Female soldiers in Maine form support group for victims of sexual trauma
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.
Two members of the Maine Army National Guard start a support group for female veterans who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.
The group’s first meeting will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope in Augusta, a nonprofit providing transitional housing for female veterans and led by First Lt. Rebecca Cornell du Houx.
She and another soldier, Sgt. Aleigh Suffern, decided to form the support group following a recent Bangor Daily News investigation into a predatory culture within the Maine Army National Guard that soldiers say allows sexual misconduct, retaliates against women who come forward and spares the perpetrators. .
“We strongly encourage and welcome any woman to take the leap of faith and come forward to share her story, enjoy a meal, strategize to support future generations, discuss system failures, offer or seek resources, or just listening quietly while sharing the company of their sisters through laughter and tears,” said Cornell du Houx, who also works in the mental health field as a licensed clinical social worker.
The problem of sexual assault in the military has been well established for years and disproportionately affects women. The BDN investigation found a recent increase in confirmed sexual assault cases in the Maine Army National Guard, but most go unreported due to soldiers’ fear of repercussions for speaking out.
Meanwhile, the psychological toll of sexual trauma can be devastating for survivors. A study found that female soldiers die by suicide twice as often as their male counterparts. Soldiers who spoke to the BDN said they did not believe the guard had done enough to support them or hold the perpetrators accountable.
“Hopefully we can reach out to other women who are out there who read the story and feel empowered to join our group and support each other,” Cornell du Holly said.
In addition to providing a space for confidential support, the group will also serve as a starting point for women seeking local resources to deal with sexual trauma or report sexual assault.
For Suffern, it took years to finally tell people she had been sexually assaulted and needed help because the experience can be so isolating, she said.
“If there is a need that the caretaker is not filling, how can we, as a group, collectively support each other to find the right person for care?” she said. “People need to feel they have allies and are not alone.”
Maine National Guard officials have repeatedly said they are doing everything possible to eradicate sexual assault and support survivors, but, unlike other states, leaders have not said whether they will take specific measures in response to BDN reports.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, who oversees the guard, wrote an opinion piece in the BDN reiterating the guard’s policies on sexual assault and pledging to “continue to aggressively seek action against those who do not respect our values”.
More information on how to attend the first support group meeting, in person or virtually, can be found online.