**TRIGGER WARNING: this story contains some graphic details**
The first time it happened, I had just left basic training for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). I ended up at Aberdeen Proving Grounds on the 4th of July weekend.
I was alone there that weekend for the most part. Most people had gone home on pass. I did not know that. Little did I realize, the people who were left behind were the troublemakers.
The first thing I had done upon leaving basic was buy a few packs of cigarettes at a gas station during a break on the way to AIT. Having found myself all alone in the barracks for an entire Saturday, and almost an entire Sunday, I struggled to find female battle buddies to accompany me to the designated “smoke pit.”
On Sunday, I dared to venture out. I believe I had someone walk me to the smoke pit. There was a group of guys there, which was a relief at first because I thought this way, I would have a way to smoke without having to rely on a battle buddy. The battle buddy rule required you to have one of the same gender, or two of the opposite, whenever walking around outside the barracks.
I sat at the picnic table and chain-smoked, which was what I had been looking forward to after two months without it. The guys, whom I would later find out had been given Article 15s and/or had issues, asked me if I wanted to go fishing with them. I mentioned that we were not allowed to leave the base without a pass. “No, no,” they said. “It’s on the base.” Apparently there was a campground of some sort on base. They added, “We’re going to have a barbeque.”
There were four or five of us, so I thought I would be safe going. One of them mentioned his friend had a pickup truck in which he could drive us out to this campground that was by the bay on base. I got in the back of the truck, but I had a gut feeling that I ignored. Deep down, I really did feel a bit apprehensive about the ordeal. Something about these guys as off, but it just did not register at the time. Maybe because I was only 19, I just did not have the awareness back then. Deep, deep down, a little voice in me said, “This seems sketchy,” but I told myself I was not leaving base and that it would be ok.
Once we got to the campground, we stopped at a picnic table with a grill next to the water. They had brought a case of Bud Light, maybe multiple cases. I did not drink beer and was not really interested. That was the first thing they did; they broke out the beer and started drinking. I implored them, “Aren’t we here to go fishing? Or is all you’re going to do is drink? Why did we come all the way out here then?” I did not get a response. At least I do not think I did. By this time, they were acting like wild animals. Completely unresponsive to my queries of what was going on. It was like watching wild animals. They were speaking a language I could not understand: that of young drunk men, hooting and hollering.
They kept pressuring me to drink, but I did not like beer back then, and I still do not. They were playing a game, where they would punch a hole in the bottom of the can and chug it. They kept pressuring me to try it. I finally gave in, in the hopes that they would stop asking me to try it. I was unsuccessful and ending up drenching my face and shirt in beer. It was gross.
One of them mentioned I should try again. I said no thanks, and tried to relocate myself to the back of the group and draw attention away from myself. I overheard one guy say to another, “Did you bring the Parrot Bay?” or something like that. Apparently, one of them had bought a bottle of Parrot Bay just for me with the expectation I would not like the beer. At the time, I thought they were being considerate and not trying to get me drunk. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
I started drinking, and I did not mind it because it was weak. It came on slowly, and it was odd to feel buzzed so early in the day. One of the guys who had asked for the Parrot Bay asked me to follow him down into the water. I followed him down the steep bank to where he sat down under a tree. There is no comfortable place to sit and I do not know why he brought me down here. “What is going on?” I asked him. “I thought we were going fishing? What is this?” He did not answer me. I heard the guys up above, going wild, though I did not know what about.
The guy who brought me down there sat next to me and started staring into my eyes. It was creepy. I was not interested in him and just wanted to get out of there. Before I knew it, he leaned over and shoved his hand down the front of my pants. I took his hand and pulled it out immediately. I asked what he was doing and told him to stop. He did not listen, and as soon as I pulled his hand out, he shoved it back down my pants again, forcing his fingers into my vagina. The guy was small-framed, and I felt like I could keep fighting him off until he stopped, but he just would not stop. Being buzzed made it harder to fight him off, as my reaction time was delayed. He stuck his hand down my pants again, into my vagina, but I was able to shove him off. I looked down and saw dirt and pine needles all over his filthy hands that he was trying to stick up my vagina. I do not know exactly how many times we went back and forth, but he eventually gave up and walked back up to the campsite, after which I followed.
After that, I felt confident that I had fended him off for good, so I kept drinking. I did not think he would try again. At the same time, I felt safer in the company of more people.
The guys had finally decided to start the BBQ, but they had forgotten the buns. All they had were a couple packs of warm, raw hamburger meat. They also did not bring chips, ketchup, or anything else. I finally started to realize this was not a BBQ. This was a young boys’ drinking party, and the sole reason for coming out here was for them to get drunk. I cannot believe I did not “get” that.
At this point, as I had been feeling more confident, I had been sipping more of that liquor they bought just for me. Our ride had left, I think, but they were returning to pick us up. I figured I would just go back to my room once I got back and that would be the end of it.
