NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — At 19-years-old, Jacob Manning dreamed of making the military a lifelong career.
“In 1997, I joined the U.S. Army," said Manning. "My experience in the military started off as wonderful.”
After basic training, Manning says he was assigned to Fort Drum, New York.
That’s where things changed. Mannings says he was picked on because of his size.
“I remember going down through the barracks and being invited to drink with the guys. I was excited, finally, I’m part of the group, I’m one of them,” said Manning.
But that night would change his life forever.
“I started drinking and that’s when I started feeling dizzy, like a drug. Some of it I do remember, some of it I don’t. But I remember waking up, being sodomized. I couldn’t do anything. I tried to move but I couldn’t move, then I completely blacked out."
Manning says the next thing he remembers is waking up in a dumpster.
“I woke up very early the next morning. It was freezing cold. I was lying naked in a dumpster. I was thinking, oh God what happened to me? I was bleeding and trying to clean myself up,” said Manning.
He says his injuries were gruesome.
“I had been beaten so bad I suffered narcolepsy and seizures and the inability to have children,” said Manning.
Manning says he went to his sergeant to report what had happened.
“He looked at me and said, 'Do you want to be known as gay, do you want them to think that you wanted it?' He said, 'Are you saying something (happened), or are you saying that you’re gay?' And I was like ‘no,’ and he said, ‘You’re new to the unit, just keep your mouth shut and move forward,’” said Manning. “My whole career went downhill.”
Because of his narcolepsy, Manning was medically discharged with full retirement.
“I didn’t know what to do or where to go. My whole life turned down,” said Manning.
Manning is not alone.
According to the Department of Defense, there’s an estimated 20,000 military sexual assaults a year.
But in 2019, only 5,699 were reported to investigators and only 383 of those went to trial, of that only 138 resulted in convictions. That’s fewer than 1% of victims ever getting justice.
DoD statistics show more than 75% of military sexual assaults are never even documented. Click here for a fact here.
Some lawmakers say the military’s reporting system is unfair, making victims reluctant to come forward. But despite the lack of convictions, victims are reaching out for help.
“MST or military sexual trauma is sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment that occurs during military service,” said Dr. Amber Hudspith, military sexual trauma therapist at James A Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa.
Hudspith is one of three therapists solely devoted to military sexual trauma at Haley V.A.
“With sexual trauma, one of the things that always gets damaged is trust,” said Hudspith.
Haley V.A. numbers show that veterans seeking treatment for military sexual trauma increased by more than 4% last year.
“It’s an increase of people being willing to say, I need help, this is something I’m struggling with,” said Hudspith.
Hudspith says the #MeToo movement has pushed military sexual trauma victims to come forward. Then, things erupted after the murder of U.S. Army specialist Vanessa Guillen.
Guillen’s family and advocates are demanding change after news broke last year of the suspected sexual harassment and murder of the 20-year-old who was stationed at Fort Hood, TX. Her body was found dismembered two months after she went missing from the base.
“It’s a decades-long fight to get the military to take this aggressively and take control of military sexual trauma,” said Col. Don Christensen.
For 30 years, Christensen has been a lawyer for military sexual assault victims. Now he runs the national organization, Protect Our Defenders that is dedicated to fighting for survivors of military sexual assault and advocating for better laws to protect them.
“One of the big issues with military sexual trauma and the lack of accountability is the way the military justice system works,” said Christensen.
Right now, active-duty soldiers who are victims of a sex crime report it to their superior. Which Christensen says is a conflict of interest.
“Unlike the civilian world where the prosecutor makes the decision whether or not to prosecute in the military it’s the commander,” said Christensen.
The "I am Vanessa Guillen” bill that is now in Congress would allow a third party to investigate the crime.
“We need to have independent military prosecutors,” said Christensen
As for Manning, like many other MST victims, he says he turned to addiction to cope.
“I was so angry I didn’t care about anything,” said Manning.
He says decades of severe depression from military sexual trauma drove him to his breaking point.
“It was about three and a half years ago that I really tried to kill myself. I pulled the trigger and it misfired. Three times it misfired on me and then I just broke down crying,” said Manning.
At his lowest point, Manning says he called a friend to reach out for help.
“I was just in tears trying to find hope and she told me that there’s hope. So, I just turned to faith. I turned to God and said ‘Help me,’ and that’s what changed my life,” said Manning.
Now, Manning lives in Pasco County with his wife. He says with his faith, he has found forgiveness.
“Love and forgiveness. Because when you forgive somebody, it takes away their chance of hurting you anymore,” said Manning. “No longer a victim, a survivor. Someone who can move on. And it’s only through Christ that I’m a survivor,” said Manning.
Manning says he sees hope in a future where laws will help protect our soldiers who have already given so much.
“That all survivors, can get help and a future that is bright for us that will develop laws that will prevent military sexual trauma or any kind of sexual assault,” said Manning.
If you or someone you know is an MST survivor and needs help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text to 838255.
For more information on Protect Our Defenders, click here.