Military sex assault victim hopes more victims will get help

By Stephanie Serna - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Reports from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs show that one in four women and one in 100 men have told their health care provider that they've been victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment while serving in the military.

The VA not only provides counseling and other services to veterans, but is part of the "San Antonio Against Sexual Assault Coalition," a collaboration between the VA, the Rape 
Crisis Center, the San Antonio Police Department and area colleges.

The coalition is working to get more veterans to come forward and get the help they need -- even years after a traumatic experience.

Lori Manning was a victim of sexual assault while she was serving in the Navy in 1977.

"I was sleeping in the barracks, one of the sailors broke into my room and not only raped me, but almost murdered me," Manning said.

The man who attacked her was court martialed and dishonorably discharged, but then attacked another woman, killing her.

Although he was convicted of first-degree murder, he is now up for parole and it's something that Lori is still dealing with today.

"He's been incarcerated for years, right after he assaulted me," Manning said. "So, this is just never going to be over -- until he dies, actually."

It took Manning decades to speak out and seek help for what she was living with silently. 

In 2013, she came forward.

"She was really nervous, and she told me that she had considered not coming, and that she really resisted coming to get help for many years," said William Elder, military sexual trauma coordinator for the South Texas VA hospital. 

Elder said sexual trauma in the military typically gets reported years after the incident and many incidents are not reported, sometimes because of fear of retaliation or the worry that it will destroy their career.

"It's more likely to lead to mental health problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use issues -- than sexual assault in a civilian setting because of power dynamics and the isolation of the military," Elder said.

The San Antonio Against Sexual Assault Coalition will be launching its "Start by Believing Campaign" in April. Signs are being placed throughout the VA, showing the importance of believing and supporting those with the courage to come forward.

Manning said she now is able to face her fears. 

"You move onto peer groups, which were a great benefit to me because you get the camaraderie and the fact that you're not alone," Manning said.

Any veteran who is the victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment is urged to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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