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Defense Ministry discharges soldier who reported boss for sexual harassment

The abuse left the woman with post-traumatic stress disorder and she was deemed mentally unfit to remain in the Air Force

File image of solider in the Special Operations Command (MOE).
File image of solider in the Special Operations Command (MOE). EFE

In early January, the Official Bulletin of the Ministry of Defense (BOD) reported that the soldier Delia (not her real name) had been discharged for mental health reasons. Although the 38-year-old had a contract with the Air Force until 2024, the ministry believed she no longer met the psychological requirements needed to remain in the military. What’s more, because the reasons for her dismissal were not considered to be related to her military duties, she is not entitled to a pension or to compensation.

Delia says he would pull out his penis and ask her to perform fellatio

Delia was dismissed because she had been on mental health leave since 2016. The military medical board examined her and determined that she suffers from “post-traumatic stress disorder.” The soldier has never been to war nor has she had any accidents. Her trauma happened in the military barracks in Alcantarilla (Murcia), a town located in southeastern Spain.

A member of the medical board believes that if it is proven that Delia was sexually harassed by her superior, her poor mental health can be linked to the abuse. But for now, no relationship has been found, and Delia has been discharged after 10 yeas of service.

On March 22, 2016, the soldier went to the Elche police station to report her boss. According to her statement, the harassment started immediately after she arrived at the base. When she was introduced to him, he told her: “From now on it’s not ‘yes officer,’ it’s ‘yes my Federico’” (not his real name). And then he touched her leg. Delia was surprised and asked herself if this was normal in the military. She tried to avoid him in the hallways and he began to make vulgar comments toward her.

Constant abuse

In 2014, despite her protests, she was placed under the direct orders of the officer, in a barrack with three more soldiers. Her superior kept her back until the end of the day, claiming that she still had more work to do. When they were alone, he locked the door. According to the soldier’s statement, he would begin touching his erect member through his trousers while repeating: “Look at what you do to me.” Then he would pull out his penis and ask her to perform fellatio, questioning her about how she made love to her boyfriend. This happened more than 15 times a month.

The officer promised her days off or threatened her with bad grades on her personal report, something that would prevent her contract from being renewed.

On January 14, 2016, she was sent to take him to a hospital in Cartagena, a port and naval city in the Murcia region. When she asked her commander, who is a grade above Federico, why she had to be the one to take him, he replied that it was an order. While she was driving, Federico started to masturbate and tried to touch her genitals. When they left the hospital, the officer told her to drive to a house nearby so that they could have sex.

The officer threatened to give Delia bad grades,  which would prevent her contract from being renewed

As soon as they arrived back at the base, she went to the commander and told him about the harassment. Despite the fact that the commander said he believed her, he refused to open sexual-harassment proceedings. Tired of no one listening to her, she decided to take matters into her own hands. On March 4, she photographed Federico as he masturbated in front of her. “I was shaking, because he realized that I had taken his picture,” she said.

After taking the photo, she went to the commander’s office, and without saying a word, showed it to him. As a result, disciplinary proceedings began. A file was opened and an advisor came to the base to advise her against filing a complaint.

Delia ignored the advisor, but her aggressor was armed and she was afraid for her safety. He was a violent person. She had seen him throwing punches and once he threw a bottle. He tried to discredit Delia by claiming the photo was taken in secret when he was changing his clothes. When her anxiety attacks began to occur more frequently, she was put into psychiatric treatment.

A civil judge in Elche determined Delia’s testimony to be truthful, ruling that the officer gave no “rational explanation for his actions” and that the erect penis in the photo belonged to him. The judge did not believe Federico’s version of events, saying he found it “hardly credible that the photo was taken without him noticing while he was changing his clothes.”

The case was then passed onto a military court, which initially tried to revoke the restraining order placed on the officer by the civil judge. Three years after the complaint was filed, the case is still awaiting trial. According to a spokesperson for the Air Force, Federico was suspended for six months and in 2017, he was placed on reserve for his age, which allows him to receive the corresponding salary.

Commander Cantera’s case

The soldier’s lawyer, Antonio Suárez-Valdés, will file an appeal against Delia’s dismissal. He wants her post-traumatic stress to be recognized as a direct result of the sexual harassment she suffered and at least have her dismissal revoked until her harasser is tried in court. He will use the precedent set by the Zaida Cantera case. Cantera is now the current spokesperson for the Socialist Party (PSOE) in the Congress Defense Committee.

Cantera, who used to be commander in the army, retired from the military in 2015 after she was declared unfit for service due to the “post-traumatic stress” she suffered as a result of the harassment. In March 2012, a military court sentence her harasser, Colonel Isidro de Lezcano-Mújica, to two years and 10 months in prison.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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