Hank’s Story

Hank’s Story

I joined the Navy, planning to make it my career. I loved all my training in the Navy and had great grades in all of them. On Christmas day in 1977, I boarded my fast-attack submarine. A few days before we were going into port, the guys in my department started telling me that they were going to get me “laid”. I just laughed it off, thinking it would never happen, but it was anything but a joke. I did everything I could to stay on the boat for the first few days. Around day 3 in port, the head of our department, a Chief, told me I needed to be ready to go out with him at 8 pm, and that this was “a direct order.”

At 8 pm, everyone from my department was at the bar, most of them well on their way to being drunk. Everyone sent beers to me, and the Chief made certain I drank them. I was feeling sick and begged the Chief to take me home. He told me to finish my beers, and then we would leave. I got the beers down and he told me we were going back to the boat. We walked down a long hallway when the Chief stopped and knocked on the door. Two women opened the door and he pushed me into the room. I was fighting my way back to the door, saying I wanted to go home. The Chief grabbed me by the arm and tossed me onto one of the beds, holding me down as these women started pulling off my clothes. I had a secret—as a child, my father burned me with a pot of coffee, which left scars. This was the first time my secret was out. I worked my way off the bed and onto the floor, and I sat in the corner of the room naked as the Chief had sex with them. I was in a state of shock.

When he was finished, the Chief tossed my clothes at me telling me, “We are all done here, now pay them.” I don’t remember leaving or the truck ride home to the submarine. All I remember is walking down the ladder to the mess deck with the Chief behind me. He was so drunk he could hardly walk, and he told everyone blow-by-blow details, including talking about the scars on the lower part of my body. The crew was yelling and laughing at me. I was so humiliated. I went into my storeroom, barricaded the door with cans, turned off the light, and lay on the floor. No words could ever describe how bad I felt. After a day or so, the Chief forced me out of the storeroom. I was changed and not one man on the sub tried to help me or get me help.

Back in the galley, an E5 started harassing me with sexual comments and threats. I complained to the Chief and my supply officer, but they thought it was funny. I asked the Chief to separate the E5 and I, but he did not! Trapped on a submarine, there is no chance to get away. The E5 knew he could harass me with no consequences, so things started getting worse. He started sliding past me in the galley, stopping behind me, and grinding his genitals against me, telling me, “You like that don’t you?”
We had been out to sea for a long time. The E5 was angry and acting strange. I was in fear of what he would do to me, so I broke down and cried. That was when the E5 sexually assaulted me. He put me in a headlock and forced my hand on his bare genitals. After I tried to get away, he pinned me against the door and raped me. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe, yell, or cry. Traumatized, I escaped to the bathroom and cleaned off, showered, and went back to the galley. The E5 was standing there and said, “That’s what you wanted wasn’t it?”

I had enough! I went to the supply officer and told him that if he didn’t do something, I was going off the boat at the next port and turn all of them in for letting everything go so far. In response, in January 1979, the Captain punished me with a Captain’s Mast for “gross disrespect towards my division officer.” At the Captain’s Mast, the Chief also threatened to discharge me for having sex with another man. He asked me if I understood “the chain of command” and pointed out that everyone I threatened was a superior to me. He told me that he had a great job lined up when he finished on the sub and wasn’t about to let a seaman put a black mark on his record. I was told to keep my mouth shut or my life wouldn’t be worth living. I was busted a pay grade and fined for 6 months. No one cared that I was raped; they only worried about their own careers. Instead of getting help, I was punished.

My military record is full of the many attempts I made to get off the boat. The E5 would rape me again. After a while, it just became part of the job, and I gave up on getting help.

I was turned down for reenlistment and forced out of the Navy on Christmas Eve, with no place to go or job to go to. I tried going home, but I was not the same person who left a few years earlier. My fiancée had married someone else and moved away. My Christian family all rejected me after I told them I was raped.

For many years, I never thought about it. I moved around from job to job, trying to find a place to fit in. Some time in my mid 30s, thoughts about the rapes started coming back to me, making me feel guilt, shame, embarrassed, self-loathing, depressed, and suicidal. I started having flashbacks all the time. I had body pains as if I had just been raped again. Being around any men gave me panic attacks. I couldn’t leave my home or work a job. I went to the VA and Vet Center for help. I started worrying about having STDs. I got tested to have peace of mind, only to find out I got AIDS from my rapist.

Around the year 2000, I applied for SSDI and a VA disability rating. At the time, the military didn’t acknowledge male-on-male rape, so people just laughed it off. After two years, I did get SSDI, but still lost everything I owned. I needed to sell all my valuables before I could get SSDI. I ended up living in poverty for many years. I couldn’t afford to have the fillings replaced in my teeth, so I ended up getting them pulled. I haven’t had any upper teeth in years. With no money, few friends, and no job, I really had nothing to live for and thought about killing myself. I now have been in treatment for more than 13 years and am taking things one day at a time. Just staying alive is a full-time job for me.

Servicemen today need to know that everyone in their chain of command should protect and support them if a perpetrator is harassing them, but they don’t. I wish the Navy had someone from the outside, not connected with my sub, who would visit the boat and check up on everyone. They need a list of all the men onboard, so no person can be hidden away. Also, the worst part of it all is that just one man needed to step up and say something and this would never have happened. Just one! Today, I want to do all I can to stop this from happening to our servicemen. I want you to know that what might seem like a joke to you today can destroy a man’s life forever. Sex is such a personal and private thing that you must protect yourself and coworkers. Remember why you signed up for the military in the first place. It was for a job and protecting your country, which includes protecting each other.