Justice from the Army--Ha! It's Non-Existent for Jennifer
The accused rapist of Jennifer (Dyer) Ottepka, 1st Lt Michael Hall, was found "not-guilty" last week on every charge against him but, "conduct un-becoming an office." One of the producers of 60 min. contacted me by email and phone shortly after the Army cut this "person" loose--According to her, based on the testimony given by Hall, the courts decision could only be called "bizarre." Based on what I have seen and read, bizarre is a gross understatement!
The courts decision in this case only confirms what a lot of us already understand: there is a culture of pervasive sexual abuse and rape within today's military and no one gives a damn past PR shows of "damage control." In the mean time, women like Jennifer are continuing to be brutalized.
Take the time to read Jennifer's statement below. Try also to imagine if Jennifer was your wife; your sister; your girlfriend; your mother; your friend; read her statement. Ask yourself, what would I do if...? Enough from me. Besides, Jennifer speaks for herself better than what I, or anyone else ever could, and I'll be writing something seperate from Jennifer's statement...I have a lot to say about this injustice!
We're still here with you Jennifer! You are without a doubt one of the strongest, most determined women I have ever had the honor of meeting. What has happened to Jennifer at the hands of the Army should be mandatory reading for all women thinking about enlisting in the military--I doubt many would after that.
Response of Jennifer (Dyer) Ottepka:
To all of those who have listened to my pleas for help these past 9 months, I thank you.
To all of those who believed in me and supported me, I thank you.
To all of those who continue to believe in me, I thank you.
It has taken me the past week to comprehend what happened at Ft. Rucker, AL and to compose my feelings on the verdict. There was no justice to be had by the Army in my case but I remain strong in the knowledge that what I did was right. It is difficult to explain how it feels to have been dealt such a cruel blow but I know this was the only path I could have followed. People that pursue truth and justice don't always come out on top. I have the rest of my life to pursue all the happiness that every man, woman and child deserves. I will do my best to put this trauma behind me but am mindful that I will never forget it and I am thankful that the ordeal is finally over. I hope that others aren't discouraged by this case and continue to pursue the truth, wherever it may be.
Below is my formal response and may God Bless You All,
Jennifer O. (Dyer) Ottepka
"It has been one week since the verdict was handed down and words cannot describe my profound feelings of disappointment and sadness after the Army chose to acquit the Soldier who raped me. I was justifiably cynical as I headed to Ft. Rucker for trial since suffering medical negligence, Command reprisals and threats after reporting my rape. Very few military sexual assault cases make it to trial, and fewer still result in convictions. However, truth was on my side and I fought hard for the justice I hoped for even as I was forced to write a letter to the Secretary of the Army (attached) since the military judge repeatedly postponed the trial for inane reasons.
Throughout this pursuit of justice I questioned whether the pain, exposure and enormous emotional and financial damage were justified. Some felt it would have been best to do as so many Soldiers have done: “suck it up” and not report the crime at all. I quickly overcame my initial fears about reporting this terrible crime and did what I felt was necessary. I subsequently learned that lack of support and services, along with mistreatment, reprisals and threats is simply the Army’s standard response to rape victims. I reported the rape because it was a crime. If left unaddressed, it would only encourage this rapist to pursue other victims. For this reason, I continued to pursue justice at enormous personal expense, especially as hundreds of women shared that they were similarly raped and revictimized by fellow Soldiers during military service to this country. I hoped that perhaps I could make a difference and change the abhorrent way the military treats their rape victims. I believed that personal courage, dignity and strength throughout this ordeal could have a positive impact for others. I endured all the unwarranted suspicion, accusations, lies and venom the Army mustered in its attacks against me. The very same Army that I gave 8 years of my life to, serving with honor and distinction as both an enlisted Soldier and Commissioned Officer.
From the moment of reporting, I saw a different Army than the one I had chosen to serve. My rape test kit was botched and I was even forced to pluck my own pubic hairs. I was denied access to the outside world and even a telephone for days following the rape. I was threatened with UCMJ charges and involuntary psychiatric commitment for seeking justice, or even basic support and services. I incurred thousands of dollars in legal debt to defend myself against lies, reprisals, threats and attacks from the Army throughout my pursuit of charges against my rapist. I became incredibly fearful of the very entity I had served and trusted my entire adult life. For months the Army refused to charge Michael Hall with rape and only vast publicity elicited any hope for justice. Even after Hall was finally charged, changes in venue, prosecution, defense and postponement of trial until nearly a full year after the rape obstructed justice to the point where I was forced to write to the Secretary of the Army, asking for assistance. This was viewed as “undue command influence” by the defense as they tried unsuccessfully to have all charges against the accused dropped. It was always clear that the Army did not want a trial, let alone accountability, and that it was me who was on trial – not the rapist.
