Heath Phillips is a US Navy veteran who served his country honorably up until he became a victim of sexual assault while on board the ship he was assigned to. As a result of the crimes, Heath chose not to go back to the ship in an effort to escape the hazing, retaliation, and further sexual and physical assault that awaited him. Instead he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and was eventually given an Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge from the military. As a result of the discharge status, his life has been impacted greatly up to and including not having the ability to access veteran’s health care and compensation at the Department of Veterans Affairs for the injuries he sustained in the line of duty.
Since 2009, he has been an active voice for male victims of crimes in the military and has helped to educate the public about male military sexual assault issues. He has helped Representative Jackie Speier gain support for the Sexual Assault Training, Oversight, and Prevention Act (STOP Act). He has supported Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in efforts to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). He advocated on behalf of the Human Rights Watch organization for passage of the Fairness for Veterans Act. He continues to work closely with organizations and members of Congress to elevate support for male victims of crimes in the military and improve care for them in active duty and veteran status.
Update (June 2018): Heath Phillips appeared on the Today Show and informed the public that his military discharge status had been upgraded to HONORABLE.
In the News:
Military Rape Speech 6 by Congresswoman Jackie Speier: I’ve discussed the military culture where victims are blamed and assailants are promoted. And I’ve shared the personal stories of several women in order to shine a light on this ongoing epidemic. But it is not only our female service members being raped. Men are being victimized too. (July 20, 2011)
Heath Phillips discusses surviving military sexual trauma & respect (July 1, 2018)
Anya Parampil breaks down a report written by the RAND Corporation that shows that there is still a sexual assault crisis in the US military. Anya reviews the findings of the study, which states that sexual assault is most rampant in the Navy. Anya speaks with US Navy Veteran, Heath Phillips, who shares his own experiences with sexual assault in the Navy and offers solutions to end the epidemic. -RT America (September 24, 2018)
When his commanders would not stop sexual assaults by his shipmates, Heath went AWOL and then accepted a dishonorable discharge to end his torture. Now he is speaking out to change the way military rape is handled. This is his story.
Oral history interview with Heath Phillips by Jason A. Higgins on June 12, 2018. This interview is part of the Incarcerated Veterans Oral History Project, with the support of the UMass Oral History Lab. In the interview, U.S. Navy veteran Heath Phillips discusses his early life growing up with a Vietnam veteran father; his motivations for joining the military at seventeen; recounts 10 months of sexual violence aboard the U.S.S. Butte; the impact of Military Sexual Trauma, PTSD, and an other-than-honorable discharge on his post-military life; incarceration and twenty years of alcoholism; his path toward recovery; and his advocacy for other survivors of sexual trauma. -Incarcerated Veterans Project
Marine veteran Stephanie Schroeder addressing the United Nations (November 11, 2014)
Stephanie Schroeder is a retired United States Marine Corps veteran who was wrongfully discharged from service after reporting a felony crime to USMC authorities. As a result of reporting these crimes, she experienced retaliation from her peers and leadership and was subsequently given a honorable discharge but her DD 214 indicated that she was released from duty due to a personality disorder. Stephanie sought justice to right a wrong committed by her leadership. She was never given any testing to determine if she in fact had a personality disorder nor did she see any medical personnel who would have had an opportunity to diagnose her with a personality disorder. Through research and determination, Stephanie learned that other veterans who had reported sexual assault in the military had also experienced retaliation in one form or another after reporting the crime(s) to leadership. She vowed to not only fight for herself and the correction of her records but also to help prevent other service members from experiencing the same.
Stephanie Schroeder has been leading the way on military retaliation & personality disorder discharge reform for years. She participated in two federal lawsuits (Cioca v Rumsfeld & Klay v Panetta) that were dismissed because rape is incident to service. She advocates for both the Stop Act (Sexual Assault Training, Oversight, and Prevention Act) sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier and the Military Justice Improvement Act sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She represented victims of military sexual assault at the United Nations at the Geneva Conventions in Switzerland. She continues to represent Cornell University, Service Women’s Action Network, & Equality Now as an advocate before the United Nations and monitors/advises on sexual assault & retaliation policy implementation in the military. She is a board member for the United States Human Rights Network (USHRN) and the International Mechanisms Coordinating Committee Board (ICMM).
Amy Schumer, a comedian, has depicted the unexpected turn your career takes when you become the victim of sexual assault in the military. We are not only harmed by the perpetrator but we are again harmed by the system. And currently we have two proposals in Congress that begin to address the issue. One is the Stop Act sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier. The other is the Military Justice Improvement Act sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Please watch the Amy Schumer video here before reading further.
If you keep up with Congressional efforts to address sexual assault in the military, you will find that the media discusses Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act the most. But what most people do not know is that the MJIA was a compromise to our original efforts. I supported any efforts made by the Senate at the time considering we did not get the support we needed for the Stop Act from either the House of Representatives or military and women organizations. At the time, it was better then nothing and at least Senator Gillibrand addressed an option for our military members who do not report due to fear of retaliation from their Chain of Command. But it is only one element of the big picture.
Lawmakers say they fear the Defense Department has found a new way to drum sexual assault victims out of the service: by diagnosing adjustment disorder and having them discharged from the military.
It’s the latest technique the department has used to retaliate against troops who report they were sexually assaulted, according to members of Congress who are determined to use this year’s defense policy debate to curtail the practice and get justice for the service members who they say were illegally discharged in the past.
“It’s like a ‘Whac-A-Mole,’” said Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat. “Every time we shut them down on something, they’ll find a way around it.”
Rep. Jackie Speier has been telling every academy recruit she meets and their parents the same thing for years — that sexual assault in the military is rampant. But not a single woman she’s talked to has ever changed her mind about joining.
“This is a $400,000 scholarship,” said Speier (D-Calif.) of the academy nominees. “On the one hand, they are weighing the savings to the family pocketbook, the extraordinary education and opportunities and then this potential risk — and I think they are expecting us to protect their daughters.”
Part one and part two of this series has outlined the structural nature of rape culture in the US military that is made of and results in severe lack of trust, abuse of power, and a staunch unwillingness to make necessary changes. Those outside the command structure of the military however are more than ready to force them in line. Since February, six pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress and the Senate that, together, tackle these problems in a comprehensive way.
The Ruth Moore Act, Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act, Service Members Mental Health Review Act, The STOP Act, Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, Military Justice Improvement Act