I was assaulted many years ago, but the effects have always haunted me. I never knew where to turn for help and my life has been adversely affected ever since, and I just wanted someone to hear my story.
I was sexually assaulted aboard ship by a shipmate, who, at the time, was a very close friend.
The incident happened in 1983 while I was serving aboard the USS Durham LKA-114, which has since been decommissioned. I was sleeping in an empty stateroom, which was used by officers when fully staffed, but was vacant while in port.
While sleeping, I was awakened by this man performing oral sex on me. I completely froze for a few seconds, and my mind went blank. I can’t tell you what was going through my mind at the time. I just began to kick wildly until he stopped and then ran out of the stateroom
I stayed there alone, paralyzed and frightened, for I don’t know how long. I did not know what to do. I was just 20 years old at the time. I kept the incident to myself for 2-3 days. I felt so ashamed, violated and broken. Who would believe me? I never asked for or invited what happened. The sense of responsibility was crushing me and, in some measure it still does today.
Finally, after 2 to 3 days of confusion and fear, I decided to tell the Master at arms aboard ship about what occurred. It took everything I had to report this, and I think I cried the entire time. I wanted answers and help, but I was sadly mistaken.
I avoided the person who assaulted me (let’s call him “Skip”) after the assault, but I wanted answers. No more than a week later while I was standing watch on the quarterdeck, I saw Skip being escorted off the ship by the Master at arms with all gear in hand. We looked straight into each other’s eyes, but we did not say a word. I remember it all like it was yesterday. I expected to hear from the XO, Captain, division officer or someone after Skip was escorted away, but no one in authority asked me anything afterwards even though I made it crystal clear that I was assaulted. I was not offered counseling, asked how was I doing or if I was okay.
Then, about a month later, I was informed that I was being prosecuted or processed out of the Navy by way of an administrative discharge even though I had not committed any recent offenses. I was told that my service was unsatisfactory and not fit for Naval service. By this time, I had less than 7 months to serve before my enlistment ended when I was certain to receive an honorable discharge.
I could not believe any of this was happening to me and as I look back on the incident, I have, at times, cursed myself for speaking up and reporting what happened, but I just could not sit back and not do anything. I thought I was doing the right thing.
My attorney didn’t feel that the Navy had a viable case and strongly felt that I would be allowed to complete my 7-months remaining and be done with it. In the attorney’s opinion, the worse case scenario would be a general discharge. By this time, I just wanted everything to be over.
Ultimately, the board decided on a General Under Honorable conditions, which at that point, I did not mind because it meant that I could retain benefits, keep my sense of dignity and give me some measure of validation back. At no time was I offered help or counseling. This was well before the “don’t ask don’t tell” policies.
Four to six weeks passed and the final paperwork came back so I could be discharged. I was shocked to find out that the convening administrative board that decided on my General Under Honorable discharge was invalid because the senior officer on the board was a reservist rather than a full-time Naval officer. At this point, my attorney assumed that the case would be dropped because of the time and resources to re-try or convene under another board, and I had so little time left to serve. However, that was not the case.
A new administrative board was in fact re-convened and I was given an Other Than Honorable discharge. There was no appeal process because administrative boards are considered non-judicial punishments.
The Navy discarded me like a piece of scrap iron or less. This ordeal continues to haunt me. The assault was bad enough, but the ensuing Other Than Honorable discharge was just too much for me.
I cannot even begin to express how this entire ordeal has affected my life. I still struggle with self-esteem, trust and the entire myriad of symptoms victims of sexual assault suffer from. This interferes with my personal relationships especially intimate ones. What made this situation even worse is that I was molested on at least 3 occasions as a boy. I didn’t know or realize at that time, but I was traumatized before any of this ever happened.