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National Guard pilot's experience as sexual assault victim singled out

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 15, 2015

The troubling experience of one National Guard member who said she was sexually assaulted and then damaged anew during a military court-martial was outlined in an attachment to the Alaska National Guard report released Monday.

Her story emerges through emails and letters from her psychologist, Martin Atrops of Eagle River, who has been trying for nearly a decade to change what he describes as a demeaning and hurtful process.

According to the new report, some things have changed.

The attack occurred in December 2004 during an Alaska National Guard deployment to Asia, Atrops wrote. The guard member, a pilot, did not want to be named but allowed him to tell her story, he said.

When the investigation of the assault she suffered stretched out, new investigators started from the beginning.

"She was required to explain and to re-explain what happened in this intimate assault to investigators, co-workers, and her superior officers," Atrops wrote in 2006 to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Some investigators discouraged her from following through or suggested she was at fault. Her need for counseling was challenged. She had no lawyer to ensure her legal rights were met. A victim advocate only contacted her a year after the assault and emphasized the difficulty of pursuing a complaint. She initially sought a restraining order to keep the attacker away but discovered that if she got such an order, it would limit her ability to get further training.

"This woman's experience demonstrated a systemic lack of honor, judgment, and leadership in the military with respect to its understanding, management and prosecution of sexual assault within the military," Atrops wrote in a follow-up letter, drafted in 2008, that he didn't send out until 2013 after his client gave him permission.

He said he never encountered such treatment of a sexual assault victim over decades of work in state courts.

In the court-martial, the defendant was acquitted, Atrops said Monday.

The new guard report, sought by Gov. Bill Walker and completed by retired Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins, notes that military courts-martial are outside the state's jurisdiction. Collins still called attention to problems with courts-martial through the correspondence from Atrops.

The National Guard Bureau approved a one-year appointment of a special victims' counsel for Alaska after a critical report in September of problems with sexual assault cases and treatment of victims here.

That appointment will soon expire. Collins recommended keeping a victims' lawyer.

Murkowski has supported creation of a special victims' counsel pilot project but Murkowski's office has a policy not to discuss casework for constituents, said spokesman Matthew Felling. Atrops said he never heard back.

Atrops said the military system should follow the civilian approach in which specially trained sexual-assault response teams collect evidence and conduct interviews.

The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December, requires the secretary of defense to establish a process for victims to say whether they want the case prosecuted by the military or civilian authorities.

Other changes improve confidentiality protections and expand who qualifies for a victim lawyer, according to the Collins report.

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