This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The soldiers outside her room were drunken and indignant.
"Why won't you date any of us, bitch?" Amanda Blume recalled one of the men demanded before he helped kick in her barracks door.
Inside, Blume remembered, she was surrounded, called names and pushed into a corner. Fearing for her safety, she said, she fought her way free, striking one of the men in the face on the way out.
The next week, Blume's Fort Sill, Okla., Army commanders charged her with assault.
The exact details of what happened in the barracks on that night last March are known only to Blume and the men she has accused of attacking her. But in punishing the female soldier, Blume's male commanders followed a pattern that advocates of female service members call "epidemic" - a pattern that nearly repeated itself again to Blume just a few months later.
Honorably discharged in early July, Blume remains proud of her military service, which began the month after she graduated from Jordan High School in 2004. As a whole, she said, the experience was positive. But it also was punctuated by moments that were alternately frightening, demeaning and unjust.
The day after Blume was attacked in her room, she was called in to see her commanding officer. "I thought he would help me, but that's not what happened," she said.
The man she'd struck had already been in to file a complaint.
"They told me they knew I had hit one of those guys and that was the only thing they could prove," Blume said.
Blume was given the opportunity to fight the charge in a military court, but she said she was told doing so could take a very long time - and that she wouldn't be eligible for discharge until after her trial and any possible resulting sentence had run its course.
With just a few months left on her Army contract, Blume accepted the charge and her nonjudicial punishment - a letter of reprimand and three days of extra duty.
Army officials said that three people were punished in the incident, but initially declined to give names or acknowledge that Blume was one of those disciplined. Upon further questioning, Fort Sill officials confirmed that Blume had been punished, explaining that her commander, Capt. Juan Tanabe, "determined that her actions were not in self-defense, and therefore punished her accordingly."
Blume was unimpressed by the efforts made to determine the truth. "No one even came out to see the door," which was dented and bent in the attack, she said.
According to Blume, one of the others who was punished was a senior enlisted soldier who had come to her defense after she ran out of the building. He was chastised for having been fraternizing with junior soldiers, she said.
Blume was never told what happened to the soldier she punched - a man whom she had earlier accused of stalking her and was under orders to stay away - or to the others who were in her barracks that night.
In any case, no criminal charges were filed against her alleged assailant. Tanabe ended up handling all three punishments privately.
Blume regrets the decision not to fight back by demanding a court-martial.
"Right there, I basically gave everyone a license to do whatever they wanted to me," she said.
In June, on the final week of her service in the military, Blume reported being brutally attacked again - this time by her sergeant, a man she considered a friend - the same soldier who had been punished in the earlier attack for having come to her aid. While drunk, he allegedly chased her into a field and choked her into unconsciousness after she refused his order to stay at his home after a party there.
Once again, Blume's assailant was quick to report the incident first - and with his own version of events. But because the attack occurred off base, Larnelle Lewis had to tell his story to civilian authorities.
Lawton, Okla., city prosecutors prepared a criminal complaint against Blume, but ripped up the charges after speaking to her - and seeing the bruises on her neck. Still, Blume said, she felt as though she were treated more as a suspect than a victim.
Lewis ultimately was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault against Blume and two others who tried to help her. He pleaded no contest to the charges, acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him while not admitting any personal culpability.
On Sept. 28, Lawton, Okla., city Judge Mike Corrales suspended a sentence of up to 60 days in jail for Lewis. If the convicted soldier meets all of the conditions of a six-month probation, the charges will be dropped.
Prosecutor Neil West said he was prepared to ask for a much harsher punishment, but he was surprised when one of the victims in the case - a soldier who remains in Lewis' unit at Fort Sill - testified in favor of the lenient sentence. West said that no one contested the facts of the case, but Lewis' attorney produced several "character witnesses" - service members of various ranks from his unit who described the defendant as a model citizen and soldier.
Blume was never informed of the sentence. She found out from The Salt Lake Tribune days later.
But even before the sentencing hearing, Blume knew that soldiers from her unit had sided with her assailant. "They've been protecting him all along - at my expense," she said.
The former soldier said her commanders even ordered her to attend combat training along with her attacker on the Monday after the assault. It wasn't until Blume's mother threatened legal action that the order was rescinded, she said.
A member of Blume's unit, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution by Army superiors, said Lewis has never been punished by Tanabe.
"Nothing happened to the man - nothing at all," the soldier said. "He didn't lose his rank, he didn't get extra duty, nothing."
Fort Sill spokeswoman Nancy Elliot confirmed, in the statement, that "at this time, the commander has not made any decision," in regards to punishing Lewis for the attack, which occurred in June. But she said the commander "is committed to holding accountable those who have violated the standards of conduct and discipline of our organization."
Colleen Mussolino has heard that kind of language before. The national commander of Women Veterans of America says it usually indicates a big broom is coming through and a big rug is being lifted up.
Indeed, The Tribune later learned, Tanabe recently completed his service obligations and is no longer in the military. And members of the unit say that the new leadership seems content to simply move on.
"Nothing seems to change," sighed Mussolino, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who said she was assaulted by four fellow soldiers during her service. "It goes right back to this good old boys network not wanting to take care of the females. It's outrageous."
Mussolino said she hears stories like Blume's "all the time." And the result for their attackers, she said, is often the same, "a slap on the wrist."
"Women go into the military for the same reasons that men do - for education, to travel, to serve their country - and they're willing to lay their lives down for their nation," Mussolino said. "All they expect is to have the same kind of respect and protection as the men. And they can't get it."
"It's just so typical," agreed Sara Rich, the mother of Army soldier Suzanne Swift - who went AWOL rather than return to Iraq, where she said she had been sexually assaulted by members of her unit. Swift was later arrested and served 30 days in jail for leaving her company before it deployed.
"The women get blamed," Rich said. "My daughter went to prison instead of getting the help she needed. She was ridiculed and put in jail and reduced in rank. She was treated like the criminal."
Rich, a marriage and family counselor who has toured the country speaking about her daughter's case, said she hears stories like Blume's everywhere she goes. "It's absolutely epidemic," she said.
Blume said no one in Fort Sill seemed to want to hear about what had happened to her until she finally stumbled upon the base victim's advocate, David Carnahan. She credits him with forcing the little action that has occurred, including the opening of an investigation into the earlier attack in her barracks room.
Elliot, however, indicated the matter is closed. "Within one week of this investigation, all punishments were imposed," she said in a statement.
She said Carnahan would not be allowed to speak with The Tribune about the matter - even after Blume signed a privacy waiver - except via e-mails that would be censored by base authorities.
The Tribune declined that arrangement.