Credit: BDN staff

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

This column mentions sexual assault and suicide, which may be hard for some readers. If you need sexual assault support, please call 1-800-871-7741 to talk with an advocate. This service is free, private and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For those who need help: call the Maine Suicide Prevention Program’s toll-free crisis hotline at 1-888-568-1112 or nationwide at 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Rebecca Cornell du Houx is the executive director of the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope. She has also been in the military for over 18 years. This column does not reflect the beliefs of the military.

Nov. 30 is Giving Tuesday. Whether you help a neighbor or stranger, advocate for an issue important to you, or give to causes you care about, we hope that you’ll consider a nonprofit that provides housing and help for women veterans and their children a worthy cause to support. The Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope in Augusta is such a facility.

According to a 2021 report by the nonprofit RAND Corporation, most sexual assaults in the military go unreported. The result often leads women veterans becoming homeless. A study by the Veterans Administration (VA) of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans found that those who experienced military sexual trauma were twice as likely to become homeless.

Many of the women veterans who have transitioned through the Betsy Ann Ross House have had a multitude of traumas happen throughout their lives, often starting with child abuse, followed by combat or sexual trauma after enlisting in the service. Unfortunately, women veterans will often then discharge from the service when assaulted, return home to an unfamiliar community, and anxiously confide with the first partner who promises the basic life necessities to her family. While her partner may offer food and shelter, it comes at the expensive cost of dependence on a violent relationship and the cycle of abuse continues.

The sad reality is that in an unfamiliar community, the familiar feelings of being in an abusive, anxiety-provoking situation are almost a comfort to her; it’s something she is now incredibly well trained to respond to; to survive through. But even the strongest women have their limits. The even more desperate reality is that the RAND Corporation demonstrated that, the number of women veterans dying by suicide at is increasing at twice the rate of their male military counterparts. Further, they are two to five times more likely to kill themselves than civilian women.

The future of suicide among women veterans seems tragic without sincere intervention, given that the numbers of suicide amongst women veterans increased by 73 percent from 2007 to 2017.  It is no surprise that women veterans are the fastest growing sector of the population that is becoming homeless.

Finally, in the recent Bangor Daily News investigative series “Unguarded,” women service members in the Maine Army National Guard uncovered their silence by coming forward to courageously share their stories. If we listen — truly listen — to these intelligent and determined leaders, significant unnecessary suffering can be prevented for generations of women veterans, their children and sisters-in-arms, and within many unit members themselves.

Military women have unbelievable strength; we cannot continue to allow them to carry a preventable burden. We need to help carry their rucksack of trauma now, so we don’t have to carry their coffin later. Better yet, we can ensure everyone carries their weight of sexual assault and harassment prevention, to ensure the weight of their rucksacks have only what is necessary in them. Women can be a huge asset to the military. Once they receive help, they statistically are often more resilient with managing post-traumatic symptoms than their male counterparts. 

The difference in how we support our women veterans is staggering at times. For example, although our local VA supports funding to the all-male veteran Bread of Life shelter, they are not funding any shelter exclusively for women veterans. Their sisters-in-arms are often the only people who truly understand the compilation of traumas — from combat to sexual assault and harassment — women endured while serving. 

The community can rally around our women military survivors of sexual violence and aggression. The Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope is a quiet safe sanctuary for our women veterans. We provide housing and resources for women veterans and their children, while welcoming their support animals.

At the Betsy Ann Ross House we see a world where no women veteran has to fight for housing and defend her pride; a country where women veterans are treated as equals; a place where any women veteran has a compassionate comfortable home to feel safe with her children and together rebuild her strength surrounded by her sisters. We hope you can join us with making our vision a reality on Giving Tuesday.