I interviewed a female veteran and received permission to retell her story. It matters. Please take a moment to read it.
Madeline Marshall is a confidant self-assured woman despite the challenges. She joined the Navy when she was 19. The body criticism and sexual harassment started in training. She was called fat, lard ass, and told her uniforms would not fit.
After graduating basic training, she was assigned to the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem. “Men were everywhere. Touching me as I passed in the P-ways. Cornering me, leaning on me, hinting at me, demanding attention from me.”
Within the first 2 weeks, she caught a fellow sailor spying on her in female berthing. She reported it to her chief. He said he would handle it with the offender’s supervisor. Instead of punishing the man, the supervisor informed the chief of other locations to spy into the female sailors’ living quarters.
Marshall’s medical record is rather thin for a woman suffering poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. That is because it was undiagnosed. The shipboard medical department ignored her complaints of extreme menstrual pain, one of the multiple symptoms of PCOS. Instead of an exam, the medic accused Marshall of making a big deal out of female issues.
Birth control eases menstrual cramping but her requests were ignored. She was told that deployment demands conflicted with a prescription. Even when she broke her toe, she received a similar response. “I ended up setting the toe and taping it myself.”
However, she learned that being refused medical attention did not keep the medic from divulging her health issues to others. “I didn’t go see Doc because Doc couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut.” Marshall says, “Needless to say, I didn’t go to anyone when I was assaulted.”
Marshall describes the incident. She had a shot of 151 and 2 mixed drinks and fell into a deep sleep. She thought she was safe in the presence of her boyfriend and his roommate. When she woke up, her boyfriend told her that he watched as his roommate had molested her because it looked like she wanted it. He also told her not to worry because he would have stopped the roommate if he had gone too far.
“The entire ship ridiculed women, and presumably men, for speaking up about assault.” In such a hostile atmosphere, she did not report it. She let time pass, using her coping mechanism instead. She claims that disconnection from the emotions caused by the event is a powerful tool.
Marshall spent most of her time on board being carefully scrutinized, weighed and measured, sent to various after-work workout sessions and pressured to take diet pills and protein shakes. At the time, she weighed less than 150 pounds. However, due to PCOS, she could not lose enough weight to please her supervisors.
“All this moved my hand to reject re-enlistment.” She decided to report the assault in the last 6 months of her active duty service in early 2013. Nearly 4 years later, she has heard nothing more about the investigation. However, she did receive a letter asking her to rate her experience with the Judge Advocate General.
Marshall describes her struggle in the Navy as unoriginal. Women are neither making up stories of sexual assault nor are they complaining and being overly sensitive. She says that the assault was something they all watched happen and made happen.
When asked where her strength comes from, she says, from within. It comes from making choices for herself, not for others, that will ultimately resolve her issues for herself, by herself.
Marshall says the Navy alluded to protecting her but they failed her every time that she needed them. She explains that it is hard to feel proud of her service. “I feel like those four years were nothing but mental abuse and shame. I wonder if it was actually worth it. Did I actually serve this country?”