SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Local Veterans took part in a walk Friday in Sioux falls to draw attention to sexual assault and harassment in the military. It’s a problem that affects both women and men. Survivors are often reluctant to report these cases out of fear of retaliation and putting their military careers in jeopardy. One Sioux Falls Veteran says there’s help available to other survivors who are carrying the hidden wounds of sexual trauma.
A walk on a gusty day underscores the emotional headwinds members of the military face when they’re the targets of sexual assault.
“To this day, I have nightmares and I have had occasionally, something can set you off and you could have a panic attack,” Air Force Veteran Linda Hillberg said.
Linda Hillberg of Sioux Falls enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. She served twenty years and says during that time, she was a victim of sexual assault and harassment by her military supervisors.
“Remarks. Touches. Things like that where you’re cornered and don’t know how to get away from it,” Hillberg said.
Sadly, Hillberg’s story is not unusual when it comes to members of the military who’ve experienced sexual trauma.
“Approximately 1-in-3 Veterans or service members that are women have been assaulted or sexually harassed and about 1-in-50 males,” Sioux Falls Vet Center Director Karen Cordie said.
The Sioux Falls Vet Center offers out-patient counseling for both veterans and active-duty members who are struggling with sexual trauma.
“Anytime folks are able to come to a location that is familiar with and provides evidence-based care for the traumas they’re experiencing, their outcomes are better and they are able to go on and manage those symptoms more effectively,” Cordie said.
“It helped me tremendously just to come here and to know I was in a safe place to talk about things like that,” Hillberg said.
Hillberg says there were no mental health services available to her when she first enlisted because there were so few women in the military at that time. She says the support from others lets survivors know they’re not alone as they walk their path to recovery.
Under federal law, members of the military are no longer tasked with investigating cases of sexual assault and harassment. That job is now handled by independent investigators.