BRADFORD - Local woman Susan Ganger, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, is on a mission to reach other female Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors, and to let them know, they are not alone. Ganger grew up in Bradford. Her dad worked for Altell in Covington, and her mom was a librarian, she said.
“I had a good childhood,” Ganger commented.
Ganger was hoping for a great adulthood, as well, so she joined the U.S. Navy in 2000, she said. She really enjoyed that she got to travel, she said, as she was stationed in multiple locations, including San Diego, Calif. While she was in port in Jebel Ali, Dubai, however, she experienced her first instance of military sexual trauma (MST). Ganger said that the worst part of it wasn’t even the rape, but what happened when she tried to report the incident to her supierors.
“When I tried to report to my supervisors, I was told to keep head down, my mouth shut and to do my job. I was given extra duty. And they saw that as a punishment for trying to report what had happened to me,” Ganger commented.
Ganger returned from her deployment to Jebel Ali and met the man who is now her ex-husband, and father of her three children, she said. While she was pregnant, she was transferred to a weapons department, and then transferred again one year later to work as a storekeeper on a naval base, she said, and finally went on to a helicopter training site.
Throughout their relationship, Ganger said her husband, also in the military, repeatedly raped and abused her emotionally, mentally and physically, often escalating to rape. When she went to her supervisors, their advice was to get a divorce, get custody of her child, and to then be released from the military for a hardship, she said, “because you couldn’t be a single mother and be in the military.”
In 2003, when Ganger was 10 weeks pregnant with her second son, her husband told her he wanted a divorce. Ganger returned home to Bradford to be with her parents, she said.
According to The Invisible War, a documentary on the lives of women who have experienced MST, women who have been raped in the military have a PTSD rate higher than men in the military who have seen active combat.
“Forty percent of homeless female veterans have been raped while they were serving,” said Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier, in an appearance in The Invisible War. “They spin into such depression and abuse that they can’t hold jobs, they can’t hold their lives together, and they end up on the streets.”
Ganger shared that after coming home, she experienced debilitating depression and anxiety, unable and unwilling to do much of anything. Like many of her brothers and sisters in the military, Ganger was experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she said.
“I would drink, and I didn’t talk about it for 12 years,” Ganger said. “I would look to the bottom of the bottle to get through the day. I’m so glad I’ve found a better way.”
Ganger began her search for others like her who had survived MST, and she found them. She said she went to the library to search for books on MST, but was unable to find anything, and then she heard about The Invisible War. She found a group on Facebook, and began writing her story as a journal in April 2012, with the help of another MST survivor in the group, she said. Now she said she tries to stay as active as possible with her three children and her boyfriend Todd’s child.
“I compare it to a cave. I’m in this dark, horrible cave,” remarked Ganger. “Then I saw The Invisible War and I started to see the light. I started making steps to where I could get to the light, and now I’m in the light. I want other survivors to find the light with me. I want them to know that they can heal from this and live a normal life. I want them to know that there is help out there.”
By November, Ganger had finished her story, rewritten it several times, and had self-published her book, Welcome to my Nightmare: An MST Survivor’s Story. Now she is ready to launch her book, and begin helping other survivors of MST to realize that they are not alone. There are thousands of men and women who have served this country, who have been victims of heinous crimes, and sometimes just knowing that they aren’t alone is the best remedy, Ganger said.
Ganger serves on the Advocacy board of Protect Our Defenders and is working to advocate for other MST survivors, she said. Many military personnel do not report instances of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, and even rape, because the person they need to report to is the person who committed the act, Ganger said. The group is working on the STOP Act, Ganger said, which will take the chain of command out of the investigations and reporting. Ganger shared that she also plans to compete for Miss Veteran America, with a goal of advocating for survivors of MST if she does win.
The Bradford Public Library will hold a book launch this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Ganger in attendance to read excerpts and sign copies, she said. For more information on MST, check Ganger’s author page at www.Facebook.com/SusanRGanger, or www.NotInvisible.org, or join the conversation on Twitter by using #NotInvisible. To learn how you can help, visit www.ProtectOurDefenders.com.