The Tahoma Activist

"Changing the Media, One Story at a Time"

This website is your Pierce County source for progressive news and opinion. If you want to be a part of The Tahoma Activist, send all submissions here. We will print anything that makes sense and touches on the important issues of the day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Update on Suzanne Swift's situation

This comes to us from Suzanne Swift's mother, Sara Rich, who is fighting hard to get her daughter's story out to the public. Please read this, and make some phone calls. We can make a difference, if we work together.

Perpetuating the Cycle of Military Sexual Violence

172 days since Suzanne's "arrest" and the Army, General Dubick and Colonel Miller specifically, are bound and determined to ignore the fact that their Sergeant sexually abused my daughter. Instead, they are making her abuser's prophetic words to my daughter a reality. "Swift, you look like you are going to tell someone about what
happened between us. Nobody will believe you."

Suzanne believed him then -- and now she is learning that he spoke from experience. Suzanne was sexually abused in a combat zone in Iraq by her squad leader, a Non Commissioned Officer who took an OATH to protect the soldiers working beneath him. By ignoring that fact, Dubick and Miller give other sexual predators in the military the green light. Their message is that victims of sexual abuse in the military are
systematically punished and not believed, while the perpetrators go free to abuse again.

Shame on them.

As I listen to story after story the same thing comes up: the perpetrators use fear and intimidation and tell the victim that no one will believe them. Coerced sexual abuse in the military is a monstrous epidemic and still the lack of care and understanding shocks me.

Even though we know this is not a gender specific occurrence, the majority of military sexual violence is perpetrated against women. It is literally true that women are not safe to serve their country in the military. Especially while command staff continues to "sweep under the carpet" these victims' stories, both ignoring
their painful traumas and exacerbating their pain and suffering by not believing them.

Suzanne's last few months have been a horrifying roller coaster ride. She was charged with missing a movement and for going absent without leave. Since then her future has been more unclear than ever. One day we are told she will be home by Halloween -- the next that she is going to prison. Then she was told there is a deal on the table.

A deal? Well, I was very skeptical of that.

The deal was that Suzanne stay in the military for her remaining 19 months, no reduction in rank, a summary court-martial, no assurance she would not be re-deployed and here is the kicker, Suzanne would sign a statement saying she was not raped in Iraq.

I did not know about the statement until days later when Suzanne called me very upset. Here was my 22-year-old daughter making huge life decisions and she was distressed. First she felt that after all this struggle, that to stay in the
military would be too hard and scary, but she was willing to do it until they told her about the statement.

When she heard about it her immediate thought was, "Here it goes, this is the part where the abuse gets swept under the carpet." I asked her what she wanted to do. She said she did not want to sign it because it was not true and she was not going to lie.

Once again, I say shame on the military for re-victimizing this young soldier whom according to her team leader, was the best soldier he had. Further, her Major who said she acted admirably in combat -- and Suzanne did see combat. She told her little 10-year-old cousin when he asked her about her time in Iraq that she was fired at more times than she can remember.

I know my daughter better than anyone else in the world. I know the good, the bad and the ugly. I also know that it was her complete intention to go on that January 2006 deployment to Iraq. She sent some of her most precious possessions over ahead with her Unit. The same Unit that divvied up her belongings and left some of her childhood
treasures to the trash heap in Iraq.

I saw the look of terror and fear in her eyes while she was standing in our kitchen trying to say goodbye to me. Her fear and anxiety are real and her stress levels increase daily as does her depression. I trusted the system that they would care for my daughter, not allowing my daughter to be used and abused by seasoned predators in a combat zone.

Then to only add to injury when she finally does use the proper channels and makes a formal complaint she is humiliated and treated like a traitor for telling. Boys will be boys, they say.

Does anyone get this? Why in the world are our federal elected officials not stopping this? Why do my pleas for help fall on ears that seem unable to hear me?

How is it that these commanders can go home at night knowing that hundreds of women are systematically abused by perpetrators, then re-abused by the lack of care of the command?

I know my Grampa, who was a Colonel in the Army, is turning in his grave by this thoughtless and destructive manner in which General Dubick and Colonel Miller are toying with my daughter's mental health. She has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) twice now and yet they continue to move forward with a court
martial and threat of prison time.

A more disturbing threat was brought to my awareness a few weeks ago. A dear family friend came to me in tears because she was so scared for Suzanne's safety while she is in the Army. One of her relatives had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He was furious to find that she was friends with "Suzanne Swift." He does not know Suzanne
personally but now he hates her and what she represents.

He told our friend that while he was in Iraq he was at a training, a sexual abuse "prevention" training. In this training the trainer used Suzanne's name, Suzanne Swift, and her case, as an example of what little lying whores do to "good soldiers." This second hand story scared me to the very core.

If this is what is being taught to other soldiers, especially in Iraq, I fear for
Suzanne's very life in the military. She has now at least once been de-humanized and demonized by others in the military and she is not safe. I have been asked to find out names and get the facts, but our family friend was scared to death to tell us what she did. I could not ask her to find out more and put herself at risk. Now we
have two demons that our soldiers hate in Iraq, "hadjis" and "Suzanne Swift."

What is our world becoming where we not only re-victimize but also demonize victims of a crime?

As we are now on this very long and very painful journey, I travel around the country talking about military sexual violence and how we must change the system. I have met some incredible people. One minute we think Suzanne will be free in a few weeks, so I slow down and stop the frantic fundraising. The next minute I hear we are going to court-martial and I need to have a substantial amount of money immediately or else.

I want to send out a huge appreciation to everyone who has supported Suzanne with prayers, thoughts, words, finances, action, and letters. Please keep Suzanne's website set as your home page so we can all remember to DO something everyday: http://suzanneswift.org.

Take action by calling your Congressional Representatives and Senators demanding a
significant change in the way military sexual abuse survivors are treated. Ask if they know about Suzanne's case, and what they are doing to help her.

Call Ft. Lewis and ask for General Dubick and Colonel Miller and ask them if they will bring quick justice to Suzanne, so she can be free to heal from the trauma she experienced fighting two battles at once in Iraq. Phone numbers are on Suzanne's website: http://suzanneswift.org. Write to your paper's editorial board and ask them to cover military sexual violence.

This year has been incredibly stressful on our family. Despite it all we are blessed beyond belief. I will continue to work tirelessly as an advocate for my daughter, until I see her free of this cruel system that punishes victims while perpetrators are allowed to go free. I will not rest until I see her free for the holidays so she
can be here when her sister, Sonja, who is due to give birth on Christmas day, goes into labor and is surrounded by her whole family to welcome our new little miracle boy into the world.

Peace on Earth good will to men AND women... right?

Thanks again for your visits to http://suzanneswift.org.

Sara


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