Healing From Emotional Abuse: MST Military Sexual Trauma Movement: with Ret. Lt. COL. Jeffrey Rector

Can you heal from abuse?  What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day.  And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough.  Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation.  But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist.  Yours doesn’t have to.  To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.

Marissa: Welcome back to breaking through our silence. Today I want to welcome Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Rector, of the US Air Force and the Air National Guard. He’s a former SARC and has worked with survivors of MST military sexual trauma. He also feels that he’s been retaliated against for supporting those survivors. We both feel strongly that the abuse of power in the military is dangerous to the readiness of our troops, and the mental health of the people that enlist. Thank you so much for being here. Jeff, I’m so excited to have you.

Jeff: Thank you, Marisa, it’s my pleasure to be a part of your podcast. This is great

Marissa: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that. So, would you mind telling us a little bit about what you did as a SARC?

Jeff: Sure, sure, I was a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for my Air National Guard unit from 2011 to about 2015. As a Sexual Assault Response coordinator, or SARC, I obviously take care of the health and well being of those who feel that they were assaulted or report sexual assault in the military, MST. It is a very tough position based on some of the things you encounter both as a SARC and some of the things you have to do for these survivors. I was passionate about my position as a SARC. I had been in the military at that time for about 29 years, both enlisted and then an officer And I felt that taking care of those folks that get the mission done was paramount. When I was a SARC, for the first few years, obviously, it’s a pretty heavy and a pretty steep learning curve and training curve, because coming out of other different military specialties and going into the SARC position, it’s not something you can train for right out of a book. You have some good, some good training that’s provided to you by civilian training authorities. And then you go through a very rigorous certification process that finds you certified to be that Sexual Assault Response coordinator or victim advocate for these folks. So, it is pretty thorough. You’re always learning. And I think that’s important to note when you’re a SARC because it’s not the same every time when you’re dealing with someone that survives a sexual assault. In my five years of the SARC and being a member of the Air National Guard in our home unit, obviously I was well known by many. And the first year as a SARC, it was difficult because, you know, it’s a trust thing being a SARC. Being a victim advocate. It’s a complete trust of the other person doing the reporting. So, if somebody does experience of sexual assault, or even a harassment, charge, if you will, they come to you for guidance. They come to you because they trust you. They come to you because they feel that hopefully their story will be heard. And whether it’s accurate, or true, or however you want to call it, it is a trust thing. And I feel that with that position comes huge responsibility because you’re also helping that survivor cope with whatever MST trauma they may have experienced. My first year or so I learned how to be a SARC, how to listen attentively, and to talk to folks about the program, about MST sexual assault military. The SARC program, or the sexual assault program didn’t get a lot of attention until probably the mid to late 2005 to 2009. And then it really started to get a lot of attention at high levels, leadership levels. Which made it mandatory That all members of the military had an annual sexual assault prevention, response training, identification. They were all identified as a person, that if you see something, say something. Report assault, report sexual assault. So the program was really getting a lot of attention. And I believe it was for the right reasons, because there were many sexual assaults in the military and it did need to be addressed. What happened in my organization is I saw leadership, promoting the program. Every April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And as I felt that they were putting the right attention on it and making steps toward addressing sexual assault and making sure that people knew the right way to report these assaults. I then notice that when the assaults were reported, things started to change a little bit because as my position evolved, and I put three new victim advocates into place and those folks had a very good awareness of the organization, people started coming forward and started reporting situations that may have been sexual harassment or even sexual assault. And as you know, per the regulation, the only folks that can receive a sexual assault report would be medical or chaplain staff and or a SARC or a victim advocate. It’s a very close group when it comes to reporting because you want to protect the identity of the survivor and even the perpetrator. We want to make sure that we have all our facts to go forward with the assault claim. So again, we had reports that were happening in our organization And I believe that was because members inside organization trusted us to tell us this information. And that’s a big thing. That’s the key point when it comes to the SARC program. When our organization leadership started to see that there were reports increasing, I think they got a little nervous because, you know, as a command, they always say, oh, that doesn’t happen in my organization, or that can’t happen in my organization. I know my people. I know my people. Said, well, it doesn’t happen. Well, that’s a lie, it does happen. And when you have people in key leadership roles that promote the program, and they want folks to report it to those in the SARC SAPR or victim advocacy program, they’re going to report it. And when they do, it’s our job to take care of them. So, what was happening is the reports were coming in, we had to identify and address all of them and process all of them per the regulation for the guidance. And as you know, in the military, the numbers have increased. Sexual assaults have increased, even though they’ve said that they’re addressing the problem. I personally don’t feel they’re addressing the problem; I feel that they’re washing over the problem. And they’re making sure that they check the block every April and put it as a sexual assault prevention and Awareness Month. But in my experience, both professionally, personally, and in my role of the SARC, I do not think they are addressing the problem.