The Prosecution’s presentation of the facts at trial allowed any objective observer to see the truth. Defense witnesses were obviously Army-manufactured, offering only biased perjury; while in contrast, prosecution witnesses were direct and sincere. As Hall took the stand, he admitted under oath that throughout the rape I was crying, distraught and repeatedly said “no”. Hall testified that he didn’t leave my room (to which he had not been invited) when asked because he “wanted to make sure that she really meant no”, and that he “felt like a rapist”. No young college frat boy, Hall is a married Army Officer. He wasn’t convinced or dissuaded by my tears and my repeated refusals to engage in consensual sex so he raped me twice. I agreed twice when requested by investigators to take a polygraph test to confirm the truthfulness of my allegations. Hall maintains it was consensual sex but refused to submit to any polygraph testing. I ask anyone who reads this to please explain how sex can be construed as consensual when a woman half his weight is crying and repeatedly saying “no”. Hall blatantly lied, testifying that I flirted and danced with him that night, despite three witnesses’ testimony, including the Soldier who sat next to him at the club that there was no such activity. The defense attempted to convince the court that I was speaking seductively in Arabic to Hall while flaunting my “bluebird” tattoo. I do not know a word of Arabic and I have no such tattoo. An enlisted Soldier testified that Hall made unwanted advances toward her, and yet Hall was not charged with Fraternization for this crime. A Captain testified that after my rape, Hall refused his orders to come out of his barracks room and yet Hall was not charged with this crime. Hall was aware that he carried the incurable STD Herpes and yet unprotected sex with that knowledge was only deemed as “Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman” rather than the assault charge such behavior should have warranted. This crumb of a man clearly showed callous disregard for human dignity and will continue to present a viable health threat to other Soldiers.
Despite the fact that my resignation was accepted by the NJANG long before the rape and upheld by the Undersecretary of the Army shortly after the rape, defense counsel persisted in the same illogical and tired reasoning that I was a ‘black widow’ who was willing to destroy another person’s life to avoid deployment to Iraq. The Defense failed to counter vast testimony that I honorably performed my duties and expended extensive personal funds to prepare for my 18-month deployment. Defense had no explanation for why I continued to fight for justice against this rapist although I was honorably discharged months ago, even prior to the referral of charges against Hall.
It wasn’t mentioned that Hall requested an Other Than Honorable Separation in Lieu of Trial, trying to avoid prosecution, or that Defense motions included requests to have Hall’s own sworn CID statement thrown out.
The Army Judge’s acquittal of Hall on even the adultery charge clearly showed the Army’s true colors, intentions and values. I was told that Col. Gordon was a fair man and he would be an impartial Judge of the facts. But he failed me and he discredited himself by deciding to acquit a married commissioned Officer who sexually harassed both enlisted and commissioned Soldiers who at the very least, by his own admission, engaged in unprotected sex with a crying fellow Soldier who repeatedly said “no,” while engaging in clearly adulterous behavior. Countless other Soldiers and military members have been convicted of the same offense for engaging in consensual adulterous sex. The Army, through this Judge and this illogical verdict was obviously determined to inflict the final parting act of reprisal and retaliation against me for reporting this rape and going public with the truth as the Army had previously ignored this crime and abused me instead. The Army was reluctant to bring this to trial at all and wanted to send a message to future victims who would dare to pursue justice for this type of criminal activity.
Understandably upset when the Judge declared Hall not guilty of raping me, his refusal to convict him of even the Adultery charge was met with shock beyond belief. This outrageous decision is a clear indication to all that the truth and “Army values” are meaningless. The Army wants all military rape victims to keep their mouths shut and “drive on”, or else. This verdict should have been predictable after another Soldier in the 250th Signal Battalion (my unit) intervened to protect a female Soldier who was being sexually harassed and assaulted by a group of Soldiers from the 278th ACR (Hall’s unit). The Good Samaritan was brutally stabbed and grievously injured by those Soldiers and the Army attempted to sweep that crime under the carpet until medical treatment required greater scrutiny. Even then only Article 15’s, the Army’s version of a slap on the wrist, were issued to the criminal Soldiers involved.
