UPDATE II:

Reacting to the New York Times article discussed below on women who have been sexually assaulted while in the military and who are now the victims of another injustice: homelessness — sometimes as a consequence of the assaults and trauma they endured while in service — and sometimes also fall into the drug and alcohol abuse trap, Heather Mac Donald at the conservative National Review Online suggests:

Some of these women come from environments that made their descent into street life overdetermined, whether or not they experienced alleged sexual assault in the military. To blame alleged sexual assault for their fate rather than their own bad decision-making is ideologically satisfying, but mystifying. Having children out of wedlock, as a huge proportion of them do, also does not help in avoiding poverty and homelessness.

Read the rest of Mac Donald’s hypotheses on what women in combat should or shouldn’t expect — “Isn’t there a contradiction in expecting the military to ‘protect’ you while it also sends you out to face mortal risk?” — and on Military Sexual Trauma (M.S.T.) here.

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UPDATE I:

There have been several skeptical responses to the quality, timeliness and amount of support the VA, HUD and other government agencies provide to veterans in general and to homeless veterans — especially homeless female veterans and their children and those with PTSD claims related to sexual trauma while on active duty.

Diane Nilan at the Huffington Post commented:

Thank you for calling attention to this tragic, inexcusable crisis. I’d like to point out a little known reality–that most homeless persons are not even counted in HUD’s point-in-time census. For veterans, non-military women or men, as well as millions of children, they do not count. HUD doesn’t include those who have lost housing and are now staying with others, in motels, in cars, campgrounds or other places of refuge. Congress gets a “rosy” picture, free to spend money elsewhere, and traumatized women veterans, and countless others, suffer even more, invisibly. To make it even worse, many communities have no shelters, or shelters are turning record numbers of people away. This doesn’t even touch the essential issue of affordable housing. Shame.

Diane Nilan is the founder and president of a unique, national, non-profit organization dedicated to “giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth.” The organization is called HEAR US and you can read more about its mission and efforts and about Ms. Nilan here.

The reader will learn how, in 2005, Nilan sold her house and most of her possessions, purchased an RV and set out on an extraordinary venture “to create a documentary featuring kids talking about their homelessness.” Since then, Nilan and others have been hitting America’s roads and have been traveling throughout the country in “EPIC Journeys,” (Everyday People In Crisis) such as “Southern Discomfort” and “Babes of Wrath.”

Another critic of VA’s performance has been the advocacy organization, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).

In an editorial in The Times last Sunday welcoming the introduction of the Ruth Moore Act, “a bill in Congress to make it easier for veterans to collect disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assaults they suffered in the military,” The Times cited the organization’s claims that, from 2008 to 2010, the VA “approved only 32 percent of PTSD claims related to sexual trauma, compared with 53 percent of all other PTSD claims.”

For the VA’s reaction and SWAN’s counterclaim, please read here.

If there is sufficient interest at TMV, the author will continue to explore the shameful state of affairs of our homeless veterans in general, and that of our female veterans who not only endure homelessness but also PTSD/ M.S.T., in particular.

Note:

Another worthy organization working hard to “develop and implement cost-effective, holistic programs that meet the needs of a diverse population working to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction, and criminal recidivism,” is The Doe Fund. Read more about it here

===

Original Post:

In his foreword to the “2011 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” released in November 2012, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan writes:

The report shows that our collective efforts to address homelessness are making a difference. Since 2010, the number of people in shelter decreased by nearly six percent, and the decline was felt by people who experience homelessness alone, by families with children, by our nation’s veterans, and by people who experience chronic homelessness.

(emphasis mine)

I had not read that report at the time, but I did read a brief Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report a month later — in December 2012 — which announced that homelessness among veterans had been reduced by approximately 7 percent between January 2011 and January 2012.

Having lamented the state of homelessness among our veterans only five months before that report, I was naturally buoyed by such news and quoted the VA report:

The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, prepared by HUD, estimates there were 62,619 homeless Veterans on a single night in January in the United States, a 7.2 percent decline since 2011 and a 17.2 percent decline since 2009. The AHAR reports on the extent and nature of homelessness in America. Included in the report is the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which measures the number of homeless persons in the U.S. on a single night in January 2012, including the number of homeless veterans.

Had I read the November 2012 HUD report, I would not have been so upbeat about the VA announcement nor would I have taken the title, “Report Reveals Further Reduction in Veterans Homelessness,” at face value.

You see, buried in page 52 of the November 2012 HUD report, under “Characteristics of All Sheltered Veterans: Gender and Age,” is the following ominous statistic:

The percentage of women among sheltered veterans increased by 1.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2011 and by 2.3 percentage points since 2009. The higher risk of homelessness among female veterans was highlighted in past AHAR Veteran reports and appears to be confirmed by the 2011 estimates.

