tv Beyond the Headlines ABC April 17, 2016 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT
>> the gateway to military sexual trauma is... a culture that supports humiliation and bullying at, really, every level of the military, including the highest levels. >> abc7 presents "beyond the headlines" with cheryl jennings. >> welcome to "beyond the headlines." i'm cheryl jennings. we are talking about an extremely difficult subject today, so i have to warn you, some of the stories you'll be hearing will be extremely disturbing. we're talking about rape in the military. we've heard the horrifying statistics about women being raped, but this next fact is equally horrifying. you may not know that more men are raped in the military than women. i want to show you a clip of one veteran who had the courage to tell his story. >> i was knocked unconscious from behind. and when i came to, uh... i was being held down by two
individuals. and someone was pulling my pants down, and i was raped, sodomized. >> and that brave man in the video is here with us in the studio today with his partner and his wife, michael matthews and geri lynn matthews. it is so good to see you in person. thank you so much for being here. >> nice to see you, cheryl. >> all the way from albuquerque, new mexico? >> yes. >> we met each other first by satellite about three years ago as i recall. >> yes, yes. >> right when you were beginning your documentary, "justice denied." so, michael, i want to start with you. why did you decide to go public? this is a tough subject. it's hard enough for women. i can't even imagine what it's like for a man. >> i had gone [sighs] i -- when i was raped, it was in 1974, and i never -- >> just saying that, just saying that out loud so matter-of-factly, you're kind of, like, processing it still? >> well, i never told anybody for 20 years. >> oh. >> so, i went through a lot of therapy to get to that point, and i tried to commit suicide seven times. and after one of my suicide attempts, they took me to the v.a., and i, you know, was
talking with a counselor, and, finally, she said, "well," you know, she -- this depression i had that was clinical depression, she said, "you want to tell me about your rape now?" i broke down and told her, you know, and finally told my wife, and, uh... we talked about it. my wife's a social worker, of course, so we talked about it, and she said, "you know, maybe there's something you should do with, you know, this because, you know, god, your higher power, obviously has other plans for you. you know, they were pretty good suicide attempts, and you're still here." >> actually, when he told me, i -- i was surprised, but in a sense, i was relieved because i felt, "i'm not crazy." there really was something troubling him, something serious. and at that point, i knew the most important thing was to -- to get help, and i thought, "that's the beginning step, is to tell someone, to take that first step," and so that's what we try to encourage people to do. >> a lot of men have problems, you know, thinking about people
are gonna challenge their sexuality, and this is not about sexuality. this is, you know... most of the rapists in the military, 98% of them are -- are heterosexuals, okay? so, it's not -- it's not about sex, and it's not about gender. all right, it's -- it's -- it's about someone with power and control as we all know. they didn't tell anybody 'cause it was 1974. you know, i was born and raised in new york, and i just, you know, can put the pieces together that, you know, if i came forward and said anything, they were gonna, you know, give me a bus ticket home, obviously, you know, give me a quick discharge and get me out of there. so, i -- i wanted to spend -- i wanted to stay at career in the military, so that's way. >> and you had a career in the military? >> yes, i retired from the air force. >> i think the film was a way to show other... survivors, male and female, that it's a safe thing to do to come forward at least to one person that you trust. >> okay. >> and that's the beginning step. >> okay, that's the first. all right, we have to take a break. we have a lot more to talk about. so, we're gonna be back with michael and geri lynn matthews,
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>> "men in the military do not get raped!" in fact, they do. >> welcome back to "beyond the headlines." we are here with geri lynn matthews and michael matthews, talking about a very difficult subject -- rape in the military -- and michael is a survivor. and, michael, i know that because you and geri lynn have worked on this for so many years now, dealing with it for so many years with your documentary and just staying involved, you have some numbers in your head about just how bad this problem is in the military. >> well, you know, we have roughly the numbers of veterans walking around in our community -- six million veterans have been raped -- male veterans have been raped. and the percentage of suicides -- there's 22 a day, veterans killing themselves right now. and the percentage of those is, only 12% of those are actually combat-related.
