My sister, Marine Cpl. Thae Ohu, sits in a brig right now awaiting court-martial.
Her crime? Being a rape victim whose documented and unresolved mental illness hit its peak after years of intimidation, and retaliation in her unit led her to that point. She lost rank. Her reputation took heavy hits. She now stands to lose it all because the system we all talk about — where victims must either bury the pain or suffer re-victimization — is operating as expected. So much so that even the Marine whom she allegedly assaulted has appealed to get her helped, not sentenced.
That same appeal has fallen on deaf ears as the court-martial proceeds, after attempting to suppress her voice and never fully explain how the system tore her down. My hope is this letter will prompt you to intervene and make this case one of the first indications that our military will no longer tolerate the criminalization of self advocacy for sexual assault victims.
Cpl. Ohu originally was charged with a misdemeanor assault by nonmilitary law enforcement. The court-martial she faces is predicated on allegations that contradict the consensus arrived at by law enforcement, who provided contemporaneous notes regarding what happened at the time she was detained following a mental breakdown. This case against her is a classic example of the criminalization of mental illness, when it already was decided by nonmilitary officials that she needed treatment, not confinement.
Just about every charge against her can be traced back to her mental state, with documented post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder and persistent depressive disorder being parts of her diagnosis. Her circumstances had deteriorated to a point where she sought an application for medical retirement rather than face the continued hardship she faced at the hands of her chain of command. Hardship that triggered her innate instinct to fight for her very life once her unresolved, unacknowledged psychological scars were reopened.
Those psychological scars tell a story that prosecutors did not want to be told. My sister did not have access to justice when she was sexually assaulted by a senior Marine, this after surviving a sexual assault that occurred prior to her joining the Corps.
Our family insists that a public hearing is required to objectively look into why the original DD Form 2910 she filed after being raped came up missing from the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database. Even more alarmingly, why her alleged rapist was allowed to be involved with the prosecution, which we believe was the impetus behind the pursuit of a court-ordered gag order, which was thankfully denied.
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This accused rapist has declined to show proof of his innocence to anyone outside of his immediate circles in the military. We want the truth about my sister’s confinement, and the actions taken and not taken by the command to be investigated to ensure my sister is not the scapegoat used to cover up the litany of mistakes and wrongful actions that are typical in such cases.
Up until my sister’s pretrial confinement and revoked medical retirement, we were hopeful that the Defense Department was committed to fulfilling the promise of doing right by victims, especially after the unfortunate murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén and tens of thousands of cases of sexual assault, retaliation and victim intimidation within a “permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
I refuse to allow my sister to fall into those categories without a fight. Criminal punishments are for criminals who seek to do harm unto others, not for squared away Marines who still manage to do their jobs, despite any mental health conditions exacerbated by environments that have left her to suffer alone.
Cpl. Thae Ohu deserves ongoing psychological and psychiatric assistance to process her traumas. She’s not just some data point — she’s a human being. She’s a sister and daughter. A Marine who was one of the many cited in a memo where you, sir, said of the scourge of sexual assault that, “We simply must admit the hard truth. We must do more. All of us.”
I wholeheartedly agree and hope those words represent an inflection point in how we address sexual assault and mental illness, both of which are the inconvenient truths that those who have my sister on trial do not want to face.
Pan Phyu is the sister of Cpl. Thae Ohu.
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