In an excellent column this morning at the New York Times, Patricia Leigh Brown highlights this disturbing trend:

Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.

Regardless of the growing percentage of women in the military, this is an extremely troubling trend, especially when viewed alongside another growing problem, that of sexual assault on women in the military.

More tragically, some of the women who have been sexually assaulted while in the military are now the victims of another injustice: homelessness — sometimes as a consequence of the assaults and trauma they endured while in service.

Again, Patricia Leigh Brown:

Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.

While male returnees become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, experts say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women, researchers and psychologists said, is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brown focuses on one such sad story, representative of what has been called “a double betrayal of trust”* and that is part of “the 53 percent of homeless female veterans who had experienced military sexual trauma.”

It is the story of Tiffani Jackson, a female veteran who “In the caverns of her memory…recalls the job she held, fleetingly, after leaving the military, when she still wore stylish flats and blouses with butterfly collars and worked in a high-rise with a million-dollar view…” — a veteran who has now experienced it all.

But it is also the story of how female veterans face a complex “web of vulnerability,” as the Times quotes Dr. Donna L. Washington, who has studied the ways the women become homeless, including poverty and military sexual trauma.

Some of the “threads” in the web, as described in Brown’s column:

Female veterans are far more likely to be single parents than men are. Yet more than 60 percent of transitional housing programs receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs did not accept children, or restricted their age and number, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

The lack of jobs for female veterans is also contributing to homelessness.

Again, the “double betrayal of trust.” Being sexually assaulted while serving their country which often sets off “a downward spiral for women into alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence,” according to Lori S. Katz.*

Add to this “web of vulnerability” the fact that “Returning veterans face a Catch-22: Congress authorized the V.A. to take care of them, but not their families. Women wait an average of four months to secure stable housing, leaving those with children at higher risk for homelessness,” according to Brown.

Hopefully there is help on the way. According to the Times:

Pledging to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the government is pouring millions of dollars into permanent voucher programs, like HUD-Vash, for the most chronically homeless veterans. Thirteen percent of those receiving vouchers are women, nearly a third of them with children, Dr. Angell said.

A newer V.A. program, with $300 million allocated by Congress, is aimed at prevention, providing short-term emergency money to help with down payments, utility bills and other issues. The government’s motivation is financial as well as patriotic: the V.A. estimates that the cost of care for a homeless veteran, including hospitalizations and reimbursement for community-based shelters, is three times greater than for a housed veteran. A pilot project providing free drop-in child care is under way at three V.A. medical centers.

And, “Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation that would reimburse for child care in transitional housing for the first time.”

Please read more about this “Double Betrayal of Trust” in “Honor Betrayed — Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home” and watch the moving video of women who have just completed an intensive therapy program for veterans in Long Beach, Calif. and who share their experiences of sexual trauma in the military, which led to homelessness for some, here

*The Times: “For those hoping to better their lives, being sexually assaulted while serving their country is ‘a double betrayal of trust,’ said Lori S. Katz, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System and co-founder of Renew, an innovative treatment program for female veterans with M.S.T.”

Photo: DOD

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
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KP
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KP
3 years 6 months ago

DDW, thanks in advance for your thoughts about my observations.

1) The percentage of women who experience military sexual trauma is horrible and unacceptable.

2) The percentage of male and female veterans who experience homelessness is horrible and unacceptable.

3) If the percentage of active military women is 14 percentnt and almost 10 percent of the homeless veterans were women, does that mean that women are adapting better than men once home? Does that mean that men are more troubled? Will we see the number of homeless women veterans become equal to men as they face more combat?

Lets hope we can see decreasing numbers of the homeless in both sexes. As well; zero tolerance for sexual trauma, military or not, female or male.

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 6 months ago

Thanks for your additional thoughts, DDW. Very helpful. Your time is much appreciated.

brcarthey
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brcarthey
3 years 6 months ago

I think everyone would agree that the trauma of sexual assault on our female combatants in addition to any other physical and mental traumas associated with battle is something that should NOT be happening. It’s bad enough that we go to war against one enemy, we should not have a second “enemy” coming from within our own ranks. Compounding that is the apparent disregard by frontline commanders in pursuing allegations and possible charges. While I’m not aware of any historical statistics on sexual assault cases in the military, I wonder if there has been a recent increase if it could be tied to the lowering of enlistment standards (I believe people with certain criminal records can now enlist) instituted by the military during the Iraq invasion. I don’t know if a direct correlation can be made accurately, but it is something I have pondered.

