I had always been interested in joining the military and carrying forward a long family tradition of serving. I was only 20 years old and very naïve. I believed I would find an amazing adventure in the Navy, get to travel, and would be able to serve my country with pride. I once looked up to everyone in uniform; now I see everyone in uniform as a threat and danger.
The first time I ever flew was on the plane that took me to boot camp. Within two years of that flight, I had been assaulted once, raped twice, stalked, threatened, and harassed endlessly by the people in uniform next to me.
The harassment started on my first day out of boot camp and my first day in A school. One guy in particular was really forceful. He was used texts, Facebook messages, and my lunch hour to insistently push himself on me. Just three months into my A school course, he assaulted two other girls, and NCIS was brought in to investigate. I spoke to them about the harassment and threats he had been making to me. There were seven other women from our A school who never came forward. Our fellow sailors shunned those of us who came forward, even the guys who witnessed him assault one of the women. We were called liars and accused of ruining his career.
Just a month later, I went out to a club with a group of people I thought I could trust, and one of the guys kept buying me drinks. Considering I had turned 21 in boot camp and never drank before, it didn’t take long for me to be way past my limit. I didn’t even know where that limit was or how to know I had too much. Later into the night, he pulled me into the custodial closet and forced me to touch him and shoved his hands all over my body. I was terrified and too drunk to react. Thankfully, the club closed and he stopped because we had to leave. I’m sure it would have been worse if not for the timing.
I had kissed one guy in my lifetime by that point and was overwhelmed by what had already happened in my short time in the Navy. I was constantly scared of what a guy might do to me again and if any would follow through on their harassing remarks and threats. I started trying to avoid everyone and isolated myself from the class. I was relieved to finally graduate and be able to switch duty stations. I chose a duty station based on the fact that there was no one from this group whom I would have to continue interacting with.
The events in A school haunted me, as did the ongoing case against the guy who had assaulted two of my friends. I wasn’t even a month into my time on my ship when a guy I had been hanging out with assaulted me.
It was New Year’s Eve, and I had been drinking. He convinced me that in my state, I shouldn’t go back to the ship because I would get in trouble for being drunk and instead, we should get a hotel room for the night. I remember him bugging me repeatedly for a New Year’s Eve kiss when the ball dropped and telling him no over and over until I finally caved and said fine, one kiss. I remember him kissing me when the ball dropped and not stopping. I remember pushing him off of me and telling him to go to the other bed. I wanted to sleep. The next thing I can recall is waking up to the most intense pain I had ever felt and pushing up on his chest trying to get him off of me. I told him he was hurting me. He rolled off of me and said, “You’re basically not a virgin anymore,” and I passed out again.
The next morning, I woke up fuzzy about what had happened the night before and was in complete denial about it. I didn’t want to admit that this had happened to me. He bought me breakfast, and we took a taxi back to the base together. He walked me back to my ship. Before he left me, he asked, “Are you going to report me?” It was then that I knew for sure that I had something to report, not that I remembered much of it. I told him no, and I never did report him. After being ostracized and threatened in A school already for reporting harassment, I didn’t want to face the aftermath of reporting this at my new command.
I started having issues falling asleep and staying asleep after this. What little sleep I did get was plagued by violent, terrifying nightmares that I would often wake up from and throw up on the floor next to my bed. I cried almost every night. I started drinking to try to fall asleep. I wanted to tell people, but had no one I felt I could trust with the information. I threw myself into work and impressed my new command with my efficient work ethic. It got so bad that I would work myself ragged while my coworkers watched movies in the shop. The three hours of sleep on average I had been getting for the past year and the 14-hour workdays really began to wear me down. I developed anorexia and became suicidal.
I sought help from the ship’s psychologist when I developed my suicide plan, but never told him why since he was a male and I didn’t trust him. My coworkers started calling me a baby for seeing a psychologist. My LPO lectured me for being selfish and inconsiderate of my coworkers, family, and boyfriend for seeking help from the doctor. I finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore. It was either jump off the ship or admit myself.
I knew admitting myself would mean an end to my Navy career, but at that point, I didn’t care. I admitted myself to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was transferred there on limited duty. The military had labeled me with an adjustment disorder and dependent personality disorder. The doctor on the ship tried to administratively separate me before I left for limited duty. My initial therapist at the hospital told me I was stupid for having an eating disorder when I tried to talk to her about that since I wasn’t ready to talk about the rape. I sought help through a civilian advocacy group and was diagnosed with PTSD due to MST by a civilian doctor. I got a good therapist at the hospital eventually who accepted the civilian’s diagnosis and started the medboard process.
I ran into an old friend from boot camp after transferring to the hospital since he was also stationed there. We started seeing each other a lot at the gym and around the barracks. He was really sweet and nice and with all I was going through, the support was greatly appreciated. He was trying hard to be there for me, especially after I broke up with my boyfriend. I told him that if he was trying to hook up with me, I wasn’t interested. He reassured me that he really just wanted to be my friend and help me through the difficult time.
