In the military, sex assault victims labeled as mentally ill and forced out

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Army Pvt. Anna Moore spotted the man approaching as she knelt on the hallway floor, scraping off a dingy layer of wax. He was a sergeant from another battery with no apparent reason for entering the empty third floor of her barracks. Why was he there, she wondered. “Look at you, all sexy covered in paint,” he said.

Moore worried about her isolated spot that morning. She was a Patriot missile operator, on light duty and recovering from kidney stones, while the rest of her unit in Hanau, Germany, worked in the field. The sergeant edged closer. He tried to make small talk as he watched her work. Suddenly, he grabbed her between the legs. She jumped and pulled away from him.

“Knock it off,” she told him, then turned and headed for her nearby room. The sergeant followed. He rushed at Moore and pulled her close, groping and fondling her. She fought back and screamed for help as he repeatedly tried to force her onto the bed. Her battle buddy, who had just returned from the field, heard her screams and called back. The sergeant fled.

She reported the October 2002 assault to her first sergeant, but he instructed her to drop the complaint. He said the sergeant who attacked her was preparing to transfer back home to his family, that it was better for everyone’s career — hers included — to just move on. Then he tore up her sworn statement. “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s the answer,’” Moore recalled. “He told me to get out of his office. He yelled at me.”

Less than a month later, she began to receive bad job reviews and went to a mental health counselor for support. What followed is familiar to many sexual-assault victims in the military, according to active and former troops, families, victim advocates and veterans groups. Less than eight months after she reported the assault, Moore was diagnosed with a pre-existing psychiatric illness that she had never heard of: personality disorder. The Army kicked her out.

Similar accounts from members in every branch of the military show that those who disclose a sexual assault face commanders who often disregard their reports and send them to uniformed counselors, who subsequently find them to be mentally unfit for duty, a seven-month San Antonio Express-News investigation shows.

Through dozens of interviews with experts and victims, and a review of thousands of pages of military and medical documents, the newspaper found the problem to be pervasive and long-standing, with cases spanning three decades.

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