EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Victims of sexual assault afraid to come forward, and investigations corrupted by high-ranking officers.
Former soldiers allege a dark world in the military, and said leadership knows all about it.
One woman, Debroah Waters, recounted a chilling story about being sexually assaulted as she served in the National Guard at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas.
“He grabbed me by my face and pulled me,” Waters said. “He said, ‘no woman ever says no to me.’”
Waters said a soldier, now stationed at Ft. Bliss, had broken into her house.
“He raped me,” she said. “My children were not even five feet away.”
Waters said the assault robbed her of her humanity and justice.
“He is dangerous and violent,” she said.
Waters said she gathered the courage to report the assault to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. When she heard nothing back, she contacted a field office in California and learned her case at Ft. Bliss was opened and closed on the same day. Waters said she was intimidated by military officials, but that did not stop her.
“They made me feel like I had done something wrong,” she said, “like I was the rapist.”
Years later, in 2017, finally her case went to trial. KTSM found the court records from the Army’s public record system database. The soldier accused is not being named because he was ultimately found not guilty.
Former soldier Deliris Montanez does not know Waters, but said she knows her story all too well. Montanez was a battalion commander for a reserve unit in El Paso.
“As a female and as a leader, it hurts.” Montanez said. “It makes you sick to the stomach that the leadership is not taking this seriously.”
Montanez said she is saddened to see the same problem persists in the Armed Forces.
KTSM asked FT. Bliss for statistics on sexual harassment and assault cases. Ft. Bliss referred KTSM to a website – a complied list of resources.
One report on the site on sexual assault in the military required by Congress by April of every year. The report reveals the services, as a whole, received 6,053 reports of sexual assault from service members in 2018 compared to 6,236 in 2019.
“Those numbers to me, are not accurate at all,” Montanez said.
Other former soldiers also don’t buy the numbers and also said they experienced sexual harassment while in the military.
“He was my teacher, my drill sergeant,” Crystal Romero said as she spoke of her experience. “He was the one who was leading us.”
Maira Carrier shared a similar story.
“Before I even put on my uniform, before I got into my boots, I already had my first sexual harassment experience,” Carrier said.
Both former soldiers have now turned to advocacy, speaking out for other soldiers. They said the problem does not exist at one base or post.
“The one thing that was consistent was toxic culture in the military,” Carrier said.
Romero said usually a report of harassment does not favor the victim.
“The person that was assaulted has to continue to work with the person that assaulted them,” Romero said.
Also in that report to Congress, in black and white letters, it admits: Sexual harassment and other misconduct remain a persistent challenge.
“There’s regulations for sexual harassment,” Carrier said. “There’s regulations for everything but no one is being held accountable.”
The former soldiers all agree accountability is the key. Also, giving the military less power during investigations.
“The command should not be part of the process,” Romero said. “You can’t report the problem to the problem.”
“(Victims) should be able to go out to an outside, independent investigation,” Montanez said.
Waters said she still struggles years later with her injustice.
“The Army enables this,” she said, “they protect each other.”
She said she has made peace with what she cannot change.
“I know I will never get justice,” Waters said. “I have made my peace with that.”
KTSM did reach out to Ft. Bliss about Waters’ allegations of an unfair trial, but did not receive a response. When asked about victims coming forward Ft. Bliss said:
‘The first considerations when a person comes forward to report is the safety of that individual and their well-being, they have options.’