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The Marine noncommissioned officer whose video about being the victim of sexual misconduct in the military was shared widely last week says it’s not her job to fix a system she did not break.
“My name is Dalina,” she wrote in a lengthy statement released Tuesday night by Protect Our Defenders, a group fighting to end sexual violence in the military. “I am not a martyr, I am a Sergeant in the Marines who has served honorably.”
Dalina, whose last name and unit were not provided to protect her privacy, did not expect the video she recorded on TikTok, a video-sharing social media platform, to go viral, said retired Col. Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor and president of Protect Our Defenders. The sergeant recorded and shared her candid reaction to learning a Marine who was found guilty of mistreating her would be allowed to remain in uniform.
“This is exactly why … females in the military f—ing kill themselves,” she shouted through tears in the video, which Christensen said gives a glimpse into the pain and raw emotion all victims of sexual misconduct experience.
“I don’t know how anybody could watch and not see the pain she’s going through,” he said. “We see a lot of numbers when it comes to sexual assault, but we rarely see the survivors. Rarely do they have the ability to tell the story.”
People moved by Dalina’s video ranged from rank-and-file troops to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and members of Congress. Austin on Friday called Dalina’s video “deeply disturbing,” and pledged to address the troubling problem of sexual misconduct, which has plagued the ranks for years.
The Marine Corps has consistently had some of the military’s highest rates of sexual assault reports. In 2019, there were 5.4 reports of sexual assault for every thousand Marines in the ranks, according to Defense Department data.
“We have been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right,” Austin said last week. “And my commitment to my soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and dependents is we’re going to do everything within our power to get it right.”
Dalina, who is declining media interviews about her personal experience, said she’ll eventually speak about the toxic culture surrounding sexual misconduct in the military. The person she reported for misconduct was her unit’s uniformed victim advocate, she said — someone Marines and sailors are supposed to be able to turn to when they’ve been harmed.
Her command confronted the Marine, and he admitted to what he had done, Dalina said in her statement.
Capt. Angelica Sposato, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina-based II Marine Expeditionary Force, said Tuesday that the Marine was found guilty of transferring personal information from Dalina’s cellphone to his own device.
The Navy and Marine Corps made sharing nude or intimate photos without the subject’s permission a criminal offense in 2017. That was in the wake of a massive scandal in which hundreds of service members and veterans in a Facebook group were found to have accessed compromising photos of female Marines without their permission.
The Marine who took photos of Dalina’s cellphone received nonjudicial punishment, a reduction in rank and loss of pay, Sposato said.
Even after the Marine confessed, though, Dalina said he still held formation the next morning while she hid in her room, “ashamed of what had happened.” The Marine accused of wrongdoing faced administrative punishment rather than a court-martial, she said.
“When they finally removed the Marine from the installation, I was met with silence,” Dalina added. “… My chain of command never formally notified me about what action they took against this Marine.”
Months passed, during which she said she repeatedly asked the leadership for more information about her case. She describes cornering her commanding officer about the need to better vet uniformed victim advocates.
She said she told the CO she didn’t want to be in the same unit as the Marine who mistreated her once they returned to the U.S. Dalina said she later found out she wouldn’t just be in the same unit as the Marine, but “working in the same office.”
“There’s just a breakdown of care for survivors that is really having a negative impact,” Christensen said. He referenced the findings of a new Rand Corp. study released this month that shows exposure to sexual assault doubles the odds a service member will leave the military within 28 months.
Sposato said the process to administratively separate the Marine found guilty of accessing Dalina’s photos is ongoing. Anyone who doesn’t uphold Marine Corps standards will be held accountable, she added.
“We take all allegations of prohibited conduct and activities seriously to ensure our people are fully supported with appropriate resources specific to the nature of an incident,” she said. “The Marine Corps is committed to maintaining a culture of dignity, respect, fairness and trust.”
Dalina said a master sergeant helped bring her into his unit when she returned to the U.S. so she wouldn’t have to work with the perpetrator. That unit has looked after and cared for her, she said.
When she testified at the accused Marine’s separations board though, she said she watched members of her former unit stand up for him.
“I had to witness my old leadership come forward with recommendation letters for this Marine because he was a ‘hard worker,'” she said. “I had to hear things like, ‘He made a mistake and fell into temptation, but he could be a great leader.'”
Too often, Christensen said, he sees military leaders turn on the victims of sexual assault, harassment and mistreatment.
“Even though the [Defense Department’s] own estimates show that every year, retaliation is over 60%, I don’t think senior leadership believes that this happens,” he said. “I think that’s what she’s looking to get out there — that this is happening when men and women come forward. They are not being taken care of.”
Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said last week that Dalina’s video serves as a reminder that more needs to be done to ensure any service member guilty of sexual misconduct is “brought to justice.”
“I’ll be working to ensure the Pentagon does more to bolster its harassment and assault prevention programs, and that it works more closely with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to better support all survivors of military sexual trauma,” said Tester, a Montana Democrat.
Christensen said Dalina’s story is one of several recent cases that highlight serious shortfalls in the way the military addresses sexual misconduct and crimes. That includes the case of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 20 year old who was killed in Texas after her family says she was sexually harassed. Her body was found dismembered and burned.
And six months earlier, Army Pfc. Asia Graham was found dead in her barracks room at Fort Bliss, Texas, on Dec. 31, 2019. Pfc. Christian Alvarado, a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, was later charged with raping Graham while she was unconscious.
These tragic cases must lead to reform , Christensen said. He’s hopeful the public interest, combined with President Joe Biden’s promises to support reform for military sexual misconduct cases, will lead to change.
Dalina, who said she was sexually assaulted in the Marine Corps before the Marine accessed her personal images, said she’s not a “one in a million story.”
“There is a lot of misinformation you will hear used to discredit me — this is a direct reflection of what happens when service members come forward with their story,” the Marine said.
“I am not responsible for fixing what I did not break.”
— Gina Harkins can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.Read comments