One day, I invited him over to my apartment to watch a movie, but when he got there, he immediately started kissing me. Several times, I told him no and tried to push his hands off of me. Considering I was 5’4” and 125 lbs. and he was a former football player and bodybuilder, I couldn’t fight him too much. When saying no and pushing his hands away didn’t work, I accepted my fate and tried not to feel anything as he forced me to have sex with him for the next hour.
In March 2015, I came forward to my command to report the rape. I have since been medically discharged from the Navy for PTSD, but the investigation has been ongoing since March 2015. Another woman reported the assailant. With the two of us coming forward, the prosecuting lawyer thought he had a stronger case, but nothing happened for months.
In January 2016, I was informed that the prosecutor had changed duty stations, and we had a new trial counsel who wanted to re-examine the case. On February 10, the new prosecuting lawyer told me he would recommend moving this case forward to an Article 32. However, the other woman who had reported our assailant had dropped her case during the lawyer turnover. I was told this would weaken my case. While the prosecution no longer believed my assailant could get a conviction in a court-martial, I was told I could expect an Article 32 hearing in March and a court-martial in July or August. I was told to wait for them to set a date for the Article 32.
A date was still not set by June 2016. It hung over me and was an anchor that kept me stuck. There were so many times I wanted it all to be over and considered dismissing the case. I wanted to move on. Yet, I had come this far, and I couldn’t just let it go.
It had dragged on for so long that my Victims’ Legal Counsel (VLC), whom I trusted, had been up for new orders and changed duty stations, so I was transferred to someone else. Losing her was hard. Had we known a date for the Article 32, she could have come back to walk me through the rest of my case, but since we had no information, that was no longer possible.
On Friday, September 9, 2016, my new VLC now said the prosecuting lawyer was going to recommend my case be dismissed unless I testify at the Article 32. I learned that for the last six months that I was waiting for a date, the paperwork had not even been started to move my case forward to an Article 32. Additionally, not only did I get a new VLC and prosecuting lawyer for my case, but the hospital where I was stationed also got a new commanding officer and senior trial counsel. Literally every single person who had a say in what happened to my case had changed.
Lately the acquittal rates for cases like mine have been so high, the prosecution is only moving forward with cases they believe they can get convictions. So with mine, they wanted to recommend for complete dismissal. I asked if there were other options for holding my assailant accountable, even if they wouldn’t take him to court-martial. I had rights to address people with a say in whether or not the case went forward, but they failed to inform me of that right until I threatened to go to the press. After I threatened to contact the media, I was told a second prosecutor was reviewing my case, but this turned out to be a lie.
The prosecuting lawyer tried to absolve himself of any responsibility with my case. He told me that it didn’t matter what he did or recommended because in the end, the commanding officer of the hospital had the final say. He admitted that he had originally told me he was moving the case forward, but after months of not acting on it, he reviewed it again and decided there was nothing to be done. He told me the last six months of “waiting for a date” was simply a miscommunication.
To me, it was more than a miscommunication. It was lies that controlled my life for months. Is this how I should expect military officers and leaders to conduct their business? With such blatant issues and “miscommunication”? Is this who you want leading the U.S. in wars and giving orders to people of my rank?
March 2017 will be the two-year mark since this entire thing began, and I still don’t know what’s happening with my case. I’ve had no contact with anyone except my victims’ advocate since then, and now I’m losing her as well because she got a promotion and can no longer perform the duties of a victims’ advocate. I lost everyone involved in this and am alone in this battle against the Navy.
The military publicly claims to encourage and support victims coming forward. They repeatedly talk about how much better the system has become and how great their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program is. But where is the public headline that my very command, the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, failed their inspection of their SAPR program in 2015? A hospital that conducts rape kits and is responsible for a lot of our health care failed their SAPR program inspection. That should have hit headlines, but I’m sure no one wanted that to reach the media.
I am part of that program, and where has it gotten me? I’ve been lied to. How is that encouraging and supportive? The public stance of the military is a lie, and you only figure that out once you join and have to deal with the system and this process. It is not victim friendly and varies in degrees of severity and where the backlash exists. We usually face retaliation of some kind, or we get dismissed. The system is broken, and while I would believe the SAPR program has made it better, it’s not good enough yet. It’s still faulty and mismanaged.
Unfortunately, my experiences are not uncommon. Miscommunication, I’m told. I say, mismanaged. I say you lied to me. Miscommunication that is this extensive is inexcusable in every way. The system can’t hold my rapist accountable.
But I’m not going to let this go. I mentioned almost a year ago that I wanted to go public with my experiences as a woman in the Navy. It was recommended to me that I don’t discuss any of it because it could hurt my ongoing case. I was told it would give the defense counsel more information and subject me to more scrutiny. I’m talking though because this needs to be told. The military doesn’t want you to know this. For me, it is no longer just about the original case against my assailant. This is now about the system and how faulty it is. This is about how the Navy mismanaged my case and so many others’. Congress enacted a law in 2015 that tried to make things better for us, but the truth was they merely put a Band-Aid on an active fault line.
The only way to make them take any actions that will actually make a difference in the system is if enough of us, who have been through the system and know first-hand how inefficient and corrupt it is, start talking.