The Army has essentially decreed that it is completely acceptable for Soldiers to be vile criminals. Only a handful of many more involved in Abu Ghraib crimes are being held accountable. This week’s very public Recruiting fraud scandal is another demonstration that there is no lower limit to the repugnant criminal behavior the Army is capable of stooping to. It was not that long ago when the Army’s response to their flooded Sexual Assault Hotline phones ringing off the hook was to simply unplug the phones and ignore the cries for help and reports of crimes from women Soldiers. Even McKinney, the highest ranking enlisted Soldier, was acquitted of innumerable sexual assault, rape and other charges and was only convicted on a single charge of witness intimidation because the victim in that case taped his threatening telephone calls. More recently, the Army Inspector General was also accused of sexual harassment and assault by a commissioned Officer, but faced no charges. The victim had remained silent for years, only coming forward because of the IG position involved.
Outside the Army, the highest ranking lawyer in the Air Force, TJAG MGEN Fiscus, was very quietly retired during recent Christmas Holidays without any charges or judicial repercussions after it became clear that for at least the last decade of his career he had sexually harassed and assaulted countless civilian, enlisted and commissioned AF personnel. If DOD refuses to hold even the highest ranking and most trusted leadership criminally accountable for sex crimes, how can we expect the Lt. Halls of our ranks to “get the message”, let alone be held accountable? If DOD refuses to step in and engage leadership and enforcement of laws and regulations when services fail victims, then DOD is just as guilty of the same hollow rhetoric without teeth or merit.
I learned from an early age that the one person you could never lie to is yourself, and so from this I take with me the knowledge that I did the right thing. My values and “Army values”, which I once believed to be so compatible that I dedicated 8 years of my life to my country, are clearly very different. Holding to truth and justice against all odds and throughout endless attacks will always be something I can believe in, despite this absurd and yet very telling outcome.
The Army has demonstrated their true, unstated values: they retain another lying, adulterous Soldier-Rapist with an STD he chooses to spread. Lt. Michael Hall remains a welcomed and highly protected Soldier from an Army unit where sexual harassment, assault, perjury and other serious criminal behaviors are tolerated. It is clear to me and so many others that the Army and DOD leadership uphold his unit’s toleration of criminal behavior.
It was hoped that the Army would put some action behind their rhetoric and take a stand to finally address the eradication of their pervasive culture of sexual abuse as well as continued toleration and harboring of criminals amidst their ranks. Reports of hostility and violence toward women Soldiers are epidemic, and this apathetic indifference needs to end. The many investigations into military sexual assault, and DOD statements that things are changing for the better, are mere window dressing. That the military clearly doesn’t care about those criminally violated by Fellow Soldiers was evident throughout lengthy refusals to charge Hall; the entirely prejudiced 15-6 investigation on me that served only as a cover-up for the Army’s gross negligence and mistreatment; and the Army’s acquittal of Hall. Loud and clear, the Army continues to proclaim in their actions that they just don’t care while abuse, reprisals and retaliation against victims who report crimes and seek assistance will continue and that, despite vast public relations campaigns, there is no true intention to change.
I pursued justice hoping to contribute to this necessary change and set an example for other military sexual assault victims. I believed justice could prevail if I found the strength, courage and determination to see the process through. I learned the hard way what thousands of military sexual assault victims already know: there is no justice, and it is safer to remain silent. Therefore, it frightens and deeply saddens me to know firsthand that many women currently in the military will continue to experience the same callous insensitivity, disregard and reprisals I experienced over this past year at the hands of those who have sworn to protect this nation. “Army values” don’t extend to women or victims in this archaic, male dominated culture where male Soldiers are protected and defended at all costs while women are to be abused, disbelieved and discredited. The message sent is that the violation and abuse of women in the ranks of the United States Military will continue, along with the retention of criminals in the ranks.
Those who know me will attest to my sound reputation and credibility. The Army, however, has a long reputation for brutalizing rape victims, and its credibility throughout the world on this and many other fronts sinks lower with each passing day. I agreed to serve my country and follow orders. I did not agree to become the victim of another Soldier’s criminal behavior, or to be further victimized by those who were legally mandated to assist and protect me following this crime. I will continue to affirm that every statement I have made since this horrible ordeal began is the absolute truth. The Army failed me, but most of all, by upholding this verdict and sending this message that is as twisted as this crime and my subsequent mistreatment, they failed and continue to fail everyone in uniform.
Not long ago, I was interviewed about my Army service and at that time, I still encouraged other women to follow the same path. Now I feel compelled to join the voices of thousands of servicewomen who have been abused and revictimized by the military in unequivocally stating that no woman in uniform is safe from criminal Soldiers harbored by this corrupt system. May God help them, if they do find themselves victims of sexual or other crimes at the hands of fellow Soldiers, there will be no support, services or justice awaiting them if they report these crimes."
Jennifer O. (Dyer) Ottepka