A Letter from the President-What Will the New Year Bring?

Today marks the first day of the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session, and Minnesota NOW would like to accomplish so many things, including:

  • Pass the CHEER (Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights) Act. The CHEER Act will prevent companies in Minnesota from discriminating against their female employees by denying them preventive health care;
  • Pass science-based and sex-positive sex education legislation;
  • Defund Crisis Pregnancy Clinics, who provide misleading, incomplete, and inaccurate information to pregnant women in need;
  • Pass Sick and Safe Leave legislation;
  • Pass Equal Rights Amendment legislation in Minnesota and put the vote before the people;
  • Revise the language in the MN Human Rights statute to be more inclusive and provide greater protections, in particular for LGBTQIA and people of color;
  • Support passage of a $15 Minimum Wage;
  • Ensure adequate funding for prevention of sexual assault and human trafficking.

I wish that I could be optimistic about achieving these goals, but given the make-up of this new legislature, it is more realistic that we will provide the best possible defense to those who would roll back our hard-fought rights in our six core issues: Constitutional Equality, Racial Justice, Reproductive Rights, LGBTQIA Rights, Economic Justice, and Freedom from Violence.

Do not think that this means we have become timid. We will continue to push the envelope and fight not just for what is easy, but for what is right. We will continue to build our coalitions and recruit more activists to join our feminist horde.

In solidarity,

Beth Johnson, President of Minnesota NOW                                                                   Organize-best defense is a good offense

I should have been in a theater on Monday night

On Monday night I should have been in a theater watching Invisible War with 116 people who want to fix a broken military judicial system that enables the continuation of pervasive sexual assault. Sadly, MN NOW and our co-sponsors fell 50 people short of the required 117 tickets sold to screen Invisible War.

I first saw Invisible War a couple years ago when Gender Justice organized a screening, and I was so disappointed in how few people showed up. They did nothing wrong in how they marketed the screening. There was no other event that any of us knew about that was drawing away any possible audience. They even lined up an amazing panel of experts to discuss the film and answer questions. To this day, I don’t know why more people didn’t show up, but I was determined to screen it again. But once again, we didn’t get the turnout that the movie deserved. We didn’t get the turnout that the survivors deserve.

So why? Maybe our potential audience was distracted because they were busy with Get out the Vote efforts. The election was on November 4, and our deadline to sell 117 tickets was just three days later on November 7. Maybe, maybe not. I have a few other thoughts about why people aren’t showing up to see this important movie.

A friend tells me that it’s available on Netflix, so why would someone pay for a ticket to see it? I’m glad that it’s on Netflix and hopefully reaching a wide audience, but I see a definite value in screening it for a group. When I saw it, I received the benefit of expert panelists who could address questions from the audience. I attended the movie with a friend who had survived sexual violence in the military, and her insights were invaluable. Additionally, this movie will challenge your heart and soul. It is not easy to watch. I would recommend that you have someone to emotionally support you after watching it.

At my social media seminar today, the organizer pulled up a meme of a baby with a scrunched up face. All of the attendees giggled, and he made the point that he chose that image because all of us in the room had some connection to the image (one pregnant lady and two doting aunties in the room), and that is why it appealed to us. The point of the lesson was that people respond to familiar and appealing images. Perhaps we don’t relate to the experience of the woman soldier on the promotional materials and so we feel somewhat removed from their lives.

I hope that the people who read this will share your thoughts about why people didn’t show up for the viewing, because we are not deterred. We will find a way to screen the movie, because the message is too important not to share.

The isolation that any rape survivor feels is multiplied times ten when it happens in the military. The process of military justice is not conducive to justice for survivors at all. Imagine if your boss raped you, and he was your only means of obtaining justice. Imagine being stationed in the middle of nowhere, and having to work alongside your rapist(s) day after day with no independent venue for justice.

This is why it is important for us to show up in droves to view Invisible War, even if we don’t serve in the military.

Here are some of the truths shared in Invisible War:

“Service members must report rape to their commanders. However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership.”- Brian Lewis, who was 20 years old when he was raped while in the Navy.

14 percent of female veterans report experiences of gang rape.

About 40 percent of victims in one study indicated that the perpetrator was their ranking officer.

One-third of victims indicate that the perpetrator was a ranking officer’s friend.

“I was repeatedly drugged and raped by several of my superior officers over a nine-month period. …There was no one I could turn to because, like so many victims of sexual assault in the military, my attackers were in my chain of command. So I kept my mouth shut.” – Testimony of Trina McDonald, who was 18 when she was stationed in Alaska and assaulted.

62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation.

Heath X reported that he was gang raped, told he was lying, threatened, bullied, assaulted again and tried to commit suicide all during his first month in the service. He left, became homeless, was incarcerated and was diagnosed as suffering “intense psychological pain.” He was taken to a naval jail, and then returned to his post where he had to serve with the “gang of molesters” that had attacked him before. He faced court-martial or dishonorable discharge. He was denied benefits because he was dishonorably discharged. He was 18.

90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged.

80 percent of perpetrators and those accused are discharged with honor.

Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by a commanding officer. He also broke her jaw, leaving her with lifelong pain and serious depression. When she attempted to bring him to justice, she was informed by her commanding officer that she’d be court martial as a liar. The commanding officer admitted that an assault happened, but said it didn’t include rape. As such, he was only restricted to his base for 30 days without pay for a short time.

By the terms of the current military legal code of justice system a general’s decision to overturn a jury verdict is the final word.

If you find these truths to be disturbing, I encourage you to see and hear them directly from the survivors’ mouths. MN NOW will continue our efforts to screen this movie again in the Twin Cities, with your help.

~Beth Johnson, MN NOW President

This is dedicated to my dear friend, who passed away last year from injuries related to a serious drinking problem. She drank to numb the memory of the rape committed by her training officer while she was serving our country.

~The chances of a female veteran developing PTSD are nine times more likely if she has been sexually assaulted.

~Military victims of violent assault or rape are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than service members and veterans who have not experienced sexual assault and rape.