The War Within

As America prepares to invade Iraq, female Air Force cadets wage their own battle.

A few minutes later, the officer asked Allen if Jessica had threatened him.

Allen: I don't think she threatened me. We were just in an argument.... It was a very intense kind of argument. It wouldn't have happened in such a manner except for us being in love so much. I guess you could call it a lovers' fight kind of thing. It's happened before. I've seen it. It has happened to some of my friends. I wouldn't call it threatening.

Hearing officer: I'm at a loss. I have the statement you made to the police in May, and I'm listening to what you have said to me today. I don't want to say they sound different, but...

Jessica Brakey doesn't want rape victims to fear coming forward.
John Johnston
Jessica Brakey doesn't want rape victims to fear coming forward.
The Air Force Academy is the scene of several rape allegations.
John Johnston
The Air Force Academy is the scene of several rape allegations.

Allen: When I wrote that, I really didn't have to. When I got to the station, they told me that if I wanted this to go away faster, I should write a report. They advised me to.

Later, the hearing officer said, "One of the other reasons the superintendent is giving Cadet Brakey notice of possible disenrollment is because she said, according to the allegations, 'I want to fucking kill you right now.' It comes right out of the police report. Do you remember her saying that?"

Allen: Yes, I do.

Hearing officer: Do you remember what it was in response to?

Allen: No, Sir. It was just an argument at first. We were both saying words to each other. It was a heated argument. She just said it in the heat of the argument. I just remember that statement. That's why I filed the report.

Hearing officer: Did you feel threatened at that point? Did you believe she meant that?

Allen: Did I feel threatened? No. I didn't think she was really going to kill me. It wasn't like that at all. People say stuff like that all the time.

The hearing officer concluded that although Jessica had unlawfully struck Allen and acted disorderly, some of her strikes were delivered in self-defense; he also decided that Jessica's statement "I want to fucking kill you right now" did not amount to a threat. Three days after the hearing, Jessica sent her commander a letter requesting permission to attend counseling off base with the backing of academy defense attorney Captain James Williams -- the attorney who represented Max Rodriguez in Lisa Ballas's case.

In a letter to the academy, Williams argued that what happened with Allen did not warrant disenrollment. He also said Jessica's situation was complicated by her rape allegation. "It is unclear at this time what, if any, impact this assault has had and will have on her. It is possible that this incident could have been a cause of C1C Brakey's actions which led to both the [mental-health evaluation] and the [hearing officer] case," Williams wrote. "Because of this, if you determine that C1C Brakey should not be permitted to graduate, then she asks that you grant her a medical turnback so she can have an opportunity to explore these issues with her therapist."

But on October 31, Lieutenant General Dallager, citing the fight with Allen and the Air Force psychologist's diagnosis, recommended to the secretary of the Air Force that Jessica be given an honorable discharge. She was placed on immediate leave. Major Shifrin can't comment on whether Allen was ever disciplined for his role in the fight but confirmed that he is still enrolled at the academy. Jessica believes she'd still be there had she never mentioned the rape. Her removal, she says, is "damage control. They don't want the way they're treating women down there to get out. It's a good old boys' network, and if you're a woman and you get assaulted and you report it, you can kiss your career goodbye."

Dorothy Mackey, a former senior Air Force captain and commander who founded a nonprofit called Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, agrees. In 1995, Mackey sued two senior officers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where she was stationed, for sexual harassment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Ohio, where she filed her lawsuit, ruled that she couldn't sue the two men individually, because they "were acting within the scope of their employment when they allegedly harassed" her. The court determined that she'd have to substitute the United States government as the defendant. But a precedent-setting 1950 United States Supreme Court decision on three cases of soldiers being killed or injured while on active duty established the Feres Doctrine, which protects the government from being sued "for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service."

Mackey's case was over, but her resolve to help others was just beginning. Since she started STAMP in 1997, she's gotten 3,800 calls from officers and civilians claiming to have been abused, harassed or discriminated against by military personnel. Mackey has since become a well-known speaker who travels the world talking about violence in the military; she recently addressed The Hague and the International Conference of Psychiatrists.

When she hears from men and women who have been sexually assaulted, she explains the different cycles of trauma and refers them to counselors or attorneys. But she tells them not to expect much help from the military, no matter which branch it is. "After my experience, I can honestly tell you that the military doesn't want to investigate these cases," says Mackey, who also claims she was raped three times during her Air Force career, twice by military doctors and once by a senior officer; she says she repressed the memory of the rapes until years later.

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