A few months after the court martial proceedings had ended, I had to attend a Sexual Harassment/ Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) stand-down day. The E7 or SFC in charge of the post SHARP office was telling her story and I was very triggered. She somehow noticed me out of the whole battalion sitting there looking a bit out of it. The trauma was still fresh, and I was still trying to work my way through what happened and the aftermath of the court martial. I was inspired by her and I had finally decided I would tell my story to my company. I felt comfortable enough to do so and she had showed up. It was a Friday before we’d be gone for the weekend
She asked if I wanted to do a PSA for the post I CORPS JBLM SHARP program. I'd ask if they could hide my face as I was afraid of some harassment over it since I wasn’t very well liked by a lot of people there during the timeframe of my assault. This was when I was told they’d already done that for another volunteer because his story was “really bad”. Being told that had set off a few red flags but I felt I’d regret not taking the opportunity. A week or so later I was brought to do the interview and was filmed. I basically described resources available whether or not a formal complaint is made and how I was branded a liar when I reported the rape. I noticed it was posted nearly a year and a half later and I was too afraid to watch it until months after seeing it was posted.
My husband finally convinced me to watch and share it. It was heavily edited, and I felt it was not giving away too much information and was happy with how it had turned out. I’d shared the video several times over the years because I was proud of having put myself out there. At this point it was December of 2017. I was planning to leave the Army because I decided it was time to be a mom and go to school.
I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas by then and also in the last month of a very high-risk pregnancy. I had started joining women’s veteran and Military Sexual Trauma support groups because honestly, I needed advice on how to file a claim with the VA for my MST so I could continue to have access to mental health services. I had sort of begun to also tell my story at this point as well. On December 15, 2017, I shared the SHARP PSA to a women's veteran group because there were arguments as to whether those reporting their sexual assaults were truthful. My post was well received, and I had eventually noticed the video had 50 plus shares. I got curious and looked. I saw my friends, family, and childhood neighbors shared it. Then I came across one post about my PSA by a law office. I got curious and clicked on it.
It took me about 10 seconds to know who it was; it was my rapists lawyer. At first I was shocked; you know that feeling when you lick a battery? Then my stomach dropped. I started to hyperventilate and ran out into the hallway outside of my office (I was on my lunch break) and called my husband in hysterics. My husband was at the time living 8 hours away in Yuma, Arizona to help set our house up and start working for a smooth transition out of the Army. I was alone except for my mother and my 3-year-old boy and 18 month old girl. I blame this on the fact my pregnancy was getting more dangerous; my blood pressure stayed high and I was not mentally or physically handling discovering what I did very well. I had ended up having a placental abruption a few weeks later and my Youngest, Camden was born and thank god he was big and healthy. The attorney had taken my case and wrote every sexual and embarrassing detail and used me and my video to advertise how he gets people out of rape allegations. It was obvious how he would have access to my records. I did not have them at the time though. I lost it and no one knew what to say or do. I had begun to sort of come to terms with what had happened during court thinking the guy was just doing his job and what he was doing was not personal. I told myself this for years when my gut told me that he had it out for me. I had not even addressed yet what happened the night I was raped. For years, I had pushed it to the back of my mind. The one question I still have is how he had even come across it. Did someone else know how he felt about me and show him? It scares me still and that was my biggest fear when I had agreed to do the PSA. The day of my meltdown was also the day before holiday block leave so I did not try to address it and tried to enjoy the holidays.
After the holidays were over, I went to the post JAG office because I did not know how to address this.
I was directed to make a bar complaint by one of the attorneys there but also told I was not important enough to worry about it.
The post after all, was several years old by the time I had found it but others knew about it and never told me. I once again felt invalidated. I decided I would wait until I had my baby to file a complaint as I did not think I could handle it at that moment. A few months later I decided to file the complaint against him with the Washington State Bar Association. I had included screenshots of his post as well since that was all I had. I was still dealing with postpartum hormones and the stress of leaving the Army, but I just had to do it. What he did was not right at all. I got that gut feeling and I have spent too many years ignoring my intuition and paying for it later. A week or after submitting the complaint, I discovered the post and his entire business page were gone. To this day, I keep the screenshots of his very long, vicious post about me in a folder on my computer. I named it “why are men like this” to maintain a sense of humor like I always do to cope. But I still cannot read the entire thing. I also feel I have a sense of power keeping the screenshots. He deleted the post when I made the bar complaint, but it will always be there. His response to the complaint was short and nasty. He again called me a liar and stated I was embarrassed by his “factual rebuttal.” By this time, someone had got me in contact with Protect our Defenders as well. I inquired about suing for defamation (could not because I found the post well past the statute of limitations).
They told me how to get my court records and in in the meantime, began to help me get the PSA removed, which was an ordeal in itself. I reached out to SAPRO and the JBLM SHARP office myself. They told me they lost the password to the Facebook page. The ethics complaint was also dismissed against the attorney as there was nothing in writing about him doing what he did being unethical. By this time I had finally received my court records and Protect our Defenders helped me appeal the dismissal. I read the record of trial the night I submitted the appeal and was aghast at how my abuser admitted to doing what he did while I was passed out and still not getting on the registry for what he did to me. It was at this time I realized I needed to address what had happened and I went through Prolonged Exposure Therapy once I received my rating from the VA that same summer. It helped me. I am not hiding from it anymore like I had done for so many years. After that summer, the bar complaint was dismissed again and I had exhausted all appeal options. Protect our Defenders also finally mailed a letter demanding the PSA be removed and it still took weeks but inevitable that was gone too. It was bittersweet but I did manage to make myself a copy of it on my phone for myself. In the end we also made a complaint against the attorney with the armed services committee and while the complaint was not dismissed, they could not tell me what action was taken against him. I was upset because they can respect his privacy but my court records are available to the public?
I was upset but then I realized I had wanted to go into the legal field because of what Protect our Defenders did for me. I want to be an attorney who works with MST survivors to help them get their benefits, discharges upgraded, or in my case, hold people like that man accountable in some way. As of now, I am in a Masters of Legal Studies program and plan to begin applying for the actual Juris Doctor program next year. It is crazy how trauma and pain changes one’s career field...I was in the IT field originally so this has been quite the change for me. Going this path has helped me to heal as well since I had learned a lot during that time in my life.
My views about the military had already been soured but after that I realized not everyone you serve with has good intentions and not everyone will take care of you. I thought I would make friends and would have character-building experiences in my military service, but I ended up hated and a target for some pretty cruel behavior. Today, I have been beginning to try and help people who have been in my situation. I am trying to petition the ABA to change the rules of what attorneys can disclose over social media; they should have to ask the survivor’s permission before they decide to disclose such private things; especially when they had access to records the survivor likely did not as in my case. At the very least, the ABA should add rules against cyberbullying. This whole ordeal has taught me that sometimes you have to make things right and that is what I try to do now. Also, I have my own family now that loves me and I feel I have to teach my kids to fight for themselves or others if something is not right.
US ARMY VETERAN