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Women's Advocacy Conference

Women’s Advocacy: Understanding the Scars of Military Sexual Trauma and Sexual Harassment

On Saturday, Oct. 31st, American History Theater will feature its first educational and interactive conference hosted at California State University, San Marcos. The conference will tackle some of our military’s leading issues, that of military sexual trauma, sexual harassment and sexual assault. According to the most recent Pentagon report, in 2014 alone, there were 5,061 reports of sexual assault in the military. Out of those reports, only 484 were pushed to trial and only 376 of those trials led to convictions. Many feel that so few cases move to trial due to the fact that military commands are in control of handling the reports, instead of them being handled immediately by JAG.  During our conference we hope to tackle this subject and explore what kind of command environment encourages victims to come forward and what type of command environment dissuades victims.

The military continues to tackle the issue, working to raise awareness and encouraging military members to remain vigilant and police one another. But despite all efforts, the military continues to experience rising numbers of sexual assault and sexual harassment reports. Although experts speculate the rising numbers of reports illustrates that victims are more comfortable coming forward, some say there is no proof that the numbers simply don’t mean there are just more assaults. No matter what the cause, the statistics are still unsettling, showing the issue to be far from resolved.

Our conference will feature a panel of women who will address some of these statistics, shedding more light on the subject. We hope to provide a forum for civilians, veterans and active duty service members, alike.

We are very proud to feature Sarah L. Blum as our keynote speaker! Sarah is a decorated Vietnam veteran, former Army nurse and author of the hard hitting book, “Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military”. Sarah is still a practicing nurse psychotherapist with over 28 years’ experience, working with PTSD and trauma resolution. She has long been a hard-charging advocate for veterans.  Sarah was one of the first two women elected to the National Board of Directors of the Vietnam Veterans of America in 1983, and has always been active in veteran’s affairs. She successfully lobbied Congress to study the connection between Agent Orange and birth defects in the children of women Vietnam veterans in the early in the early 1980's. She is also listed in Who’s Who in: America, Who’s Who in American Women, Nursing, Medicine, Healthcare, and is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, the National Association of Professional Women which has over 160,000 members, and the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association, among other organizations. Sarah will talk about her experience writing the book, which includes 53 accounts of brutal military sexual trauma.  She will also talk about her personal experiences in the military and more about her journey of advocacy in the name of her fellow sisters in arms.

We will also feature an abbreviated panel of subject matter experts, who will help broaden and develop the definition of MST, and talk about why it is such a prevalent issue, what causes victims to shrink from reporting and what type of military command climate most encourages honest and fearless reporting.

First to speak will be Dr. Carole Patterson , a subject matter expert on Military Sexual Assault. During the last 18 months, she has provided treatment to over 60 Active Duty military females and males with one or more MSTs.   She began working with the military as the Director of the St. Vincent's Hospital Trauma and Wellness Center (formerly the World Trade Center Healing Services) in New York City. She received grants to help Veterans from The New York Times and also was a clinical consultant to the Wounded Warrior Project.  She taught trauma intervention and violence prevention to Master's level students for eight years at New York University School of Social Work and Fordham University.  She was active in the SAMSHA funded National Child Traumatic Stress Network from 2001-2010.  Dr. Patterson lectured and taught internationally in India as a Fulbright Scholar and in Sweden and Russia.  She has an MSW from Fordham University and a Ph.D. From New York University.  She trained for three years and worked with sexual abuse and assault and interpersonal violence at the Karen Horney Clinic: Victim Treatment Center in New York City and has 5 years of psychoanalytic training.

We will also hear a presentation by Nicole Heffel , the owner and managing attorney for the La Jolla based Heffel Law Firm. She earned her Juris Doctor from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2013. She is an active member of the California State Bar and holds a FINRA license, among other professional accomplishments. She is a US Navy veteran, who served from 2005-2010. Although no longer active duty, Nicole continues to serve her military brothers and sisters-in-arms through her legal work, advocating for veterans navigating the justice system.  This year Nicole took her advocacy to a new level by establishing the first veteran-specific program for incarcerated women veterans. The “She’s Worth It” program was started by Nicole when she realized there was no VA representation for most incarcerated veteran women.  Her program works with local San Diego Veterans Affairs, to ensure the women get proper representation from the VA while they are being held.  She also helps the females prepare for their release and make sure they are set up with shelter, support and the right mindset. Many of the women veterans currently incarcerated have undergone trauma, such as Military Sexual Trauma or incidents that are combat related. Nicole believes addressing those issues, coupled with helping them adopt the mindset needed for a more positive future is the key to helping these women stay away from crime and jail in the future. Nicole is now dedicated to raising awareness and expanding programs to women veterans in correctional facilities across California. Nicole will talk about the different types of military sexual trauma, and will share some of her own personal experiences during her time in the service.

We hope to see you there as we take on a tough issue still in dire need of resolution. Come show us your support and show your support for those who have undergone MST or sexual harassment while serving their country. We have a passionate group of women ready to rally with those who also wish to make a difference and raise awareness around some of our nation’s most serious veterans issues.