SEXUAL ASSAULT IN MILITARY: Survivor speaks out - KMSP-TV

SEXUAL ASSAULT IN MILITARY: Survivor speaks out

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On Tuesday, the Pentagon reported nearly 34,000 incidents of sexual assault took place in the military last year, and a military member who survived several assaults is speaking out for the first time in an exclusive interview with FOX 9.

The report came out just two days after the Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assaults was arrested and charged with sexual battery not far from the Pentagon itself.

"Whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform they're wearing," President Barack Obama said. "They may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic. It's a crime."

Sexual assaults are up 6 percent over last year, with nearly 70 assaults per day -- and the report prompted a woman who has been keeping the story of her assault under wraps to speak out.

Rhonda Strick entered the Air Force Academy in the summer of 1980, during a major period of adjustment because that class was the first to recognize women as graduates.

"I was coming in as a freshman that year, so it was still something that was very, very new to the military academies," Strick told FOX 9 News.

In her freshman year alone, Strick said she experienced three instances of sexual assault -- including one involving an upperclassman on the Dean's List who offered to tutor her.

"I went to his room and that was nothing that he had the intention of doing," Strick said. "He basically said, 'Take off your clothes.' I didn't know how to respond except, at that time, you don't' say no. Afterwards, he just said, 'If you need any help with a class again, you just let me know.'"

Strick pressed through the traumatic experiences and moved into active duty as a staff officer, but at each stop in her career, she said sexual harassment and advances were the norm.

"It was always someone who outranked me," she recalled.

Robert Shadley, a retired Army major general who watched the trend turn into an epidemic across nearly two decades, tried to confront the crimes in the 1990s.

"It's not about the sex. It's about the power," Shadley said.

In 1996, he exposed a major scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army base in Maryland that ended in court marshals for 12 drill sergeants.

"In my experience with the offenses we uncovered at Aberdeen back in the late 90s, the perpetrators had multiple victims," Shadley said.

Shadley told FOX 9 News he believes the problem is a matter of weeding out the predators.

"Eight thousand perpetrators out of 1.3 million service members is less than 1 percent," he said.

After seven years of service, Strick left the Air force after another assault.

"While I was in Korea, I had one other instance that was violent," she recalled. "At that point, I really had had enough and realized this is not what I signed up for."

In 1992, she decided to explore what civilian life had to offer. Now, she is offering advice to all sexual assault survivors.

"You can't be afraid to speak out. I have spent the last 30 years hiding and not wanting to offend anybody with what I know happened," she said.

Several members of Congress are currently drawing up legislation that would establish stricter penalties for sex assault in the military, with one piece seeking to provide special military lawyers to assist those who are assaulted. Another bill in progress would essentially strip military officers of the ability to overturn convictions on sexual assaults.

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