I’m not at all saying this is the only reason that the rise in homeless female veterans. I believe that rise is also due to the increase of our female soldiers seeing more direct combat now, even though officially for many years they were not in forward combat positions. This disconnect could very well lead to misunderstandings and misdiagnoses of any psychological trauma they might eventually suffer.

@KP: I posted a link in another topic thread for DDW about a documentary on sexual assault in the military. But, in case you missed it, here is is again: The Invisible War

and here’s a PBS interview by Jeffrey Brown with the film maker, Kirby Dick.

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 6 months ago

Thanks DDW, my aologies for creating extra work for you with parts of my first post. I didn’t grasp the numbers as well as I should have. I appreciate you bringing me along.

@brcarthey, I had missed those links. Thanks, I’ll view them.

brcarthey
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brcarthey
3 years 6 months ago

Hey Dorian, one more thing I forgot to point out is the backlog for processing claims at the VA that keeps growing. I’m pretty sure you are already aware of this, but for those that aren’t, the current length of time to receive an answer from the day a veteran files a claim is…NINE MONTHS! Some areas are a lot worse for instance in 2012 the average wait time on processing a claim in the SF Bay Area was 313 days. Of course, and unfortunately, this wait time is only based on the fact that no paperwork is lost or miscoded and the VA agrees with the diagnosis and treatment plan. Wait times longer than 125 days for cases are considered backlogged. Right now, ~70% of the cases at the VA are backlogged nationally. Even once your claim is accepted it can take several more (we’re talking more than three here) for the VA to determine how much financial compensation is allowed. BTW, in case anyone was wondering, if a veteran’s claim is denied and he/she appeals. The average wait time for an appeal answer is 1,181 days (translation, that’s over three years).

It’s not completely the VA’s fault as they are subject to bureaucratic funding whims. There was already a significant percentage of total cases being backlogged prior to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1 million of which are expected to leave the military in the next five years. Now, we have ~2.5 million veterans from those wars who need treatment and only 8,000 new VA employees (since 2008) have been hired to process the claims. Furthermore, until last December all claims were submitted and processed on paper. That’s right folks! The biggest, baddest military force on the planet was having veterans use a pre-1990s method of submitting claims to request benefits. A computer filing system didn’t even begin piloting until 2010 at a few select locations. The VA has stated that by 2015 no veteran will wait more than 125 days to have their claim processed. Here’s the VA’s press release covering that. Color me skeptical on their 2015 claim, but for the sake of all our veterans, young, old, male, female, I hope the VA succeeds.

I apologize for another long rant, DDW. As much as our veterans sacrifice, it’s really galling how much they are both taken for granted and cast aside once they’ve served their political purpose, especially by the chickenhawks.

brcarthey
Guest
brcarthey
3 years 6 months ago

On the positive side, I have been “mentoring” a disabled Vietnam veteran here in Texas with some of his medical problems, and I must say the attention he has been getting at both the Austin VA clinic and at the San Antonio military hospital, where he is getting a (leg) prosthesis fitted, has not been bad.

That’s really cool DDW. My rant is not with the the staff within the VA itself, who are busting their humps day in and day out, but with the politicians who talk about how “pro-military” they are, then drop the ball on the after care. The doctors, nurses, PTs, and medical staff are really some of the most dedicated and hardest working I’ve met. They really try their hardest to navigate through, around, over, and under the red tape to get the best care for their patients.

Part of my anger stems from the VA hospital in lower Manhattan still shut down since Hurricane Sandy hit. While all the other hospitals who got hit bad in that part of the city have almost fully recovered, the VA hospital sits pretty much empty still except for a few makeshift services like the pharmacy open. Outpatient clinics may open some time this month. Meanwhile, all the veterans who used that hospital had to go to the Brooklyn VA hospital which was already pretty overrun before the hurricane.

Having worked “next door” at Texas Lions Camp over the years in the shadow of the VA hospital in Kerrville, I’ve seen glimpses of the care that facility provides and am worried for it because its name always seems to come up when the subject of hospital closures comes up. I think that is really awesome that you are mentoring a fellow vet, but can’t say I’m surprised that you’re doing it either. :)

My wife and I have always made it a mission to work with underserved communities. Now, she’s a physician up in East Harlem while I finish out the last two years of medical school (went back in my late 30s) and though I still want to do this, reading about the care our veterans have trouble sometimes getting is making me consider working for the VA. I’ve still got time to think on it, but it’s something that I had not previously considered.

