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Cassaundra StJohn: Helping Female Vets to Move Forward

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In 1986, at the age of 18, Cassaundra StJohn joined the Air Force. She had grown up in a military family. Her father was a Master Sergeant in the Army, and she respected the values and commitment to service. The structure and team philosophy motivated her to join that community.

As she began her career, StJohn discovered firsthand that there were some things about the military that she didn’t like. Foremost was the way in which women enlistees were treated. Secondary, was the institutional response to the behavior, “That’s the way it is.” Degrading conduct was not limited to verbal insults. It included coerced sexual relations with senior male staff—or else. While at technical school, StJohn outlined the circumstances as, “It was a given that you could be forced into sex with a senior officer or your career would be compromised, and possibly ruined.”

StJohn summed up the psychology behind the action with the clear statement, “It’s a conquering of each person—a way of putting a woman in her place to achieve a mode of submission.” Her female colleagues “knew the instructors who could hurt their careers, and acquiesced as a matter of survival.”

It happened to StJohn more than once.

Defining the situation for me, StJohn related how “her idealism had been crushed.” She pinpointed the nitty-gritty of what fighting back could do. It was made clear to her that any actions on her part would endanger the status of her hard-earned security clearance, potentially leave her with a dishonorable discharge, or have her tagged with a “personality disorder.” Most distressing for StJohn was the inference that her father’s career could be “tarnished.” StJohn noted, “I understood from childhood how the military works.

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