Marissa: I 100% agree with you. I think similar to their suicide program that they have, it’s all just kind of a cover your ass, check the box situation, because these programs haven’t been updated. And I sat in when I worked at the 416th TEC, I sat in on one of the SARC programs, and everyone walked out laughing because they said, you know, don’t touch somebody’s butt. And it was just it was made into a big joke. So, it looks like via the paperwork, that they’re actually doing the work to prevent and create awareness and keep their military members safe. But truly, they couldn’t care less. As long as their boxes checked, they don’t care.

Jeff: And as long as leadership, as you know, in the military as long as leadership looks to their annual officer performance reports or OER in the Army, or OPR in the Air Force, the commander, as they’re writing his or her OPR, that commander wants that bullet on there. It says, you know, achieved 100% training in the sexual assault prevention Response Program. That’s what they want. They don’t want to have: Two sexual assaults were reported while this person was commander. Okay, that’s not a good bullet to have on your OPR. So, you are correct. They do check the block, and they do move forward. And they do not want the negativities just show because that means that under their command, which they’re supposed to do as officers, is command — good and or the bad, take responsibility for your folks and protect them, and make sure they trust you. So, if you have two or three sexual assault reports, it doesn’t go on their OPR. It really doesn’t go anywhere. It stays within the database, and it gets looked at by hire headquarters. And they choose whether or not they want to say they were assaults. They say, “Well, that probably didn’t meet the requirement of the sexual assault, we’re going to put that as maybe harassment. And maybe lecture or counsel the individual involved.” Meanwhile, the survivor has been told by people like ourselves, SARCs, SAPR, and/or victim advocates, that we’re going to help them. We’re going to take care of them. There’s programs in place to help them. Now they’ve reported the assault, whether it’s a restricted record or unrestricted report. But people know when you report an assault, because now you have that target on your back. I will not go out and say this person reported an assault. However, there is some attention that’s paid to the person that does report this. If you think about where your sexual assault prevention response offices are, especially in, in my experience as a SARC in the Air National Guard, my office was right next to the Wing Commander, which is the leader of the base. So, we are sitting there behind major glass windows in the big Palace of the leadership command element. And I’m sitting next to them and all of a sudden, what do you think’s going to happen if a male or female comes in my office crying? You know, in front of all of leadership? Do you really think they’re not going to say, “Hey, off the record, what was going on with that person? Or why were they in your office upset?” Well, obviously, they might have been reporting something that was, you know, in the sexual assault realm, but we don’t know. And I’m not supposed to tell them that until we do the report, and file the proper paperwork. You don’t divulge the name of that survivor until they choose if it’s going to be a restricted or unrestricted Report.

Marissa: I’m glad that you brought that up where the offices were located and the layout of the building, because I’ve heard from other people as well, who are SARCs for the Navy and from other branches of military that everyone knows who the SARC is, right?  You are a widely known position — posters everywhere. And so, for someone to go to your office, it’s almost like making an unrestricted report regardless. Because even if I was just going into your office to have lunch or have a conversation or something, everyone would automatically assume, she’s going to report an assault, you know, and it just automatically puts a target on your back whether you make a report or not. And that’s unsafe. I personally think that’s something that needs to change as well.

