A former Alaska National Guard soldier said Thursday that she experienced firsthand the embarrassment of having the confidentiality of her rape breached in her unit and openly discussed by her command and fellow troops.
Sgt. Melissa Jones, now with the Illinois National Guard, told reporters by phone that she was left traumatized by the failure of Alaska guard officials to keep her case private. To add insult to that injury, she said, she was told by the guard's sexual assault response coordinator that she couldn't make an official report because her case had become too widely known.
Those were two major issues detailed in the critical report of the Alaska National Guard and its failures of leadership issued last week by the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations. The report was requested by Gov. Sean Parnell after several years of revelations and complaints about sexual assaults and other improprieties in the guard.
Jones said her story wasn't among the 185 personal interviews conducted by guard investigators from April 1 to June 1, though she said she was contacted later in June in a new investigation into the leadership of the guard by the Army's inspector general's office. That investigator asked specific questions about Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, the former adjutant general of the guard who resigned in connection with the report's release last week, she said.
Jones spoke to reporters by phone from Paris, Illinois, where she now lives and where she is in the process of separating from the Illinois guard over post-traumatic stress -- a condition she attributes to the 2007 rape in Alaska and the response by guard officials. The phone call was arranged by Alaska Women for Political Action, an advocacy group that encourages women to enter politics. The organization's treasurer, Sue Levi, said the group is officially bipartisan, though it has few Republican members.
In the highly charged political season, the news conference was attended by staff members from the state Democratic Party and Parnell's office. Both had left by the time reporters themselves packed up their gear in the downtown law office conference room where the news conference took place.
Jones, who has given news interviews before, said that in 2007, she was a 27-year-old specialist in her third year in the Alaska guard and hoping to go to flight school to learn to pilot helicopters. Late one weekend night, she and a group of about 15 -- fellow guardsmen and their boyfriends and girlfriends -- went to Chilkoot Charlie's. After a couple of drinks, she said, she felt funny and decided to go home.
Very little was clear after that, and she thinks her drink was drugged. She believes she took a taxi back to her apartment in East Anchorage. Someone else got in -- either with her, or through an unlocked door. She said she was raped multiple times but didn't want to give details of what happened. She doesn't know if the assaults were committed by soldiers, guardsmen or civilians.
She was late reporting for duty the next workday, and she had to explain to her supervising sergeant what happened.
"I showed her my discharge paperwork from the Elmendorf E.R. and she talked me into speaking with one of the chaplains," Jones said. A short time later, in an apparent breach of confidentiality by the chaplain, her commander, a major, approached and demanded she explain what happened. The major said he'd have to tell her first sergeant, but no one else would know.
"I took a week off after this to try to pull myself together," Jones said. "When I returned to duty, I found that my rape had become known to many people throughout the National Guard building."
She confronted the major, who denied being the source of information, she said.
"I never received any answer as to who leaked my story," she said.
She said the sexual assault response coordinator's office wouldn't take her complaint "because my story had been made public," she said.
The OCI report, in addition to criticizing the guard for leaks of confidential information about rape victims, described the coordinator's office as the source of many problems. Until 2012, the report said, the coordinator position was filled by a contractor who was largely unsupervised and failed to keep proper records.
"As a result, victims and leaders were not properly informed regarding the status of their cases, victims were not offered treatment services, and victim information was not adequately treated in a confidential manner as required by (Defense Department) policy," the report said.
Jones said she never went to the police, which she regrets now.
"I was shocked. I was humiliated, embarrassed. As a victim, you initially go through so many ranges of emotions, and you don't really know which way is up and down," Jones said. She said she blamed herself for the assault.
Her quest for answers was short-circuited by a deployment to Iraq two months after the attack. She was stationed at Balad Air Base with about three dozen other Alaska guardsmen flying and servicing small Sherpa cargo planes. She was there until November 2007.
When she got back, she tried one last time to get official action by making a complaint in 2008 with the inspector general of the state guard.
"Nothing ever came of it," Jones aid. "No one followed up with me or even asked how I was doing. It was all just ignored." She left Alaska in December 2008.
Jones described the OCI investigation as "a great start" but said more needs to be done to protect women from sexual assault and to help those who become victims.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing