Davidson County veteran, victim of sexual assault changing the face of today’s military

DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Stephanie Schroeder puts it very bluntly.

“Women aren't really accepted in the Marine Corps,” she says.

But she was a Marine herself -- she signed up, shortly after 9/11. It was “her path,” as she describes it. Her grandfather and father were both in the Army but Schroeder wanted something different. She had no idea what that would end up meaning.

The Marines have, by far, the lowest percentage of females of any of the military branches. At about 7-8 percent, it’s half the percentage of women compared to the other branches. But the Marines, according to a report from the Rand Corporation, have the highest level of sexual assaults. Schroeder was a victim of sexual assault, but she wasn’t going to accept her fate.

Schroeder was part of the lawsuit Klay v. Panetta, in which a group of Navy and Marine veterans sued, saying they were raped or harassed by their military colleagues. But Schroeder didn’t want compensation, she wanted change. And where better to start than with your own work.

Schroeder began working with members of Congress and the United Nations. Her work was noticed by Four-Star Marine Corps General and Commandant Robert Neller. Everything changed for the better when he took command a few years ago.

When she contacted Neller about changes she felt were necessary in the Corps, he was open to listening.

“The Marine Corps teaches you to be aggressive but that doesn't mean you have to be aggressive towards your colleagues,” Schroeder said. “It's all about learning how to channel the aggression that you learn.”

She helped develop the SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program and now speaks on military installations about it -- 36 of them, so far.

But she really wants to go where she believes it all starts: Boot camp on Parris Island, where the Marines are still the only branch that trains its recruits separated by gender. This is a fight she’s ready for.

“I fight battles, I fight a lot of battles,” says Schroeder with a steely smile.

And, from the look of things, her work is, well, working.

“We're coming to the point where we're getting some data back that says it is starting to work,” she says.

Meet Stephanie Schroeder in this edition of the Buckley Report.

Related: NYT: More Than Just Marines Behaving Badly