Jeff: And they did. Well, the Air National Guard did address that and they did make some of the sexual assault prevention response people non-military, so they did a Title 5 resource for those people. That means, they’re non-military status, they don’t report to military leadership. So there was an attempt to relax the system a little bit to show that well, you know, even though me, as Lieutenant Colonel Rector, reports to Colonel so and so my OPR has a bullet on it that said, you know, the SARC of the organization was able to train 100% of the people in record time, or had a great program in place, and only four reported incidents for the last year. I’m making that up, obviously. But my OPR is signed by the guy or girl that’s in charge of the organization. So, if I choose to start reporting all of these sexual assaults, he’s going to come here or she’s going to say, “You know, are these really accurate? What are you doing? Let’s look at this program a little deeper, because all of a sudden, all these people are coming forward.” Well, it’s real, it does happen. But like I said, in my position, people trusted me. So, they came forward. And in fact, I had two or three reports. And I had commanders that said, hey, we’ve Lt. Col Rector, he’s our SARC. If anybody can help you, it’s him. He will do the job for you. Okay, that’s what they would say. But then, later on down the road, as I experienced, the Wing Commander, turned that around, and I feel was I was retaliated against for doing some of those, turning in some of those statistics. Doing my job, and helping those that are survivors of sexual assault or even harassment. I was even looked at to help out with the Equal Opportunity Program too. So, it’s a fine line to walk as the SARC or as a victim advocate, because you’re wearing two hats. It’s a very important program, but will the command put that kind of emphasis on that program?

Marissa: So, let’s talk a little bit about how the Commander and how the Wing Commander for the Air Force has a big say in whether these are actually investigated. You touched on how, you know, they can say, “Oh, well, was it really an assault? Or is it maybe a harassment or maybe they’re not telling the truth or blah, blah, blah?” So, what happens? Why does the commander have that much power?

Jeff: Well, as you know, like I said earlier, the Commander in this situation is basically notified when there is an assault reported. There’s no names associated with it. By regulation, I was told that I had to tell command within 24 hours that there had been an assault reported and we leave it at that. So, what happens is I, as the Wing SARC, would report to a higher headquarters, State Headquarters SARC — which was the Army and the Air Force SARC for the state. Okay. In Vermont. We would have monthly meetings where we would go over every case that was reported. And in that room were key people. There was the Chief of Staff of the unit. There was the Director of Psychological Health. There was a Medical Professional, all of the SARC’s where there. There may have been a victim advocate, Chaplaincy. Because we discussed the care of the survivors, if you will, and where the case was in the process. What I experienced sometimes is, as we talked about the new cases, leadership in the room, whether it be a One-Star General, or a Colonel would say something the fact that, you know, that really doesn’t sound like an assault. Let’s look at that a little deeper. And I would say, so what you’re saying, sir, or Ma’am, is that you don’t trust your soldier or airman because they reported what they felt was an assault. Okay? And they would sometimes answer, Yep, I think we need to look into a little deeper before we report that as an assault, I would like to look into that deeper. So, you can see right there to command has influence on how they’re reported, and where or if they’re reported as an assault. Because if it’s not reported as an assault, it goes back down to a different channel where they can control the outcome of the survivor and or the perpetrator. And as you mentioned, in one of your other podcasts, the perpetrator doesn’t normally get moved right away. Even if there’s an assault that occurs or suspected assault. We, as a SARC or victim advocate have no jurisdiction to say that person needs to be removed. Unless it’s reported to civilian authorities, which most of the time when the survivor — they’re very distraught — They don’t know where to go. They just remember that, Oh, by the way, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Rector is the SARC. I remember his picture. I’m going to call that number or I’m going to call the hotline. And then the SAPR hotline is going send the information to me, and I’m going to address it with the member. So, you can see where that disconnect can be. It can be very confusing as the process goes through and to get back to the original question. The command has the ultimate authority, whether they’re going to say that was an assault or not, because may not look that good on their command record. Especially if they’re going for their next promotion or their next assignment.

Marissa: That is a blatant abuse of power. Because think about it, they’re manipulating the system to work in their favor. That’s not okay.

Jeff: And its total command influence because of you’re sitting across the table, whatever rank I’m wearing on my collar or my sleeve, I look across and I see somebody of higher rank, that may even have an influence on my next promotion or my next assignment. Am I going to challenge that person to that discussion? Probably not. It’s almost Psy-Ops. When you see your reporting official across the table, and they’re telling you don’t do that, or don’t report it that way. What are you going to say? No, sir, or No, ma’am. You’re going to say Yes, sir.

