The Dirty Secret of Women Sexually Abused in Military Service

The Dirt Secret of Women Sexually Abused in Military Service
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By:  Deborah Vance

Stephanie Shannon doesn’t care about the news…she doesn’t have the time. She’s on a mission. She is unaware that her mission recently coincided with the biggest news story sweeping the country…women’s empowerment.

Sgt. Shannon is a disabled military veteran. She served as a transportation specialist with the Air Force in Operation Desert Storm. Before enlisting, she considered taking advantage of a scholarship awarded to her to study fashion design in New York City. The exciting prospect of travel tipped her toward a different kind of runway.

While the nation collectively is swept up in the wake of a powerful surge of awareness and activism, Sgt. Shannon just keeps rowing, so to speak, one oar at a time, moving her mission’s message forward with purposeful strokes. The current and urgent demand for women’s empowerment is anything but a news flash to Sgt. Shannon. She has her own story of empowerment to tell.

Every story has aspects of good and bad… and hers might as well start with the bad. Sgt. Shannon reports that “one out of three enlisted women is sexually harassed, assaulted and/or raped during their time in uniform.”

Pause. One out of three.

Women soldiers go into the military expecting to serve and protect, with dignity and courage, only to be attacked by “friendly fire,” crushed by their fellow warriors. They come out wounded in ways that are hard to identify and heal.

The good news is that there are people and resources waiting to walk them through the healing process. No…that’s not the good news. There is no good news. This should not be happening in the first place.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, confusion? You’re on your own.

Sgt. Shannon was assaulted regularly during her time in the military. When she finished her tour of duty, she found herself in a world of dark. She recognized that something was very wrong, but couldn’t self-diagnose. As is so often the case with mental anguish, it was a solitary struggle.

It is a faith statement on her part when she asserts that God led her out of the confusion step by step. It took 20 years. Her story is a powerful, and empowering, message, and she has devoted herself to use her experience to aid and assist women veterans who are struggling as she did.

In her role as transportation specialist, Sgt. Shannon got really good at moving things from one place to another. She now spends her life working to help move wounded women from hopelessness to hope, shame to dignity, aimlessness to purposeful, homelessness to sheltered.

Her personal journey from the bleak to the productive was brutal. She has done a lot of hard work to educate herself about the psychological and emotional damage inherent in assault and abuse. She enrolled and graduated from college with a degree in social work, and spent 15 years working in the field. Eventually, homelessness turned out to be the tipping point for her recovery. In 2009, she bottomed out. “God led me to the VA program for homeless vets.” She was given the basic necessities of life and room to breathe.

Sgt. Shannon is a dynamo, and she deserves our respect and appreciation. She is an intelligent and caring person and is in continual pursuit of success for her mission…the empowerment of women veterans.

She has taken her acquired wisdom and packaged it into a helpful format. She has written two books full of stories and insights that illustrate her understanding of what it takes to come back from desperation to a life of meaning. The Michigan Women Veterans Empowerment website is a hub of information and resources.

Her proudest (she modestly would resist the word “proud”) achievement so far has been the Michigan Women Veterans Empowerment Conference that is held in the fall every year. It emphasizes the potential of each veteran by providing resources, advice and encouragement. A bevy of speakers bring life-changing messages of hope and direction.

Sgt. Shannon is excited about a project in the works for a Women Veterans Resource House. She dreams of it being an actual physical structure that women veterans can visit and find help for various needs (clothing vouchers, workshops, job search training, etc.). She is busy recruiting sponsors, and has found several locations that would be perfect for what she is envisioning.

This summer she will be a happy gardener doing Dirt Therapy. Gardening, it turns out, can be very therapeutic for someone struggling with depression and/ or PTSD. She intends to not only share her experience but also the “fruits” of her labor.

If you are a woman veteran and would like to connect with Sgt. Shannon, or if you are someone who would like to contribute to her mission, go to:

Sgt. Shannon’s books are available on

  • Battling the Storm Within (October 2014)
  • Our Voices United: USA Women Veterans Break Silence Vol. 1 (October 2016)


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