Tiffany Jackson’s story is very similar to that of hundreds of females from the United States, who on their return from the military are faced with homelessness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to sexual abuse.
After leaving the Army Tiffany Jackson worked fleetingly, soon after, she started drinking and socialisingwith people who used cocaine. She became an addict.
“You feel powerless”, she said in a report in The New York Times about the cascade of events that happened. She slept on the streets for a year where she joined a growing number of homeless women veterans, a group that according to experts, is growing rapidly. Female war veterans are a group that is often invisible. the New York Times reported that they spend the night in homeless shelters, living in cars and parking discreetly outside shopping centres to avoid the violence on the streets.
Out of the 141,000 veterans who spent at least one night in a homeless shelter in 2011, almost 10% were women, emphasised the latest figures from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is partly a reflection of the changing nature of the American armed forces where females currently make up 14% of those in active service and 18% of the Army National Guard and Reserves.
Researchers and psychologists claim that another common route to homelessness within this social sector comes from Military Sexual Trauma, aggression or harassment during their time in service, which can often lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In Tiffany’s case, it was something like this. At first she thought that she could turn over a new leaf after that August afternoon on an air base in South Korea when she was raped on a toilet floor soaked in urine.
Tiffany won compensation for disability due to her trauma, but she turned to drugs and spent time in jail.
According to official statistics, a quarter of all the homeless war veterans are concentrated in the state of California.
Female veterans face a “web of vulnerability” said Doctor Donna L. Washington, professor of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A study undertaken by Washington and her team revealed that 53% of homeless female veterans experienced Military Sexual Trauma and many had actually joined the army to escape family conflicts and abuse.
According to the report in The New York Times, the government invests millions of dollars on permanent voucher programs for the most serious cases among the homeless veterans. 13% of the vouchers are received by women and almost a third of them have children.
Women returning from war are much more likely to become single mothers. However, in more than 60% of the housing programs that receive funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs Office do not accept children, or their age and number are restricted according to a report by the Governmental Accountability Office in 2011. At the same time, the lack of jobs also contributes to the impossibility of having somewhere to live.
Abuse and impunity
In The New York Times’ investigation, many of the female veterans interviewed said that they had indeed been sexually assaulted or harassed during their time in active service. The non-governmental organisation Service Women’s Action Network said that only one in ten sexual attacks against women in the army are taken to court and each year thousands of cases do not get reported.
The spokeswoman for Service Women’s Action Network, Rebekah Havrilla warned that the atmosphere of an old male chauvinists club still exists in the armed forces and that many officers underestimate complaints about obvious misdemeanours.
During 2011, 2449 formal complaints were filed for sexual aggression towards women, but only 240 legal investigations were opened in that period according to Havrilla.
Anonymous polls among military personnel in the Pentagon revealed that in that year cases of harassment and other incidents could actually reach a total of 19,000 said the now ex-secretary of defence, Leon Panetta.
Havrilla and other members of the Service Women’s Action Network have urged the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to start an exhaustive investigation, independent to that of the Department of Defence, to tackle the issue. Another report from the Department of Defence confirmed that sexual aggression against women soldiers increased by 23% in military academies in 2012.
One in three female soldiers is assaulted due to sexual motives. The statistics show that this figure is twice as high as among the civil population.
(Translated by Frances Singer – firstname.lastname@example.org)