The Feminist
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The Feminist

At age 16, I was recruited as a child soldier for the United States Military in 2006

At age 16, I was recruited as a child soldier for the U.S. Military, more specifically the United States Marine Corps. I actually had a lot going for me at that time. I skipped 11th grade, I was in honor and AP classes and I was preparing for the Olympics trials for U.S.A. Boxing. While I was academically and athletically gifted, my home life was unstable.

I grew up with emotionally immature parents who heavily relied on religion as their beacon of guidance. Unfortunately, due to the double colonization of Puerto Rico by Spain and the United States, religion has always been the political tool used to force the indigenous tribes to submit to colonization. I was raised in the Puerto Rican diaspora in the lower Hudson Valley Region of New York. Within the Boricua (Puerto Ricans refer to each other by our Caribbean Native American name) communities around the world, Puerto Ricans growing up in New York are called NuyoRicans. This stems from the 1950s when NuyoRicans began marching in the streets of New York City in the largest Latin American protest that had ever occurred in the United States.

Boricuas were protesting the United States Government’s unconstitutional ban on the Puerto Rican flag. This flag has a long history rooted in colonial resistance and Taíno pride. The U.S. Government was unlawfully incarcerating children as young as eight years old for having Puerto Rican flags hanging up in their rooms. None of these Boricuas were given trials and their Fourth Amendment Rights to Privacy were violated. As a result NuyoRicans took to the streets of New York City in what would become the largest demonstration of Latin Americans in U.S. History. This terrified the predominantly white Congress who realized that Latin Americans out number any other ethnic group in the Americas. As a result, the U.S. Government created a new law allowing the Puerto Rican flag so long as the colors were changed to mimic the U.S. Flag to “show solidarity” instead of “resistance.”

I was born in the Lower Hudson Valley Region of New York, right outside of New York City. Former First Lady and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, was my elected representative most of my life. She was the first woman, I looked up to in politics. I vividly remember walking in to George Washington Elementary school and seeing rows of white male presidents in the hallways. Fourth grade was different, I went to school that year and I had an LGBTQIA black teacher; who posted Hillary Clinton in front of our class. A few months later, nine year old me was at the New York State Capitol touching Hillary Clinton’s yellow blazer while she padded my head. I was simply in awe that she was real.

Back at home, my life was becoming more dysfunctional by the day. The more my parents got involved in the evangelical Christian community; the more dysfunctional my home life became. From an early age, I resisted religion; more specifically Christianity. I was constantly questioning religious ideologies. “Why would my teacher go to hell for loving another woman?” or “If God loves everyone, why are those two people going to hell for loving each other? Doesn’t God love men and he is a man?” or “Why do I have to submit to men who are less capable than me?”

For being as young as I was, religious doctrine turned me off. I fell more and more in love with Science, History & Art. These subject matters spoke to me and were logical; they were rooted in facts. The Universe took billions of years to develop; not seven days. I still till this day don’t know of any masterpiece that took just seven days. The biblical story that really confirmed for me that I was not religious was Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. As I got older, it became more clear to me that her and Joseph ran away from Jerusalem so Mary wouldn’t be stoned to death for having a baby out of wedlock. While I’ll never know whether Jesus was a product of rape or consent, I certainly have my suspicions.

I remember coming to this conclusion while sitting in the brig (military jail) after being unlawfully incarcerated after I reported being raped by a U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant. Back then, I wasn’t armed with the knowledge that my Marine Corps. experience was one of child-sex trafficking (child sexual slavery). There was absolutely no way for me to know this information. I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to further my education in the field of Science. I aspired to go to college. I felt my dysfunctional home life and radical religious beliefs that I was surrounded by would only hold me back.

According to the UN, “Their (child soldiers) tasks can vary, from combatants to cooks, spies, messengers and even sex slaves. No matter their role, child soldiers are exposed to acute levels of violence — as witnesses, direct victims and as forced participants. Some are injured and have to live with disabilities for the rest of their lives.

Girls are also recruited and used by armed forces and groups. They have vulnerabilities unique to their gender and place in society and suffer specific consequences including, but not limited to, rape and sexual violence, pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications, stigma and rejection by families and communities.”

