Sexual assault is one of two high-profile problems plaguing the military; suicide is the other
Jack Williams speaks out in "Justice Denied," which focuses on male victims of sexual assault in military
Study: Military victims of violent assault are six times more likely to attempt suicide
Jack Williams rejects the table the hostess has chosen in the middle of the Mexican restaurant. He asks for the least desirable faux-leather booth in the back corner, where he can sit with his back to the wall. He can’t stand to have people come up behind him. That’s what his rapist, an assistant drill sergeant in the Air Force, did almost 50 years ago.
It happened three times, always at about 3 in the morning.
After the third time, Williams walked into the shower at his barracks at Lackland Air Force Base, tied a few towels together and tried to hang himself. Security guards found him unconscious.
A part of Williams died that day in 1966. He was 18. He has not been whole since.
Now 66, he looks back and ponders what his life might have been had he accomplished what he set out to do: to serve his country with pride. Instead, he has lived with rape for 47 years, with permanent injuries that make him depend on a walker, with words like “pansy” and “coward” ingrained in his head.
Sexual assault is one of two high-profile problems plaguing the military; suicide is the other: Twenty-two veterans take their lives every day.
Williams harbors both demons in his head. He is caught in the nexus of the military’s two tragedies.
In May, the Pentagon released results of an anonymous survey on sexual assault: Twenty-six thousand service members reported that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed in 2012, up from 19,000 the previous year.
Women get most of the attention on this issue because, proportionately, their numbers are much higher. Women make up only about 15% of the active-duty force but account for 47% of sexual assault victims.
Headline-grabbing scandals have usually involved women. Two decades ago, at the Navy’s “Tailhook” convention in Las Vegas, drunken aviators assaulted female recruits. Five years later, the Army brought charges against 12 commissioned and noncommissioned officers for the sexual assault of female trainees at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Most recently, 22 instructors were convicted in the Air Force’s worst sex scandal at Lackland, where Williams was raped almost five decades ago.
It’s men like him who make up most of the military’s sexual assault cases, even though they are less likely to report their assaults. The Pentagon survey found 13,900 male victims. But 76% do not file complaints.
“There’s an assumption that rape doesn’t happen to men, or they must have been weak and not strong enough to fight (an assailant) off,” says Sue Garrison, a psychologist at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Florida.
Bay Pines is the only Department of Veterans Affairs facility in America that offers residential treatment for male victims of military sexual assault as well as women. Evidence suggests that men may suffer more severe symptoms and are less likely to get help, raising the specter of other problems, like suicide.
The causes of suicide are complicated and not wholly understood, but a contributing factor among veterans is sexual trauma.
A study by former Air Force psychologist Craig Bryan found that military victims of violent assault or rape were six times more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims.