Award-winning American photojournalist Mary F. Calvert has long specialized in under-reported and neglected gender-based human rights issues, but her work often took her to far-flung locations around the world.

Melissa A. Ramon attends the “4th Annual Heroes in the Shadows, San Gabriel Valley Veterans Stand Down” on May 25, 2015.

Several years ago, after being laid off from her newspaper job, Calvert began reporting on issues close to home with her long-term project, “The War Within: Sexual Assault in America’s Military.” The project documents an epidemic of abuse in the U.S. military where there are an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults each year.

“I didn’t have the funds to travel, so I started to look for stories in my own back yard, which is what photographers should all be doing anyway,” she says in a Vantage interview.

While Melissa A. Ramon unpacks their belongings, her 13-year- old son Sam plays with a toy gun in their room at a motel in Pomona that they call “The Jungle.”

Her husband, photojournalist Joseph M. Eddins Jr., suggested that sexual abuse in the military was under-reported. Calvert began researching and was shocked by what she learned.

“Missing in Action” is the third stage of her reporting and was supported by the Alexia Foundation as a 2014 Women’s Initiative project. It documents the struggles of female veterans who are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States and four times more likely to become homeless than civilian women. The second stage of “The War Within” focused on the devastating impact Military Sexual Trauma has on survivors.

While high on drugs, military sexual trauma survivor and former U.S. Marine, Sarah Jenkins accepts a bag of food and water.

With plastic trash bags to keep her belongings dry, veteran Paula Anderson leaves the San Diego Veteran’s Village Stand Down in the pouring rain. “In the little bit of time I’ve been homeless it takes the good out of me. I don’t care how I look. I think I look ugly. Pretty soon you use drugs to comfort yourself. That’s part of being homeless.” At night, she sleeps in her car in a church parking lot. “The military taught us how to survive on the streets. They taught us to camp and survive the elements,” she added.

Calvert has long been dedicated to using photography to bring about meaningful social change and shed light on difficult issues.

“It is my job as a journalist to put a human face on the statistics and make people care,” she said in 2016 interview with L’oeil De La Photographie. “It is my intention that people who view the work come away with awareness and understanding of what is happening right under their noses in the U.S. Military and that they share what they have seen and heard with their friends and family.”

Paula Anderson, left, and Patricia Butts, right, hold hands during the final serenity prayer. When Paula told her U.S. Army commander that she had been drugged and raped by a fellow soldier, she was shipped off to Korea. Her U.S. Army career lasted six years but her military sexual trauma has followed her for 20 years. In 1979, Patricia was a young U.S. Army soldier stationed in Ft. Devens, MA, when she witnessed a steady campaign of rape within her unit. At night a sergeant and/ or a lieutenant would come in and take a woman to the bathroom. “You could hear them struggling and screaming and they would come back crying. I would have to go to the bathroom so bad but I was scared to go so I used the bathroom by my bed.” After three years, she could no longer cope with military life and was honorably discharged. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD) she has been homeless off and on since 1981. “For me, the homelessness has a lot to do with my PTSD.

Calvert’s work received the 2016 World Press Photo First Prize, Long-Term Project; the 2015 and 2016 NPPA Cliff Edom New America Award, the 2015 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund Fellowship, and in 2013, the Canon Female Photojournalist Award. She also received a Getty Images Editorial Grant to work on the fourth stage of her project, “Prisoners of War: Male on Male Rape in America’s Military.”

In April 2017, she was named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in photography.

Disabled U.S. Army veteran, Karen Scott takes a cocktail of drugs prescribed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Melissa Ramon cries in the relaxation room at the “4th Annual Heroes in the Shadows, San Gabriel Valley Veterans Stand Down” in Pomona, CA. Homeless veterans attend stand-downs to replenish themselves in a safe environment with hot meals, clothing, shelter and access to area medical and homeless services.

Darlene Matthews shows signs of fatigue after rolling down her window on a rainy evening for a portrait in her car where she has been
living for the past three years in Costa Mesa, CA, in the parking lot of a mortuary next to a graveyard. She has been waiting for a housing voucher and benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (VA). Darlene joined the U.S. Army in 1976. “I was going to join this all women’s army and there would be no sexual problems but I joined and there were sexual problems. The whole atmosphere was abusive. It’s like being in a fun house and every door gets slammed in your face every time you try to leave. I feel like giving up sometimes, and nobody would care.”

About The Author

Mary Calvert

Photojournalist Mary F. Calvert is committed to using photography to affect meaningful social change and is known for producing work on gender based, human rights issues. Calvert believes that journalists have a duty to shine a light into the deepest recesses of the human experience and provide a mirror for society to examine itself. For her work on sexual assault in the US Military, she is the recipient of numerous honors including First Prize, Long-Term Projects in the 2016 World Press Photo Contest, the 2016 Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography, the 2015 and 2016 National Press Photographers Association Cliff Edom New America Award, the 2015 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund Fellowship and the 2014 Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant. In 2013 Calvert was awarded the Canon Female Photojournalist Award at Visa Pour L‘Image in Perpignan, France for her project “The Battle Within: Sexual Assault in America’s Military.”

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