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Week of 5.23.08

Transcript: Rape in the Military

BRANCACCIO: Worldwide, there are roughly 26,000 women currently deployed in U.S. military combat and support zones. The biggest number ever. Over the past year, NOW's been reporting on the danger those women face, and not just from combat.

Department of Defense records show that last year, there were almost fourteen hundred reports of women being assaulted and raped by their fellow soldiers and in some cases by their commanding officers. And there's evidence that many other incidents were never reported at all.

Senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa and producer Megan Thompson have the latest developments in our investigation.

HINOJOSA: Just months after NOW first aired its investigation into rape and sexual assault in the military, the controversy made national headlines with the story of Maria Lauterbach. A young Ohio woman, she joined the Marines with the plan to make it her career. But then last May, Maria told her command she'd been raped by Cesar Laurean, a soldier in her unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The military issued a protective order against Laurean and moved Maria away from him. But Maria—who was now pregnant—had to wait seven months for a formal investigation to begin. And then last December—just before she was supposed to testify—Maria disappeared.

The authorities searched for weeks. And finally, she was found. She and her unborn baby were dead—burned and buried in the backyard of Cesar Laurean, the man she'd accused of rape. After a three- month manhunt, Laurean was caught last month in Mexico and has been charged with Maria's murder.

Her mother is left to pick up the pieces.

MARY LAUTERBACH: One of the most important aspects that I'd like to communicate is that Maria's story is not isolated... and I do hope that people understand how important this is to the welfare of all military women.

HINOJOSA: by the time of Maria's funeral, her case had received national attention, and there are calls for a Pentagon investigation into how the case was handled. But there are thousands more stories of women soldiers fighting two battles: one to protect their country, another to protect themselves from sexual violence at the hands of their fellow soldiers. It's known as M.S.T.—Military Sexual Trauma.

Since we last reported this story, the pentagon released new reports showing that one-third of military women say they've been sexually harassed. At the same time, the number of women reporting assault and rape has essentially remained the same. There's evidence that many more cases go unreported.

But behind all these statistics and studies are real women whose lives have been torn apart by military sexual trauma .... Women like Michelle Nagle. She'd wanted to become soldier ever since she was a little girl. And so when she was old enough, she joined the army.

Why did you wanna join the military?

NAGLE: Patriotic.

HINOJOSA: What does patriotism mean to you?

NAGLE: Protecting everyone in my country who can't protect themselves.

HINOJOSA: At 6 feet, and 185 pounds, Michelle thought she was just as tough as the male soldiers. She ran a 6-minute mile and could do more push-ups than the male standard required.

So you're feeling strong at first in the military.

NAGLE: Invincible almost.

HINOJOSA: But one event would change it all. Michelle was in her room one day—watching football with a fellow soldier. A friend she knew and trusted.

NAGLE: And he attacked me. And I couldn't get him off of me. He's trying to go up my shirt. And trying to get my pants off. And I just—he got my arm pinned down. And there was nothing I could do. And I'm a big girl. I mean, and there—I'm a big girl. I—should be able to handle myself is what—I kept telling myself. "You're stronger than this. You're stronger than this." But I couldn't do anything.

HINOJOSA: Michelle screamed for help and luckily a soldier next door heard.

NAGLE: He came in and got the guy off of me. And if it hadn't been for him I would have been raped.

HINOJOSA: Dr. Patricia Resick is a psychologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston. She's been working with sexual assault and rape victims for over 30 years.

When you realized that female soldiers, who have been going through basic training, who are tough women, were getting sexually assaulted within the military, were you surprised by that?

RESICK: No, I would be surprised if they hadn't been. Women get raped in every environment. Just because somebody's got some kind of training, it doesn't mean they were given training on how to fend off a rapist. That's a different kind of combat.

HINOJOSA: During our investigation, NOW was told that the military is investing serious resources to combat this problem. The Department of Defense created a new office to deal with sexual assault. They have a toll-free hotline to report incidents, and say they have placed trained victim advocates in every military installation. There's also a new reporting system designed to encourage more women to come forward. Since then, thousands have reported assaults and rape within the military.

But our continuing investigation shows that despite the military's efforts, the problem remains as serious as ever.

And what happens after an assault is reported? The new numbers show that of the nearly 1200 cases investigated last year with evidence of a crime, only 181 have been court-martialed so far. This raises questions about whether the military is responding adequately once an assault is reported. Take the case of Natalie Robbins.

ROBBINS: This one is of my mom and I—she came to visit me at graduation after boot camp.

HINOJOSA: Natalie was an army reservist, deployed to Iraq in 2003.

ROBBINS: They're in chronological order and think that, boy, here, here and here, nothing really horrible had happened yet.

HINOJOSA: One night at her camp in Iraq, Natalie says she woke up to find a fellow soldier on her bed. He was trying to get on top of her and he smelled of alcohol.

ROBBINS: My—my heart was pounding very fast. I had no idea what he was capable of. No idea.

HINOJOSA: Natalie knew the soldier and was able to talk him out of her room. She reported the incident, and he was punished—demoted and made to pay a fine. She thought the ordeal was over—but she was wrong. She says that unbelievably, the superior officer who was assigned to help her with the case actually started harassing her.

ROBBINS: He is stalking me. He won't leave me alone. He keeps coming to my places of work. And I would say, "Leave me the heck alone." "Get out of here."

HINOJOSA: Again, Natalie reported the problem, but it only made things worse. Her command moved Natalie out of her unit and away from her friends. Meanwhile, the stalking continued. And then one night, Natalie says the superior officer crept into her room and forced himself on her. What happened to her even has a name—some call it, "command rape."

ROBBINS: And when he actually raped me, I—I disconnected. I—it was not like a fight. It—it was just this is the last step of surrender. I mean, he got me. He got me, and now what?

HINOJOSA: Natalie says she was so traumatized by the rape—and by the system that failed her—that she dropped the investigation altogether.

ROBBINS: I think if there aren't—serious consequences that people—receive, and that people can observe, "Wow, that person did this and they're—they're getting punished in this way, I—I don't think I'm gonna do that." But without consequences I don't see how anything can change.

HINOJOSA: As for Michelle—she was so afraid, and so distrustful of her command, that she never even reported her assault. She left the military, and soon her life began to unravel. She became so paranoid and fearful that she couldn't even hold down a job.

NAGLE: I'm not that strong person that I was seven years ago. I set up my room like a barricade to where if someone tries to get in—I can push objects in front of it to where the door won't open at all. That's how I—that's how I sleep. Because I'm scared all the time. And that's no way to be.

HINOJOSA: Michelle was eventually diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder—or P.T.S.D.

RESICK: Of all the traumatic events, sexual assault, particularly rape, is more likely to lead to PTSD than any other cause.

HINOJOSA: In fact, Dr. Resick says women are four times more likely to develop PTSD from sexual assault than from combat. The VA now has 16 programs across the country that specialize in treating soldiers who've experienced military sexual trauma. Michelle came to one of them for help—the Cincinnati VA at Fort Thomas. After seven weeks in intense therapy, she finally feels like she's finding her way again.

NAGLE: The way I always describe it is, they gave me the building blocks to rebuild the life that was taken away from me. So it's like starting all over new. For the first time I have options. I don't feel scared about it. My fear and stuff isn't controlling me.

HINOJOSA: After her rape, Natalie Robbins was medivacked out of Iraq and she soon left active duty. Natalie Robbins was also diagnosed with PTSD and suffered from anxiety and nightmares. She has spent the last four years getting regular counseling at a VA in Ohio. She says it's helped a lot—but that she decided she needed a change.

ROBBINS: I just started to feel that I needed to start doing something a little different and distance myself from anything that was military related and the VA happens to be full of people who are in the military.

HINOJOSA: A couple weeks ago, we traveled to northern Colorado to visit Natalie. She has come to this small farm to take a break and try something new. And she's continuing to work on the stress and anxiety that remain a part of her life.

