The first time Heath Phillips told his superiors that he had been sexually assaulted, they called him a liar and a mother’s son who longed for his home. It was 1988 and Phillips, who was 17 years old at the time, had just joined the Navy. There were six attackers, and yet, on a Navy ship as big as his, where privacy could not be found in the showers or in the rows of bunks, no one bothered to help him.
He filed one complaint after another for 49 days in a row while sexual assaults and harassment continued. “It was as if they were pretending that nothing was happening,” he said. He once tried to commit suicide and left without permission several times. Then, in 1989, he was discharged as “other than honourable” due to his unauthorized absences.
For years, Phillips confessed to feeling that the Navy pretended that none of that had happened since Veterans Services denied him mental health services. The Navy repeatedly denied his requests for promotion to “honourable,” even though he continued to insist that he was assaulted.
A few days ago, his phone rang. His lawyer called him to give him the news that he thought he would never hear: the Board of Correction of Naval Records agreed to dismiss him honourably. Finally, the Navy admitted that it believed it. “It was not news I was expecting because I had already lost three more times,” Phillips said and recalled: “In the three denials they never told me about sexual assaults. It was never discussed why I deserted. It was always me who had done something wrong. This is how they always acted. So actually I read it this time since they confirmed that my affirmations of all these years … “. He paused to try to think of the words to explain how he felt, but he could not. “I do not know, it’s very overwhelming,” he remarked.
In its letter, the court wrote: “The Board found the petitioner’s assertion of military sexual trauma valid and noted that the periods of the complainant’s unauthorized absence after reporting to the USS Butte were mitigated by the abuse, harassment and assaults that he suffered. ”
After being discharged from the Navy, it would be 20 years before Phillips became the defender of survivors of sexual assault in the army he is today. He fell into alcoholism, and even when he became a father he did not seem to get out of the fog. He still had nightmares and memories of being sodomized with a bottle of shampoo or a toilet brush. Nobody helped him treat his mental health. Everything changed when he began to establish connections with other assault survivors. He did not realize how many there were. After a great fight, today Phillips can be calmer.
They are the ones that Heath Phillips had when he was sexually assaulted in the bathroom by his companions. When he told his superiors, they did not believe him and accused him of lying and being a mother.
“It was never discussed why I deserted. It was always me who had done something wrong. This time they confirmed my affirmations. It was not news I expected. ” Heath Phillips. Victim of abuse