Marissa: I think that that’s such a bullshit way to do things. I mean, I know it’s a bullshit way to do things. Because it’s a manipulative, abusive relationship, right? I mean, it fits all the categories. They’re manipulating the system, they’re gaslighting you to think that what you’re saying isn’t true. And they’re holding your promotion over your head. That’s…

Jeff: It’s abuse of power. It’s abuse of power. And the long and short of it is, you know, when I was in my position as a SARC, I had a long and distinguished career. I was actually nominated to go to what they call War College for a senior officer. And I was not an aviator. Normally, most of those positions, go to aviators for their performance report to make it look, you know, presentable for their next command. So, I was probably one of 150 officers in the Wing that was nominated go to, in residence War College as a non-rated officer. Which was a good feather in the cap. And I was doing a great job to get the programs going, get the programs running, making sure everybody he knew how to report. But then when the reports started coming in, I started to see that they probably weren’t too happy that they’re getting this many reports. As you saw, I think the Air Force put out most recently, they said that the sexual assault in the Air Force increased last year. Obviously, we’re not fixing the problem. I mean, it’s good that people feel comfortable to come forward and report an assault if it does happen. However, I would be interested to find out how many of those reported assaults, ended some sort of disciplinary action for the perpetrator Because you don’t get that information. You didn’t get the reports. Okay. Meanwhile, the survivor is still in the same organization, unlike the active-duty military, any National Guard unit, whether it’s army or air inside the state, and the state like Vermont, which is so small, if there’s somebody that was assaulted, how are you going to move them to a different organization and not have them be seen as that person, right? You can’t just say, okay, you’re going somewhere else, and we’re going to move you and protect you. That doesn’t happen in a small state like Vermont, because there’s only one Air National Guard unit. So, it’s not a thing, just move them across the road and say, Yeah, you’re good, you’re protected. I can’t do that. So, we have to look out for the best interest of the survivor.

Marissa: The problem is, that’s not what happens.

Jeff: Correct.

Marissa: As far as I’m aware, they either transfer the survivor somewhere else, or tell them to unfuck themselves and get over it. Or they wait a little while and then PCS as the perpetrator, which is disgusting, because they haven’t been counseled, there’s no repercussions for their actions. And they’re going to go off to a new unit and do the same exact thing.

Jeff: Or what I like to say is write them off in the sunset. Because in my experience, I had a survivor come forward, a female survivor that had been assaulted by a senior officer in her chain of command. She came to me and reported it, she reported it as unrestricted. So, we had the full range of making sure everybody knew the individual that was named as a perpetrator was then removed from the base, put on administrative leave for a little while. We went through the process of reporting; we called in the National Guard Civ team that came up and did an investigation. Meanwhile, the senior officer was what they call in a mandatory separation date window, which means within so many months, they were going to be mandatorily retired if leadership did not take action to continue their service. And I made mention of this to leadership in our organization and said, Sir, this person is due to have a mandatory separation date, you know, 1 October, and its now June. We know how long these process takes. So, I would recommend that you put some sort of administrative hold on this person so they do not mandatory separate without any action. The leadership said, “Sure. We’ll take that into advisement. We’ll take that  into consideration.” Meanwhile, as you know, the process in the military is not fast. It took a while to get the process through the system that the report in, have a board. And then next thing, you know, there was a discrepancy found in the package. It came back for review, and then the perpetrator was allowed to retire without any kind of incident, because of separation date came up. So, things like this do happen. Leadership is well aware of how they can be will circumvent the system. Meanwhile, the survivor, what kind of support does the survivor get other than a letter, a letter that they made me write and say, we’re really sorry, there was a discrepancy in the package and this case is closed.