ROBBINS: I really have to make a concerted effort to walk out with the animals and be calm. And I think what had really taught me the reality of this is when I made an extra effort to rid my stress before I got near the animals, they responded differently to me. I'm aware of that now, and I'll take that and try to change that.

HINOJOSA: Natalie knows that her healing will be a life-long journey ... but she told us, she's optimistic.

ROBBINS: I think a moving car is easier to steer—and so as long as I'm moving, being true to myself, everything'll work out.

BRANCACCIO: Our next story features a solution to a different kind of horror. The problem is methamphetamine abuse...a drug that's had especially savage effects in the Great Plains and Mountain West.

Meth is cheap, can be made almost anywhere, and is fiendishly addictive. But a couple of years ago, a billionaire named Tom Seibel, he calls himself a venture philanthropist, started throwing both his money and his marketing prowess behind an awareness campaign to drag meth abuse out of the shadows. Now that campaign, which began in Montana, is spreading into other states.

Jennie Amias produced this report on social entrepreneurs at work, part of the series we call, Enterprising Ideas.

BRANCACCIO: The rural beauty of the state of Idaho obscures a terribly ugly meth problem. Methamphetamine, which is more addictive than even cocaine, moves easily across Idaho's long, open roads.

And states like Idaho have been trying to deal with the drug's ripple effects—sharp increases in crime, violence, and disease—for more than a decade.

TAMMY DE WEERD: You know, this—this drug does not discriminate. It doesn't care who the next victim is.

BRANCACCIO: Tammy de Weerd is mayor of the Idaho town of Meridian. Right after she took office in 2004, she put together a local coalition to try to fight the drug's spread. But even de Weerd didn't realize just how excruciatingly close to home the meth problem was.

TAMMY DE WEERD: No family is immune. In our family's case, my eldest daughter, met a guy who was on probation. And—got addicted to him, probably first. And as he got off of probation, he slipped back into a world that was very—comfortable to him. And took her with him.

BRANCACCIO: Roanne is the mayor's younger daughter. She could do nothing as the drug took hold on her sister.

ROANNE DE WEERD: She used to be my best friend. And then all of a sudden, we never talked. And, you know, she was pale and kind of—like, I love her. But she was kind of, like, a walking dead person. Like, you could see the life sucked out of her. And it really hurt me and my whole family.

BRANCACCIO: As Idaho's meth problem grew and stories like the de Weerds' became painfully familiar, officials began to desperately look for some new approach. Last year, a new Idaho governor heard about a man with a good idea in neighboring Montana.

SIEBEL: The human costs are staggering

BRANCACCIO: A man named Tom Siebel.

SIEBEL: The results that we are seeing in the State of Montana suggest that this may be the most successful prevention effort in history.

BRANCACCIO: Tom Siebel is a marketing and software pioneer who made billions when he sold his company to Oracle and promptly built a ranch in Montana.

He's also the guy pushing a hard-hitting anti-drug advertising campaign aimed at teens. It's called the Montana Meth Project.

There are billboards, and radio spots and TV ads like these that have been running in Montana for the past three years:

Initial results are impressive. The state of Montana reports that since the ads stared running, meth use among teens is down 45%....72% fewer adults are using the stuff. Meth related crime is down 62%.

This January, the intense ads began running in Idaho as well, where Lori Otter, the governor's wife, has made the anti-meth campaign her big issue.

OTTER: We are really hitting it hard. Our teens will see—three to five images a week—70 to 90 percent of teens in Idaho are seeing those images every week. We're—we're basically un-selling that with a multimedia campaign, a consumer-driven—product campaign.

BRANCACCIO: At the start of the Idaho project, 1 in 5 teens saw little to no risk in using meth once or twice. That's a dangerous misperception that had to change.

But before ads hit the airwaves, the Meth Project made sure to run their campaign past focus groups of teenagers.

OTTER: Mr. Siebel he scrapped, you know, months and months of work when kids are like—"That's really lame." He puts everything through peer review for the kids that it's gonna talk to.

MEGAN RONK: We—we look at methamphetamine as a consumer product just like anything else.