KP
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KP
3 years 6 months ago

Dorian, I saw the powerful documentary “GATEKEEPERS” tonight. Phew. Strong. I thought of you and the drone debate. It goes deeper, further, into the morality and politics. I humbly offer it as an adjunct to discussions. If you see it you will understand.

brcarthey — best to you and your wife and shoulder to shoulder on the work you two have made your mission to those who need support. To both you and DDW, the work/mentoring you do is some of the most important stuff we will ever do; more important that money and more important than ‘winning’. Why? Because it lasts and if done successfully it is extremely rewarding for all parties.

I think we can be most helpful to others in areas where we have struggled mightily and prevailed. In my view, those special circumstances are part of the reward of having over come the difficulties we all experience.

How we handle those challenges is part of our character and ensures we can assist others do the same. I would like to see someone here explore this more deeply in an article. There is so much we all of agree on.

brcarthey
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brcarthey
3 years 6 months ago

@DDW, i got to read your article regarding Mr. Hancock. A very honorable and humble man, who if not for people like him, his father and you, we would not be able to have a military that often gives us a unifying pride in spite of the politics that y’all get caught in the middle of. Thank you for well-wishes as I slog through med school. I will definitely keep you posted as I progress. Even with all its frustrations of working in a community clinic, my wife absolutely loves it. When I am done with school our plan is to move back to Texas (Houston, Austin or SA, in that order) with our three young kiddos in tow. BTW, I turn 40 at the end of this month (29th).

@KP, thank you for the well-wishes too. I agree with your statement too regarding the pursuit of endeavors that are rewarding is ways other than money. We hope to be able to pass these ideals on to our children. Looks like I am also going to have to check out “Gatekeepers” as well.

To you both, and other authors, contributors, and commenters, I look forward to engaging with y’all during my study breaks. They actually give me a nice shot of norepinephrine to keep me energized while I read. :)

KP
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KP
3 years 6 months ago

@DDW “Sounds controversial, sounds like a must-see.”

I agree, it is a must see, but I wanted someone else to say it. It stretched my understanding of the area and the politics. Watching it is like viewing an anatomy chart of the human nature. There is no where to hide. As we age, we change. That is true physically and emotionally.

I left exhausted, saddened, but hopeful. I don’t speak the English language well enough to paint the picture, but this film paints a forceful view from some of the major players perspective.

KP
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KP
3 years 6 months ago

brcarthey, keep it rollin’ …

Austin is a great city. One of the best cycling communities in America, alongside Boulder and San Diego, all for different reasons.

Where are you in your progress relative to school? My daughter is engaged to a wonderful guy who is finishing his second year in Los Angeles. How much control of where you go will you have after four years? I am guessing some of that decision making will be mitigated by your wifes current employment opportunites? Very best regards to you.

brcarthey
Guest
brcarthey
3 years 6 months ago

@KP, I’ve lived just about all over my home state, so I know all about Austin. Even though I lived most of childhood and adolescence in Houston, I have lots of friends in Austin, including one of my best friends up in Cedar Park. Although I’m naturally partial to Houston, since my wife is a Northeastern gal (born and bred NYC’er) she’d probably love Austin’s sensibilities more. I’m finishing up my second year preparing to take the Step I exam. I have two years left doing the hospital clinical rotations in NYC where I will put all this book knowledge to practice.

As for residencies, med students have a little control but not much. It’s a little bit of a sick and twisted game, but this is how it’s played. By the end of 3rd year, most med students are supposed to have an idea of what specialty they want to practice. So, in September we have to apply (just like for a job) to each site we think we’ll like to train at (the avg. is ~20 sites), then we wait for a call for an interview, take time off from our 4th year rotations to travel around, either the region or whole country, to the different sites to interview with the training staff no later than December. Next, we turn in a rank list of what sites we like the most by late January of our 4th year. The following month, each residency program turns in a pooled rank list of who they like. This group of people is their first choice, this group is the second choice, etc. Then, it takes a month for the residency match program to make the best match between the student’s top choice and the residency site’s top choices. “Match Day” is March 15th of every year and you have to let the program know as soon as they call if you’re coming or not. Hopefully, you get a spot. If not, there’s a scramble to find what sites have openings still and you try to get one of those. If you don’t get any of those, then you have to go through the process all over again. So, out of all that the only control you have is which sites a student applies to. After that it’s almost like a game of Survivor. It’s a dog-eat-dog competition so you better hope you’re not one of the students who’s caught wearing milk-bone underwear.

As for my wife, she’s a Family Medicine physician, so she has opportunities wherever I can get a match. She’s not worried at all about finding employment.

Sorry everyone for going off on this tangent. Now, back to the program already in progress…

KP
Guest
KP
3 years 6 months ago

I appreciate your time; the most valuable thing any of us have to give.