The guy who assaulted me earlier grabbed and pulled me away towards the water. I felt like a zombie, not very aware of what was going on. All I heard was hooting and hollering, and wild drunken noises around me. The other guys were very drunk and not paying attention to what was going on with this guy and me.
It did not occur to me at the time that this particular guy purposefully waited for me to drink more so he could try to assault me again. I was very innocent.
I thought that this second time he took me down to the river would be different. I could not put two and two together at that time. He sat down next to me, leaned over just like last time, and stuck his hand in my pants. My reaction time is even slower, but I was still able to fend him off. He stuck his hand down my pants, putting his fingers in my vagina. I pulled his hand out and pushed him away. It felt like this went on for a long time. Finally, he gave up.
(Just a note: this was eight years ago, at a time when I was drunk, so I just do not remember the order of events. I swear he brought me down to the river at least three times, not just twice. The timeline of events is a blur, but many of the details are clear as ever in my mind. Like the sight of his dirty hand).
The last time I emerged from the riverbank, the guys were saying that we were leaving. I leave with them with the expectation that I am going back to the barracks. Somehow, I ended up off base somewhere. The alcohol felt like it was catching up to me at that point. I had no energy, and I felt terrible. I was drunk.
I found myself at some sort of restaurant with three of these guys. I have no idea where we were. I was really spacing out at this point, not fully there in the moment. These guys were going wild; they were wasted and acting crazy. I thought that the best thing I could do was just wait for them to sober up. I just wanted to get back to base. The only way I could have gotten back was if I stayed with them. I had no cellphone and no money to call a cab. At this point, I was also afraid about getting back on base without getting caught.
Their noise brought attention to us in the restaurant, and people stared at us because their behavior was out of control. My assailant had been sitting next to me and was acting calmer than the others. I asked continuously, “What are we doing?” and “When are we going back?” But they ignored me. I kept quiet, hoping that I could ride this out – that they would sober up and we would eventually head back.
We went out for a smoke break. One of the guys announced that someone in the restaurant was local police, and they paid for his stuff. They laughed about it. We sat around on the bench for a while, and I noticed there were only three of us now. I kept talking about going back, but nobody seemed to hear me. It was like I was not there.
Then another of them walked away, and I was left alone with my assailant.
It was starting to get late, and I was still buzzed. I kept smoking, hoping that this guy was going to finally call us a cab to get back since he had his wallet and phone, and I did not. I followed him into another outlet in the strip mall, through a lobby, down the hall, and ended up in a room. I slowly realized this was a hotel.
I still did not understand what was going on. I had never been in a situation like this, let alone knew how to handle it. I kept asking, “What is going on?” but kept getting ignored. I thought maybe if I keep asking it he would give in and call a cab. Since he was ignoring me, I laid down, exhausted and hungover. I figured I would just have to keep waiting and that I had no other choice.
What he tried to do next was completely unexpected.
He climbed on top of me, and I pushed him back and told him, “No” and “stop.” He was below me, trying to pull off my pants. I looked down and saw his ugly, acne-ridden face. He stared intensely at me again and would not stop. I pulled my pants back up. He tried pulling them down again. We go back and forth with this. He finally gave up on my pants, and started trying to take my boots off. I told him to leave them on. Again and again, I was ignored. He finally gave up trying to take my boots off, but went back to pulling down my pants. It was back to being like we were playing tug of war with my pants. Even though he was not that strong, he was stronger than me and was eventually able to pull them down get on top of me, lying down between my legs. He then stuck his penis in my vagina. At this point, I was yelling, “NO! STOP! NO! STOP!” over and over again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him staring at my face, and he got up and stopped. That part was over relatively quickly, luckily.
What did he think, that once he put his penis in my vagina, that I would magically stop resisting?
He got up, got dressed, and I pulled up my pants and followed him out. I heard him mutter under his breath on the way out, “Waste of money,” or something like that.
I finally made it back to the barracks that night. I felt great relief I made it back before curfew and that I was safe in my bed. I went to sleep quickly, exhausted from being hungover for hours. I had no time to process what happened to me. In fact, I did not process it for several years. At that time, I was focused on getting through AIT. I could not fail with so much at stake.
I had heard the stories of the girls on the news, about the epidemic of rape in the military, but I really did not think it could have happened to me. I was afraid of ending up like them, so I kept quiet. Best to pretend it never happened. Do not cause trouble.
Every time I saw my rapist after that, he would immediately stop smiling. I told myself to make myself feel better: he knows what he did to you, and he knows what he did was wrong. But I also asked myself: what if he is not actually sorry and that he is just afraid of being reported?
After the assault, I developed a drinking problem to deal with the stress. I started binge drinking, which would last until my deployment that December. In that span of six months, I experienced several more assaults. It had become a vicious cycle of being taken advantage of while drunk and drinking to cope as a result.
But those are their own stories, for another day.