roughly, about 2.5%, so, where's the other 80%, you know, 80-something-% coming from? and -- and the apa tells us that a man who is raped and does not try to get help for it, get counseling, will try to commit suicide at least twice in their life. that's 90% of them. >> now, tell me what the apa is, please? >> oh, american psychiatric association. >> mm, yeah. >> the apa did another study on it, the american psychiatric association, that came out just recently, and they said it's 15 times more so. if you do the numbers, it's between 180,000 and 210,000 a year. >> that's horrifying. i mean -- >> there's more men raped in the -- in the military... than in federal prisons. that's according to dod's numbers and, you know, comparing them to do the justice department's figures. >> so, what do we do, geri lynn? how do we fix this? how do we -- i mean, i know that a lot of the legislators -- and you've met with them 'cause we have pictures of you. >> mm-hmm. >> seeing him talking to jackie speier -- congresswomen jackie speier -- here is -- is really instrumental in leading this fight, but you're in the
trenches. you're -- you're living this. what do we do? >> [ sighing ] what do we do? well, um, we keep the conversation going... by sharing with people about the topic. a lot of people still don't realize that this occurs in the military. >> they don't want to believe it. >> they don't want to believe it. they're shocked. they're still making it a gender issue. they're still making it an issue of sexual preference. they're not realizing that this is about a human-rights issue, and it's not about male. it's not about female. and so, what we're trying to do is educate people, educate the civilian world, as well, because when a rapist leaves the military, they go back into the civilian population, and then the heinous crimes continue. so, the main thing is to -- >> so, why now? is that because the outside world, it doesn't prosecute. right now, it's prosecuted in the military, right? >> no, it's not. that's the problem. the problem is, you see there's not a lot of -- >> so, the general public doesn't know? >> there's not a lot of rapists in the military. the percentage of rapists are small, but the fact is, an average rapist, according to the
american psychiatric association, performs 300 to 600 rapes in their lifetime. they're serial rapists. 90% of them are serial rapists. >> so, the people who were prosecuted in the military, that information doesn't get out to the general public? >> no, they're not prosecuted. this is the problem. it's up to the commanders. >> right. >> it goes to -- you see, they have a funny judicial system. you know, it goes to the commander, and the commander determines whether it was rape or not, who is not qualified to make that decision. they need to take this particular crime and violent crimes against servicemembers out of the hands of the commanders. >> we thank the california legislators for -- for supporting us and for getting the word out and continuing to do so. i think the most important thing is to continue to speak with people like you that are so gracious to give us this time and also to educate people about the benefits of coming forward and not keeping a secret. that poisons you from the inside out. that's one of the most important things. >> well, you guys are a delightful couple. we were talking on the break, and you have great senses of humor, and you need to have that
to get through something like this, right? >> mm-hmm. >> final thoughts, michael, before we wrap up? we're almost out of time. >> well, you know, the thing i would like to get out there is, we need a -- the reason we made the movie was to publicize this, and we need the backing of our, you know, communities to call -- everyone to call your -- your congress and senate and complain. i mean, they -- they're not acting on it. our government's broken, but the way to fix it is by, you know, complaining. >> all right. geri lynn, final thoughts on you? >> [ sighs ] i'm very much solution-focused. and so, my feeling is create a sense of hope by letting people know that... there are people that care, not just us. there are a lot of other advocates in this realm that are there to, you know, give you a lifeline, to help support you so that you can get the healing that you deserve and that you need, and that's the most important thing. that's the beginning. ♪ >> when we come back, you'll meet another veteran who was sexually assaulted in the military who got the help he needed, and you'll meet some of
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the new president of protect our defenders. i want to thank you all for being here. this is a story that we've been following and working on for a long time. it's really hard to get attention on this subject, and, heath, something terrible happened to you when you were just a young man in the military. so -- so, tell me. let me start with you. >> um... i joined the military at 17. um, boot camp and everything was everything that you were told it is. once i boarded my ship, that's when the nightmare began. i was sexually assaulted by six fellow shipmates. my command chose to ignore me instead of help me out. i... tried suicide. i tried running away. i went awol. with the help of my parents, we did a congressional investigation. but... something that most people don't understand... when you're not on base, it's different, but once you're back on your base, that's the law.