Marissa: Which puts the onus on you and not on the leadership abusing power. That’s disgusting. And that builds systematic distrust of the SARC program. So, it’s really, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot as a SARC, because you want to advocate and you tell them, you’re going to advocate and you’re going to help and you’re going to get this person penalized for their actions. And then you do everything right, follow the system, and it’s shut down for probably like a missed comma, like something so small. And then you are the one held responsible for their actions and the perpetrators actions. And then people don’t come to the SARC’s anymore. That’s disgusting,

Jeff: Right. So, they all know that there’s a process that takes place is a very well advertised what the process is when you report a sexual assault, and obviously, they know it takes time. We try to do you know, expedient, as quickly as we can. But we’re at the mercy of the other part of the system to do their process. And again, like I said, these programs supposedly get a priority in the big picture, like the Air National Guard, or the Army National Guard or the Air Force. But if you look at the program itself, there are not enough people in the program to staff these types of situations. There are not enough teams that can go out to each organization and review the folder or have a board or; they just can’t, it’s not a way to do business. And I feel personally that this program should not be a military program, it should be managed by a civilian program. They should take these people that have been SARC’s, that have retired. SARC’s that have retired and become advocates. And they should form some sort of contracted division that can address sexual assault in the military directly. So, the person that’s the survivor isn’t scared to call that number and say, you know, can you help me? They don’t know who that is on the other end, but they know they’re trained. And we don’t know as that team who this is and what their situation is. We just do the investigation and report it through the channels to command. That way, I don’t feel that I’m going to be retaliated against for doing my job, and the survivor hopefully gets the comfort and care they need to proceed forward. And then justice is served through the military program.

Marissa: That’s amazing. And I think that you and I and Never Alone are really going to make a huge difference for survivors of MST military sexual trauma.

Jeff: I think there’s enough expertise, and enough enthusiasm in our group to make that happen as long as we’re heard. And I think, why not take all the money and all the resources that we currently throw at sexual assault, are meant to respond to the military. So, you think about the SARC’s, the victim advocates and all the other people that are trained and certified via the advocacy networks out there, that’s a civilian network that the government pays for them to train us, and we know that SARC’s don’t stay in their position for more than probably three to four years. Me especially, as the executive officer, only stayed there for four years, and I was moved on. So, we had to train somebody else, certify somebody else. If you have a civilian coalition that can do these amenities programs, just budget accordingly and take the SARC’s and the victim advocates right out of the organization and let this coalition manage it.

Marissa: That’s a really good idea. I really hope that this works out for us. I think that it could be really beneficial to a lot of people. What advice would you give as a former SARC to people that are still either afraid to come forward or still fighting for their freedom?

Jeff: It’s a very traumatic event, and everybody deals with it differently. I think if I was to share my experiences into someone, or anyone guidance, trust the system, but always verify the steps you make. If you’re going to file a sexual assault report, make sure you get copies of all documentation. You document every time — you keep a journal of when you did things or where you went and who you spoke to — Because that will pay huge dividends during the process. Because you’re not always going to be speaking to somebody in your organization about this. You’re going to end up talking to somebody at the office of complex investigations or someone outside, maybe even civilian authority. So, it’s always good to keep some sort of written journal. Or have somebody that you trust as a wingman or a battle buddy, if you will, and have them keep the journal because it isn’t a traumatic event. And you may not be able to keep this journal. But if you trust somebody else to help you through the program, get that person that can be your battle buddy or your wingman and help you through it.

Marissa: I love that! Is there anything else that you want to talk about that I missed?

Jeff: I think this is a great program that you’re doing to highlight MST sexual assault in the military and make sure that survivors of sexual assault are treated the way they’re supposed to be treated. Like human beings. And they’re not treated like a number or a machine or some sort of person that can just be pushed aside, and not treated with human decency. You know, I think that’s applause to you for doing this.

Marissa: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. And thank you for everything that you have done for survivors, as a SARC and as a human. But also the things that you’re doing now, post all of that knowing what you know, helping MST military sexual trauma survivors heal. I really appreciate your work and your friendship.

Jeff: Well, thank you. And you, too.

Marissa: I really want quickly want to plug the book that you and I are working on together. It is another book in the Breaking Through the Silence series should be coming out later this year. And we’ll come back on and give you some updates as it progresses. But if anyone listening is interested in participating as a survivor of MST and wants to contribute to this book, feel free to email me or message me on any social media. And we will make sure to have your voice be heard, Anonymous or not.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!

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