Former Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla testifies March 13 on Capitol Hill before the Senate subcommittee on personnel hearing on sexual assault in the military. Havrilla told the committee that she encountered a "broken" military criminal justice system after she allegedly was raped by another service member while serving in Afghanistan. Havrilla described suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and described how her case was eventually closed after senior commanders decided not to pursue charges. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
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An Army rape victim who testified about how a military chaplain told her the alleged rape “was God’s will” and was intended to “get my attention so I would go back to church” was a key witness at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing focusing on sexual assault in the military.
Former Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla told the military personnel subcommittee she delayed filing formal charges for an alleged rape by a fellow soldier in Afghanistan because she did not trust the system, and that after she finally reported it nothing happened.
“The military criminal justice system is broken,” she said. “I feared retaliation before and after I reported, the investigative process severely re-traumatized me, many of the institutional systems set up to help failed me miserably, my perpetrator went unpunished despite admitting to a crime, and commanders were never held accountable for making the choice to do nothing,” Havrilla said.
Havrilla was an explosive ordnance technician deployed to Afghanistan as part of Taskforce Paladin when she allegedly was raped in 2007 by another service member about one week before the deployment ended.
“Initially, I chose not to do a report of any kind because I had no faith in my chain of command,” she said. Her reluctance was based, in part, on the fact that her first sergeant had been accused of sexual harassment “and the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature towards women.”
She filed an informal complaint before leaving active duty “but had no intentions of ever doing a formal investigation.” Havrilla said she met her rapist about a year after she separated at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., while on reserve duty. “He recognized me and told me that he was stationed on the same installation. I was so re-traumatized from the unexpectedness of seeing him that I removed myself from training.”
Havrilla said she sought help from an Army chaplain “who told me — among other things — that the rape was God’s will and that God was trying to get my attention so that I would go back to church.”
She did not name the chaplain but said his comments convinced her to still not report the alleged rape.
She finally reported it after a friend told her the accused rapist had posted photographs of her, taken during the rape, on the Internet. “I felt that my rape was always going to haunt me unless I did something about it,” she said, so she reported it to Army authorities.
She was questioned in what she called “the most humiliating [thing] that I have ever experienced” and then questioned again when the case was handed over to a new investigator.
“I lived in constant fear that I might run into my rapist again or he might retaliate against me in some way,” she said.
Ultimately, the accused rapist admitted to having consensual sex. As a married soldier, he should have been charged with adultery, but the case was closed without charges, she said.
“What we need is a military with a fair and impartial criminal justice system, one that is run by professional and legal experts, not unit commanders,” Havrilla said. “We also need an additional system that allows military victims to access civil courts if the military system fails them.