Veteran Seaman Gunderson: Fighting back against the Navy’s retaliation from recruiter abuse and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Courage to Resist is seeking to raise $3000 for legal fees to assist Annette “Lavender” Gunderson with a discharge upgrade from the BCNR (Board of Corrections of Naval Records) as well as in providing counsel as she tells her story to Congress and the media.

We see the headlines far too often:

Recruiter abuse is real and it is widespread. It often goes unreported, but when it is reported, the end result is often a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator and little reflection by the system on why recruiter abuse continues to keep happening over and over again. And of course, the victims are forgotten and ignored.

This dynamic may be about to change, as we have the chance to stand with a veteran who is fighting back.

Annette Gunderson has already told her story in compelling detail in an article published by NNOMY. Here is a summary of her story:

Annette was a 17-year-old who dreamed of being in the Navy. Unfortunately, her recruiter violated his leadership position and committed statutory rape. He continued to abuse and manipulate her, even attempting to blackmail her into silence, so this brave recruit reported the crimes, and did so as an “unrestricted reporter,” meaning that the allegation was known by her future command when she shipped out to boot camp.

Unfortunately due to her having made an unrestricted report of sexual assault by her recruiter, she was targeted for abusive treatment by her command and she eventually reached a mental breaking point. She was then forcibly hospitalized and mistreated in that medical facility. Despite what she was going through, she was able to successfully testify against her old recruiter (ensuring his eventual guilty plea and conviction), but was also coerced into accepting a lesser discharge from the Navy, which meant that she had no access to counseling, legal or any other kind of transitional support when she returned back to civilian life. She has since worked hard to heal herself, but she has had to fight her debilitating disability largely on her own.

Due to the circumstances of her case (as the only known survivor of recruiter abuse, who made an unrestricted report of the abuse prior to shipping out to boot camp), Annette Gunderson has a unique opportunity to fight back and to ensure that what happened to her, doesn’t happen to anyone else.

There are two flanks to this struggle:

1. Seeking an upgrade of her discharge (including the narrative reason for her discharge) through the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR), as well as by eventually seeking a disability rating through the VA system,

2. Telling her story to the media and Congress, so that significant changes can be made to the statutes and regulations that govern military recruiting, including:

a. requiring all recruits to be at least 18 years of age (in compliance with the norms of most other militaries around the world),
b. forbidding recruiters from speaking to any person who is under 18 years of age,
c. enhancing existing regulations that forbid recruiters from having sexual relations with potential recruits,
d. re-investigating all past allegations of misconduct by military recruiters that fall within the statute of limitations,
e. ensuring that victims of military sexual trauma have appropriate support after they are discharged, and
f. awarding purple hearts to survivors of MST.

Your support of this case can make a difference, as it will ensure that Annette will have legal counsel through all stages of this fight.

To close, here are some words from Annette herself about why this case is so important:

“I have sacrificed my heart, time, energy, freedom, safety, health, and relationships in order to seek justice for myself and other survivors. I will fight to break this cycle of abuse that has been going on for generations. I can’t fight this alone; I’ll need help from you all. Military recruiters talk to our young people every day, often trusted by parents, teachers and community members. Abuse from them leaves scars that will never heal. I’m tired of reading these depressing headlines of yet another recruiter, abusing their leadership position. This is why I’m fighting to make sure that my story has a different ending. This is about justice and making history. No human should ever have to worry about facing the kinds of retribution I dealt with for speaking out. I meant every damn word when I swore in, including the part about supporting and defending ‘the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ I didn’t know then that I would have to fight the Navy itself to protect the rights of the people from being abused by military recruiters and the broken system.”