BRANCACCIO: Megan Ronk is the executive director of the Idaho Meth Project.

RONK: And we're using the techniques—that are so common in the private sector, you know, understanding our target audience to help influence their behaviors and attitudes.

So currently, we are running—the first wave of the campaign, which is the first series of television, radio and print advertisements, um, that will continue to build upon each other as we continue to sustain this campaign over time.

BRANCACCIO: Remember, the project is trying to reach 70-90% of Idaho teens, so the ads are shown during popular TV shows like "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" and on MTV. The radio spots can be heard on local alternative rock stations. The message is getting through, at least according to our own little focus group.

DANIELLE HOPPER: I've actually had—a couple friends who have been offered meth. And because of the commercials and because of all the stuff, all the prevention that we've been doing out here they decided not to, because they saw what the true effect of meth is and the long-term effects versus just trying it one time. They really got the point that even once you can get addicted to it and won't be able to stop.

JAMIE CHATHAM: There's this one ad. And it has a girl. And she says, "I'm just gonna try it just once." And then it shows her little sister. Her little sister says, "Well, I'm only gonna do it just this once."

And it's just, like, kind of heartbreaking to see that—like, how much effect you have on, like, people who are watching you, that you don't even know that they're watching you.

PATRICIA GORLA: That—that was the most effective one for me. Because I have a little cousin who I adore. And just—of—of all the time that we spent together, I noticed all the little things that he picks up. So, when I saw that ad and when I started thinking about, you know, if I were to fall into something like this, would he try the same thing just because I was doing it? So, that enough is just motivation for me just to not even—not even try that.

BRANCACCIO: So far, so good.... But who pays for all this?

When we first met Tom Siebel last year, he had already pumped in twenty million dollars of his own foundation's money to kick off the Meth Project in Montana.

SEIBEL: If we can then apply it into Arizona, Illinois, Idaho, New York, California, Hawaii—the opportunities here are—are—are very, very exciting to—you know, improve people's lives. To—to—to make the world a better place. This is an exciting idea.

BRANCACCIO: Exciting ... and expensive. Siebel wanted the program to spread, but he also wanted other stakeholders to help pay the way...and in Idaho, Seibel's not paying for any of it. Corporations and grassroots donations from individuals are.

OTTER: Our state is unique in the fact that we have no taxpayer money going into—state taxpayer—it's not a state-funded program. We—took a year and established a grassroots campaign. And we've really done a public partnership—with private enterprise throughout the state to develop the—the Idaho Meth Project to fund our state, it's about $2.8 million. And we are at about $2.2 million, I believe, with—most of our donations

ronk: It is not necessarily—a cheap campaign to run. But when you look at, you know, the cost of running a campaign like the Idaho Meth Project versus what we're spending on the back end of dealing with the aftermath of meth addiction, I mean, the return on investment is—is significant.

BRANCACCIO: There is one big frustration in all this for the Meth Project... the federal government has yet to show much interest in getting behind the project.

But 5 other states are now running the campaign, with another 3 slated to start in the next 6-8 months. The states are funded in a variety of ways.

OTTER: A lot of the other states have had angels. Mr. Siebel himself funded Montana and developed a project. He's also funding Illinois. Arizona did a tax—they—they taxed—their counties.

BRANCACCIO: Driving all the work here is the hope of putting a stop of meth tearing apart families...families like the de Weerd's.

TAMMY DE WEERD: We never hesitated to tell her that we love her, but we don't like the choices that she's making. And, you know, there was some 'tough love' to that, too. She always knew she had a place that she could go. But he couldn't. That was the line that we had to draw.

BRANCACCIO: But there is progress. While the family prefers we not show a picture of the daughter...it's because she's made such great strides to get her life on track. She's been drug-free for three years now. But the experience has left all the immediate family in a kind of recovery.

TAMMY DE WEERD: You know, it takes on a life of its own. And you're no longer in charge of the decisions that you make. So it's a—it's a nasty drug. And it's something that—that the Idaho Meth Project, the Montana Meth Project, they're right on. Not even once.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.