SOUTHWEST ASIA — I felt like everyone knew how stupid I was and because I made bad choices, he got away with it.
I did make really bad choices — choices that allowed me to put myself in a position to get sexually assaulted, just two months after turning 21 years old.
My story is not that different than many stories shared by the survivors of sexual assault.
I met a guy who was new to our unit at a dorm party. We all spent the night getting drunk and hanging out and for some reason I agreed to let this guy I didn’t know into my room without anyone else.
My intentions were innocent, I had no interest in him, other than being friends, and I thought the same of his intentions. The whole night he treated me like a kid sister, not someone he was thinking about sexually.
One minute we were talking and joking around and the next I was waking up to him doing things to me that I had not agreed to do. I was scared, confused, angry and very drunk. I knew I had to get him off of me but I didn’t know how. I tried pushing him off but he was heavier than me and being drunk had left me less coordinated than I usually am.
I didn’t know what to do. But I did know that I did not want to have sex with him. So I started screaming for him to get off of me.
I got lucky because he did. But not before he violated me in ways I didn’t agree to. I did nothing that night, but the next morning I went to my friends and told them what happened. They helped me call security forces and report the incident.
This was in the days before the program we now know as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, so reporting was not easy and the results of reporting were uncomfortable and full of judgment from everyone I encountered during the process.
My attacker told everyone that I was flirting with him in my room and that I led him on and then changed my mind and was now claiming sexual assault.
But how could I have led him on? I passed out.
The security forces members treated me like it was my fault for putting myself in such a terrible situation, my first sergeant and commander issued a no-contact order but would not allow me to move to another dorm and my supervisor treated me like all of my appointments were an inconvenience.
In all honesty, I couldn’t really blame any of them for their reaction. I knew I had been really stupid and I didn’t have the greatest record at the time. I could see how they would all treat me like I had done something wrong and should just “shut up and color.”
My friends and boyfriend were great, but they didn’t know what to do any more than I did. I had no one to help me.
I felt sad, ashamed, embarrassed, violated and mostly — alone. I felt like the Air Force didn’t take care of me because I didn’t deserve to be taken care of.
Who is naïve enough to invite a stranger into their room and not assume something bad was going to happen? I was.
This innocent, but careless decision turned out to be the worst possible choice I could have ever made. But I made it.
I decided to consider myself lucky that I had not been raped and not allow myself to be called anything other than a survivor. It was hard to move past feeling like I couldn’t trust my chain of command. It was even harder to see him every day in the squadron halls during the day and the dorm halls at night.
I did what a lot of people do when bad things happen, I decided to forget about it, to just “get over it and move on” as I had been told a million times. It would have been really great if it were really that simple. But it isn’t.
I had nightmares, panic attacks and I was an extremely unhappy person for a lot of years. I never felt good or worthy enough and I destroyed most of my relationships, including my marriage.
Then, in 2008 I volunteered to become a victim advocate.
My motivation for being a VA was to help other women who had this terrible thing happen to them. I never imagined that sitting through my 40-hour training would change how I viewed my entire experience. As it turns out, my immature and reckless decision did not make me to blame for what he did to me. He was to blame no matter what.
I had allowed this terrible thing that happened to me. But the hurtful way I was treated by those I trusted to take care of me and to empathize with me had led me to view myself as “less-than” for a lot of years. But that was a lie.
Finding this realization helped me find my happiness, my power and my voice. I didn’t deserve what happened to me, even if my drunken choices were not the smartest. I deserved to be taken care of, to have someone treat me like I mattered, how I felt mattered and protect me from the man who took my sense of security away.
That didn’t happen for me until years later when I finally sought counseling through my church, a thought that never crossed my mind until my VA training.
The SAPR program saved me almost six years after I was sexually assaulted. In learning how to help others, I learned how to help myself. I am strong again; strong enough to know that I am not powerless and I have a voice.
The SAPR program is here to help. The Sexual Assault Response Coordinator is here to help you.
I urge anyone who has, is, or will face being sexually assaulted or raped to contact your local SARC as soon as possible. The help you need is there — it is free and you will be treated with dignity, compassion and care.