When Allison DeVante joined the U.S. Army, she thought she was building a bright future. While serving at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York, she took classes in broadcast journalism and toured bases performing original hip-hop under the pseudonym A.G. Blue. Everything seemed to be falling into place.
Two years later, DeVante's optimism changed. On September 18, 2002, DeVante says she was raped by a senior officer at his house on base. She says she was told to meet him there to discuss a matter. But shortly after she arrived, she says, the officer forced himself on her. Now, with the help of Memphis lawyer Javier Bailey, she's suing the Army for $9 million.
"The first person I spoke with [after the alleged incident] was Master Sergeant Sharon Opeka in Public Affairs. She told me in order to save my career and to save my family any heartache, I shouldn't say anything about it," says DeVante. "They didn't help me in any manner. They didn't send me to counseling. They put me into another unit, and then they began to harass me."
DeVante says that not only did the Army refuse to offer assistance, some senior officers ridiculed her. She says one officer accused her of fabricating the story to get out of going to Korea. When DeVante filed a formal complaint with the Army's Criminal Investigations Division, she was accused of filing a false report. She says they tried to suggest the sex was consensual.
In August 2003, DeVante was discharged. She claims she was never told why, but she believes it was because she spoke out about the rape.
"They didn't even let me do out-processing correctly. That's where you make sure your financial situation is okay and you have your veteran's benefits," she says. "Now I have minimal benefits, and they just took away my post-traumatic-stress benefit. They don't care about me or other women who have gone through this."
Stories like DeVante's have prompted the Pentagon to reexamine the way rape and sexual misconduct in the military are handled. In January, undersecretary of defense for personnel David Chu announced that "sweeping changes" had been recommended by a Pentagon task force. They include mandatory sexual-assault classes, designation of a victim's advocate for every military command, and confidentiality for rape victims. These changes are set to be put in place this week.
"At the time that this happened to me, they didn't have anything in place in the military for rape," says DeVante. "They gave classes on sexual harassment and drunk driving and child abuse and everything you could think of, except for rape."
According to a study initiated by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the military investigated 1,012 cases of sexual assault in 2003, up from 901 in 2002. The report acknowledges that many cases go unreported by women who fear further harassment.
But DeVante wasn't about to bow out quietly. Once she returned home to Memphis early last year, she began picketing local military recruiting stations in uniform. Her actions caught Bailey's attention.
"After looking into [other cases like DeVante's], I saw the same patterns," says Bailey. "There's this pattern of victimizing the victim by threatening them with disciplinary action or suggesting that it was consensual. What's more disturbing is that the perpetrator usually gets promoted."
Such was the case in DeVante's situation. The accused officer was promoted to a prominent position in a Special Intelligence Unit and is currently serving in Iraq.
"In a normal rape case, we'd sue the person who did it, but we're afraid if we file suit against the perpetrator in this case, we'll never get him served," says Bailey. "You only have 120 days to get a person served, and because of national security interests, they're not going to tell us where he is."
DeVante says she'll continue to use her music to get her message across. An album being released in April has several songs that deal with her resentment toward the Army.
"I'm not going to stop," DeVante says. "The public will not be ignorant about this, because voices like mine are crying out."