>> you're going back to where your attackers were? >> yes, ma'am. >> yeah. what happened to you? >> um... >> how did it affect you? >> [ sighs ] >> i was... a drunk for many, many years. you know, i did things wrong in life that i'm not proud of. if it was not for nancy parrish and protect our defenders, i honestly don't know where i'd be today. >> nancy, i want to talk to you about even the need for coming up with an organization, protect our defenders -- it's even hard to -- to think that we have to do that. >> it is. you know, the military has a rape problem. >> uh... sexual-assault rates for active-duty males is 100% greater and for active-duty females, 50% greater than their civilian counterparts in the reserves. it's an epidemic. and our -- our mission, really, is to change the culture of misogyny and victim blaming, denial of male rape. and to do this, you have to fix
the ineffective and dysfunctional justice system. so, we coalesced a community of survivors and their families to advocate for change, and we provide free legal help to -- for active-duty members, veterans, and civilians. we educate the public, and we push for much-needed policy reform. >> it's an incredible amount of work, and just, colonel christensen, you've taken on this role. you were the chief prosecutor in the air force, and you also wound up defending people at one point in your career, so you've seen all sides of this issue. how -- how does this happen, and how do we change it? >> well, the biggest problem we have is, we have a justice system that's archaic and is a command-centered justice system. in other words, instead of having a professional prosecutor's office determine whether a case should go to trial or not or what should happen when somebody attacks somebody like keith, we have commanders who know the accused, are gonna know the people who have committed the crime, and
oftentimes know the survivor of the sexual assault, and so, based upon their biases, all too often, we see justice denied to those people who are -- are victims of sexual assault. and so, to fix it, the first thing we need to do is -- is get legislation passed to change our system so that we have independent, professional military prosecutors who are trained in the very difficult job of prosecuting sexual assault make these decisions instead of commanders. >> i'm an army brat, and i know that my late father would've been appalled by all of this. you're talking about changing the whole mind-set because chain of command in the military is everything. but when somebody's assaulted, they can't just go to the police like any other victim. >> right. what we're looking for is for our brave men and women who -- who protect this country to have a justice system as good as the one that they protect and defend when they go overseas.
and then to accomplish that, we need to have a process where we have professional -- a military justice that is run by prosecutors and that we have a police force that is there to properly investigate these crimes, just like the great people in san francisco. when they have a crime, they go to their local police agency. that police agency investigates, and then the district attorney makes a decision whether or not a case should go forward. we're not asking that our military members have anything more, just something as good as what they'd have in the civilian world. >> the world that they protect. >> the world they protect. >> yeah. nancy, is this possible? i know that congress is trying hard to do something about this. >> well, it is possible. in fact, we -- we have -- we have a bipartisan majority in the senate, and -- and we've made some significant progress. but with the coalition of the survivor community and human-rights attorneys and through our pro-bono work, we -- you know, we know that we can fix this, but we also believe
that the president must show leadership as he has with civilian criminal-justice reform. our troops deserve nothing less. >> absolutely. all right, firstly, we're out of time. thank you for being with us today. heath, you're gonna stick around for us for our next segment, and we are going to be back in just a moment. big thanks to nancy parrish and' colonel christensen with protect our defenders and to heath phillips, who is a survivor rape. we will stay with us for the next segment. now, when we come back, you're going to meet two attorneys who have been honored for their work on behalf of military sexual assault survivors, so please stay with us. we'll be right back. ♪ ♪
of their gender equity and lgbt rights program, and cacilia kim, special council, and you were both honored by congresswoman jackie speier, and you won a whole bunch of other awards, so congratulations. >> thank you. >> thanks, cheryl. >> and i appreciate you both being here today. i want to start with heath because you had a legal battle after you reported what happened to you -- your -- your sexual assault. so, tell me what happened with -- with how they -- they treated you in the military. >> um... eventually, i was discharged. it was a dishonorable discharge because i went awol. um... >> and you went awol because you didn't want to be assaulted again. >> to protect myself, yes. that was the only way i could protect myself. um... >> so, you didn't get your benefits. you had to fight for them. >> it... took years... and years. i had a lot of support. protect our defenders, congresswoman jackie speier... my senator, senator...
