WVWS Editors note: This story is broken into parts. In writing narratives of ones trauma, sometimes it must be broken up into pieces. That is the easiest way to put words into print. Digesting piece by piece. Memories can be so vivid and they rumble around in one's brain to the point that trying to just sit and write, the thoughts move faster than the pen - so to speak. This may not be true for Lisa, but often true in general. Many have had to write detailed accounts to the military or the VA, using so much detail, that when the time comes to "just" write, it seems there are too many details to squeeze in.
The night I was assaulted, my life was forever changed.
I went to an NCO's (non-commissioned officer) . He was always buying alcohol for all of the under-aged soldiers and would throw these big parties. That night, I got convinced to go over there. I had originally planned on staying in and playing games. People were surprised to see me there, and I nervously began to drink. I was not in my element and I was nervous. I had only drank alcohol one other time before this. I took some jaeger bombs and drank other types of liquor; I don’t really remember what I drank because there was such a variety and I was so inexperienced. I felt like I was in a place that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t a drinker, I was never that cool in social settings, and I was nervous about being there. I kept drinking to make up for those feelings.
I started feeling tipsy. A friend of mine pulled me outside and told me to stay away from the NCO supplying all of the alcohol. I shrugged off her concerns. I kept drinking and I started acting silly and stumbling all over the place, basically making an ass of myself. I sat down next to him and was leaning on him, falling asleep because I was pretty drunk. He got up and started giving me more alcohol, beer, more jaeger bombs...whatever he could find, it seemed. My friend, who was on pain meds at the time and getting sleepy herself, was trying to give me water but he was taking it from me when she wasn’t looking. He sat down next to me and started kissing me, and everyone else quickly left the room, leaving my sleeping friend on the couch.
He took me upstairs. One thing led to another and everything was moving too fast. I did not feel like I could leave because people were there and I was dizzy, drunk, and could barely stand up. I woke up several times through the night, very drunk and very confused, to him touching me to wake me up to have sex again. It happened 3 or 4 times and finally he was done, passed out and I got up the courage to leave that room finally the next morning. I was laughed at by everyone who was there and there was a guy texting everyone in my unit as it was happening. I laughed it off because I did not know what else to do. I hitched a ride with my friend and went back to the barracks wondering what I was going to do, trying to remember everything that happened. It would come back in bits and pieces later.
I learned later that he had been talking about doing that to me, and joking with all of his buddies. I was in the dark about the whole thing, but with time some light was shed on the truth. He had been messaging me on Facebook, saying random and weird stuff to me. I didn’t make any connections until after it happened, because in the messages before he always seemed drunk and I didn’t think much of it. But one time he messaged me, telling me that he raped his friend and made someone watch. My only response was “k.” I blamed myself for not seeing the signs. I could not believe I did not see it before. I was confused, I was ashamed, and I was embarrassed. Before this assault, I was already a loner and ostracized from this unit: I was a slow runner, socially awkward, and goofy, which made me a natural target for their teasing. Because of this, I was already pretty shy among my peers, but after my assault, I shut myself out completely. I stopped taking care of myself, and I would shut myself away in my barracks room on weekends because I couldn’t bear to show my face.
Everyone in my unit had heard something about what happened that night, and I was labeled a drunken slut. I knew I wasn’t, but hearing it every day made it hard for me to believe that I deserved better. It was a constant. On the outside, I was laughing and joking but on the inside I had thoughts of running into traffic or taking bottles of pills. I decided, in my pain, that I had to report this. It became clear to me that he was experienced in this, he had a plan, and he knew what he was doing. He raped me, and what I was experiencing in the workplace added even more trauma as I worked through what had happened to me.
After I reported the rape, the alienation in my unit got much, much worse.
My own NCO’s questioned me and my SHARP Representative made it clear that they thought the entire thing was a joke, even though there were other victims. I was still forced to work with him even after the legal process started. Every day I had to see my rapist’s smiling face as the rest of our unit treated me like I was the problem.
The legal process following the CID investigation was a nightmare. During the article 32 hearing, kind of like a deposition, I was literally forced to turn my chair and face the accused by the defense counsel. The defense asked if the accused made me c**, asked why I couldn't just leave the room, and asked why I didn't fight him, ending with asking me if “it is ok to lie sometimes”. I believe I was made to testify for the longest out of other witnesses or victims or maybe it felt that way as I had to take a lot of breaks. I took a lot of breaks because I would get so angry I had to be removed. My demeanor had also got increasingly combative while testifying because of everything I was asked and being physically forced to face my rapist.
I still wouldn't physically face him though. I kept my body as turned away from him as I could. When the case moved forward to the actual trial, I was talked to about my demeanor by the special victims counsel and told I could lose all credibility acting the way I did but I could not deal with what happened in the article 32 hearing.
What about the way I was treated?
I do not know if the behavior of the defense counsel was ever formally addressed. I felt the behavior of the defense was completely inappropriate, but once again, no one would really listen to me.
Later on, I did move to a different unit and met some pretty amazing people who believed me, and helped me find ways to enjoy life again. This made me feel better about speaking out and made me realize I did not need to stay silent. However, when I showed up, I was a wreck. I was emotionally unstable, crying over any little thing, and so exhausted. My new NCO noticed and told me firmly, yet kindly, that she was worried about me. No one knew what was going on when I first arrived. As we were getting ready to go to a training exercise, I knew it would be around the same time as court was, so I had to tell them what happened in my old unit. I spoke with the company SHARP rep and was directed to talk to the commander and 1SG. They were very understanding, showed compassion, even joked with me offering me a warm soda. I felt welcome and I was referred out for some resources to help me with what I was going through.
I was sent to a therapist that specialized in sexual abuse trauma and my adjustment disorder diagnosis was rediagnosed as PTSD. I actually felt validated but wouldn’t start taking medication for several years when I got Postpartum depression.
Eventually my rapist decided he would plead guilty and had to serve 33 months in jail. He was made to register with the National Sex Offender Registry: Level 2 for the other victims, but all he got for me was assault and battery, nothing that would go on the registry. I may have gotten some justice, but nothing will replace the trauma and humiliation of this experience. Him only getting an assault and battery charge against me reinforced my insecurities that maybe I am just not as important. I was asked by the prosecution if I was ok with it, and since I had already been so traumatized, I said it was fine because I could not take much more. I would not truly know the extent of the charges against him for me until a few years later.
At the end and during the closing arguments, I was once again singled out by the attorney. He had made his argument; I heard my name come out of his mouth. He said to the judge something along the lines of “SPC Sylvia only cared about her reputation and was simply embarrassed”. I had covered my ears because I did not want to hear it and still do not know to this day everything he said because I cannot get myself to read the entire transcript. I was embarrassed, yes. But I was traumatized, violated, ashamed, and humiliated. I felt betrayed by my peers and my abuser. It was not simply embarrassment and I had no reputation at the time to really worry about.
US ARMY VETERAN