It is worthwhile for readers to understand what you face. Not just in time invested (8-12 years or more of higher education), but where you have put your family’s heart and soul; how agile you must be.

The financial investment/burden it takes to become an MD before you ever reach a mid life salary equal to your services is extraordinary.

roro80
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roro80
3 years 6 months ago

Hi Dorian — I’ve been out of the country for a while, so I didn’t see this until now. I saw on another thread that you were hoping for some input (I’m flattered!).

First off, this is a hugely important issue, and I thank you for continuing to write about it.

Homelessness in particular and poverty in general are, in my opinion, one of the major shameful issues that the US faces, and has been mostly ignored for decades. For a country of our vast wealth, it should be something we all care about, but we see all too often greater and greater pushes toward limiting and eliminating the public safety net that is meant to address the most dire consequences of homelessness and poverty. While I’d love to blame just one side of the aisle for this, the only real advocate for the impoverished that I can think of in the last few years got eliminated from the 2008 election and promptly found himself embroiled in a sex scandal in which he behaved reprehensibly. Ahem. Since then, we’ve had one side of the political spectrum who openly dispises those in the greatest need, and one side where there has been a tiny bit of hand-waving unspecific talk about the poor, but mostly talk of the middle class. Essentially, the issue is a non-issue among our politicians. This should be embarrassing to everyone.

There has always been a statistical link between homelessness and sexual assault, particularly for women, although in many cases the causal relationships are difficult to untangle. Simply not having a door behind which a homeless person sleeps makes them much more susceptible to the types of stranger-instigated rape that is quite uncommon for those with homes (most women who are sexually assaulted are the victims of people known to them). Mental illness and our society’s inability to care for those with mental disabilities is another major factor, as there is also a link between sexual assault and mental illness, separate from the homeless issue.

However, even untangling all of these factors, having been raped is a strong statistical indicator of present or future homelessness, for many reasons, both obvious and some perhaps not-so-obvious. Women and men who have been assaulted very often suffer from PTSD from their rapes, which often leads to afflictions like drug or alcohol abuse (self medication) as well as emotional instability that makes work extremely difficult, from hiring to performing daily tasks. Even those who get jobs and keep them can go through tough times and occasional emotional outbursts or a few days of severe depression, and with most jobs being at-will, PTSD sufferers are more likely to be fired than others. Medical costs are also through the roof for those with mental illness, and even for those who get insurance with what jobs they can find(which is hardly a given), many policies don’t cover mental health. And as we all know, going bust because of medical costs is extraordinarily common, often pushing families and individuals who are getting along alright into abject poverty over a very short period of time.

So, all of that is a prelude to the major point of Dorian’s (and the NYT’s) article: homelessness of women veterans is rising, and over 50% of homeless women veterans report being sexually assaulted during their service. As poorly as the civilian judicial system works for victims of rape, at least that system exists. In systems that are beyond and/or immune to standard judicial processes, we see that rape is rampant, and the victims have little to no recourse against their higher-ups. (The only other system I can think of that is like this is the prison system — this is another, but related, discussion.) It is beyond disgusting that there is a bigger risk of women in the armed forces being sexually assaulted by their own fellow soldiers and officers than of them seeing combat and being wounded in that manner. It is well-known that across all poor behavior (whether that be violence, sexism, racism, substance abuse, etc), that cultures that allow and tacitly approve of such behaviors show much greater incidence of those behaviors. The approval of sexual assault within our Armed Forces must be stopped, and the incidence of rape must be curbed. How to do that is a huge question, but as with most huge problems, the beginning is admitting there is a problem, and understanding the scope and depth of that problem. It is not at all clear that this first step has been taken.

roro80
Guest
roro80
3 years 6 months ago

Yes, you are correct that I disagree with Ms Mac Donald on her assessment of the recent policy change allowing women into combat positions. She’s wrong on her math and on her social science, which makes her position ludicrous, in my opinion. It’s also a red flag for any article if there are sentences that start with “feminist deny [x]” and then go on to list something that “feminists” don’t at all deny. Ah well.

As for the rest of your comment — I agree there is some movement to address the issues. I still see a lot of argument that either the problem isn’t as bad as is, that there’s nothing that can be done about it, or that making the changes needed would ruin the good things about the military (essentially, all the same arguments you always see whenever any long-standing power structure is confronted with internal problems). And I perhaps should have used different language than “approval”. Some of the stories you hear, though, do point a system that geared toward protecting those who commit sexual violence and punishing those victims who report it, even if “approval” is the wrong word.

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