Megan Karr suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assault while she served in the military. She awaits a disability payment to compensate for how one night in 2009 changed her life. To acknowledge assault and rape in the armed forces, American military law has designated it officially as “military sexual trauma.”
Story by Sara Krog
Photos by Sofie Skødt Mortensen
Megan Karr, 36, walks back and forth in her bedroom in Louisville, Kentucky, on a Friday in November 2019 looking for her hat in a pile of clothes.It does not hang on the wall with the rest of her neatly sorted hats — a contrast to the rest of her apartment, where most of her belongings lie all over the place.
She is still trying to get everything organized after moving in back to her home town in August, she says.
“It sounds stupid, but this dumb hat can make me relax,” Karr says. “Kind of in the same way as a kid relaxes with its favorite blanket. It is frustrating that I can’t find it. I saw it yesterday.”
Tonight, she gets easily irritated.
Earlier today, her divorce was final. The court decided that Karr’s two daughters, age 6 and 9, will live with her ex-wife.
If she stays away from alcohol, she can eventually gain shared custody.
Karr finally finds the hat.
She puts the green military cap onto her head and sits down in her brown armchair in front of her TV. Her service dog Blaze rests right beside her in the flickering light of the TV screen. He calms her down when she needs it and carries her medicine in a little dog bag.
This is how the U.S. Army Military Police veteran spends most of her time — in the brown armchair. If the anxiety kicks in, it is easier just to stay in the dark living room and when Netflix is on, she can let out most of the bad thoughts and focus on the program. Today, she chose “Mindhunter.” She usually binge-watches because she can’t cope with cliff-hangers if an episode features an open ending.
“Some days it is even hard to get out of bed,” she says. “TV is really good for me if I need to shut down disturbing thoughts.”
All of these symptoms of the diagnoses Karr will carry for the rest of her life.
Her medical records show she suffers from anxiety, depression, tinnitus and a lower back injury. Her injuries came from working in the military, serving at Guantanamo Bay guarding some of the most dangerous accused terrorists in the world. It’s a time in her life that she is restricted from discussing publicly.
“They were never afraid to let us know that they intended to kill us if they had the chance,” she said. “Because of security circumstances we were unarmed. I have been in a fist fight with some of them, and I am a small woman. I have had all kinds of bodily fluids thrown at me.”
Most severe is her Traumatic Brain Injury and the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by an episode she describes as a rape committed by two former colleagues. The case was never prosecuted. The Department of Veteran Affairs has recognized that this serious trauma will never leave her. She suffers from military sexual trauma, a term now used in American military legislation.