(Note: We have been asked to share this statement by Betsy Schoeller, an instructor in our School of Information Studies, who has been the subject of numerous news stories regarding a posting she made to Facebook.)
First, may I please offer my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Specialist Vanessa Guillen. I am deeply sorry for your loss and pray that you find justice, and over time, some solace and peace.
I’d also like to offer my sympathies to all victims, women and men, of sexual harassment and sexual assault. NO ONE deserves to suffer this violation, under ANY circumstances.
When I was on a private Facebook page for veterans, I saw the article about SPC Guillen’s death and was shocked, horrified, and sickened by the tragic loss of this beautiful woman soldier. It was so brutal and so senseless. Senseless. We all try to make sense of these kinds of events. I continued reading, hoping to find some meaning in what others were writing about the article.
That’s when I saw a posting written by Zach Bigger, who was clearly searching for meaning as well. He was asking questions about ‘how’ this could have happened, and ‘why.’ I knew immediately how and why. Because of the continued culture of sexual harassment in the military.
So, I posted a reply to Zach Bigger, “Sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club. If you’re gonna cry like a snowflake” (or any other demeaning term), “you’re gonna pay the price.” I did not mean to imply that this is how I feel. I was giving voice to the messaging that women hear in the culture of sexual harassment: The message we receive from the culture is not only will you suffer from sexual harassment, if you squawk about it, you will suffer even more. Because it isn’t just the sexual harassment. That’s just the beginning. Then comes the agonizing decision about reporting. Or not reporting. The pressure applied by friends who know about it and only want to help. Having to ultimately stand up to that culture of sexual harassment on your own. Adding suffering on top of suffering. Some endure continued harassment and assault, being forced to work with the perpetrator. Sometimes even death. The sexual harassment culture is still here. That’s the ‘why’ I was looking for.
I am shocked and saddened that my original post was interpreted out of context.
The point I was making is that this is what women are facing in a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny.
It’s not easy to be a woman in the military. Not easy at all. There are some men who have adapted to the idea of working alongside women, but there are just as many who have not. I’ve seen many attempts to squash this harassment culture from the military. Zero tolerance. Reporting procedures. Trained personnel to help guide victims through the process. Sensitivity training for all personnel. Films. Discussions. Focus groups. Role playing. Sometimes as often as every six months. Always hoping that the next thing will be the one to make a difference. Somehow there was always one more case. Now SPC Guillen was dead. And I knew why. Because the culture of sexual harassment was still alive and well, despite our best efforts.
I do not believe in or support sexual harassment. Quite the opposite. I’ve seen the toll it takes on individuals and entire units. But I know it’s still here. Because SPC Guillen is not here.
Again, I am so sorry my words were misinterpreted. I hope this message provides the context that was missing from my original Facebook posting. Individuals cannot change the system alone. We need to stand together to be strong and to focus our energies on making sure that what happened to SPC Vanessa Guillen doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again.