A high-ranking woman in the Air Force came under fire this weekend for appearing to defend the sexual harassment that Vanessa Guillen faced before the soldier’s disappearance in April, calling it “the price of admission” for women in the military.
But on Sunday, Lt. Col. Betsy Schoeller released a statement, clarifying that she was trying to make a point about “what women are facing in a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny” and that her words were “interpreted out of context.”
The matter began with a Facebook comment that Schoeller had left on an article about Guillen and sexual harassment in the military.
“You guys are kidding, right?” the lieutenant colonel wrote. “Sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club.”
Other Facebook users pushed back against Schoeller’s comment, thinking that she was blaming Guillen for the systemic abuse she suffered. Then, news outlets scooped up the story, with The New York Post claiming that “Female Air Force officer says sexual harassment is ‘price of admission’ in military.” There was even a petition calling for the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, to fire Schoeller from her senior lecturer position.
This morning, however, Schoeller released a statement claiming that it was all a big, regrettable misunderstanding.
“I am shocked and saddened that my original post was interpreted out of context,” she wrote in a statement, per a Milwaukee Fox affiliate. “The point I was making is that this is what women are facing in a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny.”
She goes on to explain that she was responding to a comment left by a male veteran who, perhaps naively, had asked how any of this could have happened to Guillen.
“I knew immediately how and why,” Schoeller writes. “Because of the continued culture of sexual harassment in the military.”
Her statement continues:
I did not mean to imply that this is how I feel. I was giving voice to the messaging that women hear in the culture of sexual harassment: The message we receive from the culture is not only will you suffer from sexual harassment, if you squawk about it, you will suffer even more. Because it isn’t just the sexual harassment. That’s just the beginning. Then comes the agonizing decision about reporting. Or not reporting. The pressure applied by friends who know about it and only want to help. Having to ultimately stand up to that culture of sexual harassment on your own. Adding suffering on top of suffering. Some endure continued harassment and assault, being forced to work with the perpetrator. Sometimes even death. The sexual harassment culture is still here. That’s the ‘why’ I was looking for.
There were more than 6,200 sexual assaults reported within the military in 2019, ABC News reported in May, which, given everything we know about sexual assault and reporting, suggests that there were many more that went unreported. This marks a 3% increase over the number of sexual assaults in the military reported in 2018.
In related news, dozens of protesters gathered in College Station, Texas, for a socially distanced, masked-up demonstration on Saturday. Chanting and holding signs, they demanded justice for Guillen, whose partial remains appear to have been found this week about 20 miles east of the Fort Hood parking lot where she was last spotted on April 22, the Associated Press reports.
“We hope this motivates people all over the state and all over the country to go out and demand justice—not only for Vanessa Guillen but to everyone who’s a victim of the military, everyone who’s been abused and violated and murdered while in the military,” Carlos Espina, who co-organized the protest, told KBTX-TV. “We want people to show up and be inspired by what we’re doing here today.”