YWCA's Exhibition 'SHEROES' Draws Awareness to the Hurdles Women Veterans Face

"SHEROES on the Frontline: The Price of Valor" sheds light on issues that women veterans face

click to enlarge "Three Graces" - Courtesy of Ten Talents Network/YWCA
Courtesy of Ten Talents Network/YWCA
"Three Graces"

As women veterans return home, they face unique challenges post-deployment. A new art exhibition opening tonight speaks to that and, in doing so, attempts to make these issues more visible.

They’re more likely to face social isolation, lack a network and are more likely to be unemployed and struggle financially when compared to their male counterparts. Women who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST) are more prone to both homeless and suicide. 

SHEROES on the Frontline: The Price of Valor opens at downtown’s YWCA of Greater Cincinnati Women’s Art Gallery sheds light on these issues through the work of local artists. Each piece expresses the realities faced in military life and the healing that manifested through creating the art. During tonight’s opening, Anne Eason, a licensed social worker at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center who specializes in Military Sexual Trauma, will give context to the works on display by providing related information and resources.

When I spoke to her on the phone ahead of the event, Eason told me that contributions women in the military have made are often undervalued and oftentimes made invisible. But despite the military being made up mostly of men, there are still over 2 million women veterans in the United States. 

“They want to feel more visible, heard and they want a much greater awareness of Military Sexual Trauma,” says Eason.  “I think this exhibit shows the strength of women who have served, the creative ways they’ve expressed their service through artistic expression and it also gives us the opportunity to highlight the reality of MST with the hope that more women will come forward and talk to us about what happened and begin their recovery process from that assault.”

It’s not uncommon for Eason to speak with veterans, women and men alike,  who she says have sat with their trauma for years, even decades, letting it remain hidden. Of the women who come into the Cincinnati VA office, 33 percent of them report having experienced military sexual trauma — what Eason defines as “sexual assault and severe sexual harassment.”  

In part, she says that women who have PTSD, as related to MST, often experience the same symptoms as anyone else would but it’s often coupled with increased social isolation. “When they’re in the military they feel that there’s no one they can talk to, no one that can give them support, no one to tell about it — and so they begin to isolate themselves,” she explains. 

"Sunburst and Quasar" by Leslie Lehr Daly - Courtesy of Ten Talents Network/YWCA
Courtesy of Ten Talents Network/YWCA
"Sunburst and Quasar" by Leslie Lehr Daly

That, along with other correlating issues, can persist throughout their lives. But, through mental health services and building a personal relationship support system, these issues can become manageable. That's why awareness is vital. 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Eason says she saw an increase in women wanting to come in and speak with her, which was an overall positive effect. But, she says, that’s not to negate the fact that it was often also “retraumatizing to them because they kept hearing more and more about sexual assault on the news.” 

While SHEROES’ sole focus is broader than women vets who experience MST, that’s part of what the show hopes to shed light on. As Eason notes, art is incredibly useful in the healing process.

Curated by Ricci Michaels, a local artist and chaplain of Chapter 115 of Disabled American Veterans, there will be a panel discussion on Sept. 6 from 6-8 p.m.. Artists involved include Annie Ruth, Michaels, Kimberly Walker, Stacey Dolen, Mildred Cooper, Marlene Steele, Hannah Lane Russell and Dolores Massey Thomas, with steel sculptures by Leslie Lehr Daly. You can catch the exhibition through Oct. 25. 

If you are a veteran that has experienced sexual trauma, you can contact Anne Eason’s office at 513-475-6880 for counseling/resources. Visit cincinnati.va.gov for more information. For more information on SHEROES visit ywcacincinnati.org/womens-art-gallery/

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