug a hole in his back yard, shoved her corpse into the hole and attempted to burn her corpse
Maria was missing for weeks and weeks.  Her mother was attempting to get the Marines to do something, anything.  She had to go to the Onslow County police to get any kind of help.  While the Marines drug their feet for weeks as Maria was missing, Ed Brown's sheriff's dept, once on the case, was quickly able to narrow the suspects down to Cesar and quickly find Maria's corpse.  Though Brown had conveyed to the Marines that Cesar was the chief suspect (conveyed it prior to the discovery of Maria's corpse), the Marines refused to place any conditions on Cesar such as refusing to allow him to leave the base.  Cesar was able to slip away hours before Maria's corpse was uncovered and he made it to Mexico where he remains at present, still awaiting extradition.  (Cesar has not been convicted of the crimes.  One coming forward after he escaped was Cesar's wife who revealed Cesar told her he killed Maria.)
Maria's mother knew something was wrong right away.  Her daughter was pregnant and due to give birth shortly.  There was no reason for her to go missing.  And if she truly was missing (and alive), she needed help right away due to her pregnancy.  But the Marine command didn't care.  They didn't believe Maria.  And, besides, everybody liked Cesar, he was such a 'man'. 
If you're wondering where the Marine command's public apology for their handling of the case is, keep wondering because there has yet to be accountability.  Maria Lauterbach's mother, Mary Lauterbach, was present for today's hearings.  Jessica Wehrman (Dayton Daily News) reports:
The Inspector General of the Defense Department has been asked to postpone an investigation into how the military handled the rape investigation of Vandalia Marine Maria Lauterbach until the man accused of raping and murdering her has been extradited and tried for her murder.  
The decision was crushing for Mary Lauterbach, Maria's mother, who said she believes it will mean that many of those involved in Maria's rape investigation will never be held accountable. She said at least one of the people involved in the handling of Maria's case plans to retire within the year.  
Maria Lauterbach, 20, and the body of her unborn son were found buried in Cesar Laurean's backyard on Jan. 11, 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico and has been charged in Lauterbach's murder. He is currently fighting extradition charges, and last November received permission to have his wife, Christina, visit him in Mexico.