Hearing On Military Domestic Violence

Sep 18, 2019
Originally published on September 18, 2019 5:35 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Survivors of domestic violence in the military told their personal stories today to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The bottom line, they say there's no accountability from those in command. NPR's Claudia Grisales was at the Capitol. She joins us now.

Welcome, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Before we go further, I just want to warn listeners we're about to hear graphic descriptions of violence. Claudia, can you talk about today, what you heard on the stand?

GRISALES: Yes, it was a very emotional day for these survivors and for the lawmakers on a House Armed Services subcommittee. These women came because they wanted lawmakers to know that the military needs to focus more resources and attention on this crisis. Among them, Army Maj. Leah Olszewski said an airman she was dating beat her while she was pregnant. She didn't know he had a long history of workplace and domestic violence. Here's a moment from her testimony.

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LEAH OLSZEWSKI: He kicked me in the abdomen with both of his feet. He knew I was pregnant. I called the police, and he ran from the house. Over the next three days, I miscarried.

GRISALES: She said she tried to tell his superiors in the Air Force about the incident, but it didn't help, despite a documented history of abuse. And she said if the Air Force won't listen to her, what will it take? Another survivor, Kate Ranta, told lawmakers of a terrifying moment in 2012, when she and her father were shot by her ex-husband Thomas, who was an Air Force Major. Sadly, their son saw the whole thing.

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KATE RANTA: Thomas did this in front of William, his own son, who was only 4, his own son who screamed don't do it, Daddy; don't shoot Mommy. By some miracle, we all lived.

GRISALES: She told the panel that the Air Force allowed her violent ex-partner to go free, but she found justice in the civilian system.

CORNISH: Can you talk about that a little more, with Kate Ranta talking about domestic violence being treated different in the military than in the civilian judicial system? Is that the case?

GRISALES: Yes, absolutely. Leah Olszewski, who miscarried, she said there was no counseling, no court martial, no consequences. These families can fall through the cracks between civil and federal law and military jurisdiction. And advocates say these families can be turned away from local support agencies and sent back to their bases. But those bases aren't prepared to help, they say. And the problem that all the witnesses at the hearing echoed was the difference between how their cases were handled in the military system versus how they had to go outside the military to seek prosecution.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what are they asking Congress to do?

GRISALES: Well, this has been a long-running concern for the military. Congress has already done something. They changed military law to make domestic violence a crime. But that's not enough. Advocates say what needs to happen now is raising awareness among military commanders. California Democrat Jackie Speier, who chairs this committee, called it a forgotten crisis in the military. And lawmakers say the military has to do more, and it shouldn't be up to these survivors to tell and retell their stories of domestic violence.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales.

Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.