Former Air Force Servicewoman Feels Betrayed by Military After Sexual Assault

Former Airman 1st Class Jessica Hinves’ career in the Air Force was cut short after suffering from PTSD stemming from an assault by a fellow airman. This is her story. See the full report of sexual assault in the military on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour.

Jessica Hinves grew up in a military family. Her first stepfather was a Marine. Her current stepfather is in the Army. Her uncle did three tours in Vietnam. When she was growing up, her grandfather, an Air Force mechanic, took her to see Delta planes on the tarmac. Even her babysitter was a former Air Force commander.

“Since my childhood they taught me every citizen should serve if you could, it’s your duty. So I grew up hearing that.” Hinves said.

When she turned 25, she left her job at a vineyard in east Texas and acted on her sense of duty to serve. She joined the Air Force. She had every intention of having a lifelong military career.

“It was very clear this is your job. This is what you do. You do it well, you train in it. You go up in rank, and you retire in 20 years,” said Hinves. “To me it was so easy. It was so doable. I loved it.”

Two days before completing training at Nellis Air Force base, she said she was raped by a fellow service member who she had considered a friend. Despite the trauma she felt, she said she had full confidence at the time that the military would carry out justice. To her surprise, her case was never brought to court. And she was discharged against her will from the military for post traumatic stress disorder.

“I felt betrayed by my unit, by my brother — he was like a brother to me — the legal system, which failed to get my case to court,” said Hinves “And in general by military for kicking me out for PTSD. I felt betrayed by (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld for not fixing it.”

According to the 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact, a 34 percent increase from the 2010 report of 19,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact. Only 3,000 of the 2012 cases were reported to military officials.

Congressman Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who is introducing new legislation to reform the military structure that deals with sexual assault cases, said the system is set up against the victim.

“It’s almost as if the victims are more afraid of the system than the perpetrators. And so we don’t have the prevention aspect, the concern of the perpetrators in a system where they feel like they’re not going to be held accountable,” Turner said. “And the victims feel like when they do come forward and report it they’re putting their career at risk.”

After the assault, Hinves could not return to her old life. And instead of finding support in her fellow service members, she found resentment. She said her unit was angry at her for getting her attacker in trouble.

“I’m really struggling here, I’m having a hard time getting out of bed, I’m having a hard time sleeping because this one incident that I have relived through investigation, it’s never died in my mind. I go to sleep and I think about this, everything reminds me about it.” said Hinves.

Hinves also works to lobby congress to pass legislation that will make the judicial process fair for victims of sexual assaults. And the problem of sexual assault in the military has been getting attention on Capitol Hill.

“This problem is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades. And the military has tried to fix this problem for decades, and they’re still failing.” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “We are asking so much of the men and women who serve in our military, we ask them to have courage, and be braver and even die for this country, we should not be asking them to endure a sexual assault or rape at the hands of their colleagues or commanders.”

Hinves is now working as a resource for men and women who are going through what she went through in the military. Hinves has found a place for her in victim advocacy and activism.

“It feels good to do things for these people because I never had help. It’s good to be that person,” Hinves said. “How can i tell somebody “no” when I know I can help them.”

Hinves says she uses social media to connect to veterans and soldiers who share her struggles. And she tells her story in hopes that it can affect change in the military.

“When victims begin to see justice is being had by victims like themselves, they will have the courage to report. The more accountability and transparency you see within the system, you will begin to change the culture,” said Gillibrand.