“When women are given leadership positions, when they claim their true leadership positions, everyone rises: women rise, children rise, and men rise. Men become better men when women are leading the way.”
Meet ANU BHAGWATI. Anu is an activist-writer who advocates for the end of sexual assault in the military and also supports women and men in service, veterans and their families. Anu is a Marine Corps veteran who left the service at rank of Captain in 2004.
Anu is a high-achiever who strives to better herself and the world. Anu was the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts program instructor training school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. She studied at Yale and also the Kennedy School of Government, focusing on international human rights policy. She has also taught yoga to war veterans.
Anu’s interest in helping military service members who have survived sexual assault comes from her first-hand experience of the problem in the Marine Corps. At the time, there were few places where Anu—or the many women and men in the same situation—could turn.
So Anu founded the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an organization that works to heal veterans through a help line and legal resources. The organization also actively engages policy makers to bring about positive change in the military. Under Anu’s leadership, SWAN has helped inspire a national movement to end sexual assault and harassment, as well as domestic violence in the military. Her ultimate goal is to change the “culture of impunity” that allows such crimes to occur in the military. Anu is determined to hold the senior military leadership accountable for having failed to protect survivors of sexual trauma.
Due to Anu’s incredible work, change is starting to happen. Last February, on behalf of 16 military rape survivors, a DC human rights law firm filed a historic federal lawsuit. The lawsuit goes after the US Department of Defense for not only failing to prevent rape and sexual assault, but also of mishandling cases brought its attention. Anu says the lawsuit “really rocked the system.”
“It was the first time that the Department of Defense in the United States ever responded in the proper way, not making excuses for itself, finally recognizing that it has a lot of work to do.”
Anu acknowledges that her work can be lonely. It is often difficult going up against the US Department of Defense, one of the most powerful institutions on the planet. But she finds her inspiration from the growing evidence that her work is helping to heal veterans: “Combat service is often acknowledged in the US context. But to give and sacrifice in other ways, to be assaulted or harassed and to have post-traumatic stress from those types of traumas is not acknowledged that much right now. You get calls, the emails; you get to know that people are healing through this sort of acknowledgement. That our advocacy work is healing people is the greatest reward that you can get.”
We salute Anu’s courage and strength—and will continue to watch as she makes progress towards ending sexual violence within the military.