I talked to one of the victims, Panayiota Bertzikis, 31, who started the Military Rape Crisis Center in 2006, about why she’s supporting Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)—pictured above—and her Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which is up for a vote this week. (It will need 60 votes to pass. As of last night, 53 senators have shown support for the bill.)
Glamour Magazine: Why Have 46,500 Women in the Military Been Sexually Assaulted? Read Article: bertzikis_glamour
No, not by hostile enemies—by their own fellow service members. Panayiota Bertzikis can’t accept that. She’s making sure everyone finally does right by our troops.
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Panayiota Bertzikis, 31, who once dreamed of a career in the Coast Guard, could only voice her “disappointment” and “hope” that it will eventually be better for others than it was for her. When she reported her rape in 2006, she says she was told to “shut up” about it, called a “liar” and a “whore” and ultimately forced from the Coast Guard.
She has since founded the Military Rape Crisis Center and says survivors believe that rape cases must be taken not only out of the chain of command but out of the military completely and handled by independent civilians. Otherwise, to use the cliche, it’s the fox guarding the chicken coop. It’s another sham “internal investigation” no different than the Catholic bishops “investigating” abusing priests and Penn State “investigating” pedophile Jerry Sandusky. While these supposed “investigations” dragged on, predators were free to victimize over and over again.
When she reported the attack, Bertzikis says the chief of her Coast Guard station ordered her and her attacker to clean out an attic on base together and told to work out their differences.
“I am the victim of this crime, and then you report it, and then I felt like I was the one on trial — I was the one who did something wrong,” Bertzikis says. “He got a free pass. I was the one fighting to stay in.”
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During a ceremony at the State House last week, state Senator Pet Jehlen presented Bertzikis with the award, which is given to women who don’t often make the news, but make a difference in their community, she said.
“Everyone can contribute to their community,” Jehlen said in a press release. “Panayiota is a great example of one person who saw the need for something and used all of her ingenuity, resourcefulness and intelligence to fill it.”
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Panayiota Bertzikis, a spokeswoman for the nationwide Military Rape Crisis Center, said publishing the names of offenders is fine, but the military needs to improve the conviction rates in sexual-assault cases.
Bertzikis favors a proposal in the U.S. Senate to remove sexual-assault complaints from the chain of command. In other words, victims would be able to report their assault to someone other than their superiors, and officers comprising the court-martial would not be in the suspect’s chain of command.
“We have a lot of survivors not reporting because the people they are reporting to are the perpetrators themselves,” Bertzikis said.
Boston Magazine: Coast Guard Base Boston Rape Victims
Arizona Republic: Military veteran opens up about 1970s sex assault
Boston Globe: Military Sexual Assault: More Veterans are seeking help.
San Francisco Chronicle: Rapes Of Women In Military ‘A National Disgrace’
Congresswoman Jackie Speier talks about Panayiota Bertzikis