Stephanie Schroeder's military sex assault claim leads to psych discharge

4:32 PM, Apr 20, 2012   |    comments
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By Dr. Sanjay Gupta

(CNN) - There were almost 3,200 military sexual assaults reported last year, but some female soldiers say many cases go unreported.

In fact, the Pentagon estimates the actual number was probably closer to 19,000.

Doctor Sanjay Gupta takes a look at one alleged case in the Marines.

Doing the right thing was in 21-year-old Stephanie Schroeder's blood.

"I joined shortly after 9/11. I thought it was the right thing to do," she said.

Six months after enlisting in the Marines she found herself training at a base in Virginia.

One Saturday she decided to blow off steam with some fellow Marines.

"We went out to dinner. I got up to go to the restroom, and my attacker followed me, and forced his way into the bathroom. I went to pull the door shut, and he grabbed it, and flung it back as hard as he could and charged into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him," said Schroeder.

Back on base, Schroeder reported what happened to the officer in charge.

"I told her, I need to report an assault, and she just looked at me and then she started laughing and said, 'don't come bitching to me because you had sex and changed your mind,'" said Schroeder.

She says she took a lie detector test about her assault and passed, but charges were never filed against her attacker. In fact, she was forced to work with him, side-by-side for over a year. Meanwhile, her rank was reduced and her pay was docked, she says all because of the incident.

"If you want to keep your career you don't say anything. You just, bear it. You just deal with it," she said.

But dealing was a struggle. In early 2003, five months pregnant with her husband in Iraq, Schroeder felt suicidal. She went to see an on-base psychiatrist.

"The first time he was very nice. The second time, we got into the assault, and then shortly after that the chain of command said that we're starting an administrative discharge against you," she said.

On June 30, 2003 Schroeder received her discharge papers. The reason given for the separation: "personality disorder," a disorder that the textbook for psychiatrists defines as a long-standing pattern of maladaptive behavior, beginning in adolescence or early adulthood.

"It makes absolutely no sense medically for people to be diagnosed all of a sudden after being sexually assaulted as an adult in the military to say 'No, you've had this all along,'" she said.

Anu Bhagwati is a former Marine and executive director of Service Women's Action Network, a veteran's advocacy group.

"It's also extremely convenient to slap a false diagnosis on a young women or man and then just get rid of them," said Bhagwati.

From 2001 to 2010, the military discharged more than 31,000 service members because of personality disorder.

CNN asked how many of these cases involved sexual assault cases.

The Defense Department says it does not keep such figures, nor would the Pentagon comment on individual cases.


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