kirsten gillibrand. between all of them, the pro-bono... i... took years. um, finally, i won my appeal. and... i have 100% service connected for ptsd due to the mst. and... >> and i think a lot of people don't understand that, who are not in the military, when they hear ptsd and mst. so -- so, let me start with you, elizabeth, and, cacilia, you can jump in if you want to, just for people who don't understand how those two are connected. >> yeah, ptsd is a term that means posttraumatic stress disorder, and military sexual trauma is a term that's abbreviated mst, and so, it happens when someone is sexually assaulted in the military. they develop ptsd, but it has some different symptoms that ptsd you might develop from combat. it's, in some ways, more severe than combat ptsd, and yet it's more difficult sometimes to get those benefits that heath was talking about. >> so, heath, you feel like you
were retaliated against, right? >> yes, ma'am, in more than one way. >> and how would you compare that retaliation to the assault? >> [ sighs ] it's actually worse. >> it was worse? >> i-i-it's more demeaning. when... you join the military, they're supposed to have your back, and when they don't have your back... it makes it worse. and then the v.a. -- they don't help you out. it makes it worse. so, you relive each moment over and over. so, each time they retaliate against you by... taking your benefits away or not allowing you to be seen, it reopens the wounds. >> mm, i'm so sorry. cacilia, we were talking off air about the retaliation and the problems that you're seeing, a kind of a theme that happens with people who are survivors of these attacks. you're seeing sort of the same thing. they get diagnosed with a certain type of disorder. >> right, and we've heard that a lot from servicemembers who have
been assaulted, like heath, where, you know, once they are assaulted, then they have these -- instead of having ptsd from the military sexual trauma. they're diagnosed with pre-existing personality disorders. and because it pre-existed, the military, they don't -- the military doesn't have to provide any kind of compensation or treatment for the veterans, and so this is another form of punishment and retaliation that you see against servicemembers, and, unfortunately, retaliation is still widespread for people who come forward and say they've been sexually assaulted, and there's a recent -- the most recent data shows that nearly 2/3 of those who come forward to say they've been sexually assaulted are still being retaliated once they make the report, so this is a huge issue, and before we say to servicemembers they to come forward and repot these assaults, we really need to make sure that they are not retaliated for doing so. >> this is really alarming because someone like heath -- it's taken him 30 years to get to a better place thanks to all the help and to his own determination, but what -- i
mean, what do we tell our survivors who are afraid? >> it's very difficult for survivors to come forward, and yet there's a paradox. if they don't come forward, we're never gonna stop this problem of military sexual assault. so, i have so much respect and admiration for people like heath who come forward and for the work that protect our defenders is doing and our advocates like congresswoman speier to both make the system better and also to support our survivors, to come forward because we can't have them remaining silent and have this epidemic continue. >> and i think it's particularly important for male sexual-assault victims to come forward because this is an overlooked issue. so, 85% of the active-military force are male, so at least as many, if not more, men have been sexually assaulted in the military as women, and yet most of the -- the work and the prevention for military sexual trauma or sexual assaults in the military have focused largely on women, and there aren't many services for men, and so it really -- we need to bring this issue to the forefront and keep it in the forefront until we
stop these assaults. >> so we need to hear from more male survivors. is that what you're saying? >> exactly. >> but it's a terrifying catch-22. you are now on the advisory board for protect our defenders. >> yes, ma'am. >> what -- knowing all of this and what you've been through, what do you say to people? >> well, well, when i came forward... i have a word terminology. it's like a burn victim. each time i speak about it, i'm shedding an extra layer of skin. and it... i'm not healed, but it's helping me heal. >> mm-hmm. >> [ sighs ] i can't speak for anybody else, but for myself, coming forward was probably the best thing i could've ever done in my life. and if anybody else comes forward, there is protect our defenders there's people there to help you, and that's -- they need to come forward and get the help they need. >> we have about 10 seconds left. final thought from you, elizabeth. >> i just have so much admiration for our servicemen and -women who do come forward
and do speak out against sexual assault, and i want them to know that protect our defenders, and the pro-bono network, we're there to support them as best we can. >> you know, this isn't one or two isolated incidents. we have thousands of military servicemembers who have been raped when they join the military service to serve their country, and so we really need to focus on this issue and stop the assaults. >> all right, thank you all for being here. thank you for being so public about it, and congratulations on healing or at least beginning that process with your family. >> thank you. >> all right, i really appreciate your being here. >> thank you. it was a pleasure. >> thank you. >> and thank you so much for joining us. for more information about today's special program and resources where you live, just to our website, abc7news.com/community. we're also on facebook at abc7communityaffairs, and follow me on twitter @cherylabc7. i'm cheryl jennings. we'll see you next time. ♪
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