My entire enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. was full of misogyny, sexism, and extremism. At age 17, while in Fort Leonardwood, MO attending Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Defense School, a nude photo I sent my then-boyfriend, was stolen from his phone. Back then the Motorola flip phones didn’t have password protection or even internet. We simply had photo text messaging capabilities. I had never witnessed a text message go viral.

That’s exactly what happened to me. A “fellow” Marine stole that photo from his phone and sent it to his. He began selling the photo of me for $10.00 to other male Marines. By today’s legal standards this is considered both child-sex trafficking and child-pornography. Nothing ever happened to that Marine. In fact, I was the one who was tortured over the course of three days and disciplined for this inhumane crime against me. I was even told that this Marine made upwards of $50,000 from other Marines by selling that photo. To date, seventeen years later the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. have never apologized or even attempted to right the wrongs of what they did to me, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting my line of events. They actually went on further to retaliate against me. Despite my pleas for legal and medical services, the chain of command repeatedly denied me access to justice. The entire chain of command at Fort Leonardwood would go on to be disbanded and relocated around the United States after Marine Corps. Headquarters confirmed they obstructed justice, but they didn’t deliver me justice. Instead, I would have my bank account frozen by the U.S. Government after I escaped being tortured. I was starved, sleep deprived, physically assaulted and so much more over the course of three days. Then, I would receive a retaliatory discharge after successfully reporting that I’d been raped because I needed medical attention. The U.S. Navy should have med-boarded me with medical benefits for PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma. Instead, they falsified documents which was a regular behavior in both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

This led to me being administratively separated without access to medical, education, or housing benefits. As a result, I ended up homeless and involved in the illicit markets for survival until I landed a job at Bank of America during the 2008 Recession.

Out of seven United Nations International Declarations & Conventions for Sexual Violence Victims Rights, the United States has only signed on to the 18 of December 1979: The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. To date, there are no domestic enforcement mechanisms in the U.S. to specifically protect women in the military against sexual violence.

Unfortunately, there are many United Nations initiatives that the U.S. Government fails to sign on to; due to the private sector interest groups that control our nation. 70% of current sitting elected officials in U.S. Congress are shareholders in oil and defense portfolios operated and run by major Wall Street Banks. The Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan were prime examples of the lengths Wall Street interests and Congress will go to in order to secure oil dominance. As a result the well-being of children like me was put on the back burner. I was recruited as a child-soldier because the United States failed to sign on to the 2002 UN Optional Protocol.

The United Nations Optional protocol is a commitment that:

States will not recruit children under the age of 18 to send them to the battlefield.

States will not conscript soldiers below the age of 18.

States should take all possible measures to prevent such recruitment –including legislation to prohibit and criminalize the recruitment of children under 18 and involve them in hostilities.

States will demobilize anyone under 18 conscripted or used in hostilities and will provide physical, psychological recovery services and help their social reintegration.

Armed groups distinct from the armed forces of a country should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities anyone under 18.

The Protocol entered into force in 2002 and has now been ratified by a majority of the world’s countries.

When I reflect on my life today, I feel strongly that the United States lack of commitment towards Human Rights Initiatives is due to conflict of interests. Shareholders should not be controlling our nation. When shareholders are in office, they have too much power and control. They instead vote for what is profitable for their shares vs. what is in the best interests of humanity. That is how children like me who are recruited into the Armed Forces become victims of state-sponsored child-sex trafficking. While my experience with state-sponsored sexual violence is severe. I am far from alone. There are 1.5 million veterans alive in the United States of America with a diagnosis of PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma (MST). There are more veterans with PTSD due to sexual violence than there are veterans with PTSD due to combat. Yet, Congress and Wall Street continue to pursue profits over human rights.

The struggles that we ignore, will become the struggles that our children will endure.

If you would like to learn about how to become a Certified MST Advocate, please email us at support@boricuagringa.com to sign up for a free upcoming webinar called, “MST Human Rights Advocacy in the face of Adversity.”

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Jánelle Marina Méndez

Jánelle Marina Méndez

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Certified Human Rights CEO | Boricua Gringa Human Rights Strategic Advisory | I write a human rights newsletter called The Feminist