In October of 2017, I was selected to attend the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium in Orlando with dozens of others from my wing. I was one of two females from my base that attended, the other being a married Major.
Throughout the duration of the event, a maintenance member repeatedly hung around with me and made small talk, but I did not think much of it as it just seemed friendly. At the end of the last evening, after the formal banquet, the man invited me to come have drinks and hit the pool with the rest of the group.
When I went downstairs to the bar area he was the only person around. The outdoor pool had been rained out so we went to find the indoor pool and I assumed others from the group would join us. We hung out in the hot tub for a while and eventually we kissed, after which I told him clearly that even though I was interested in him, I was seeing someone else at home and did not want to pursue any further physical relations.
This, however, did not dissuade him and he kept making advances, even peeling up my swimsuit top to see one of my breasts. I kept brushing him off and telling him “no,” and we eventually went upstairs so I could change out of my wet (revealing) swimsuit. I was afraid to just blow him off, as he was a 220lb prior special ops member, and I was unsure how he would react. During the course of me trying to get changed, he made several more aggressive advances including kissing down my stomach, trying to take down my pants after I said “no,” and gripping me bent over the bathroom counter while he kissed my back and told me how he had been imagining having sex with me like that all week. Finally we left the room and went back down to the bar where I ran into several friends… though they could clearly tell I was uncomfortable, no one intervened. At the end of the night the man took me back up to my room and wouldn’t let me close the door until he’d kissed me again.
This was not my first assault, nor my worst, but this time I really thought I was ready. As soon as I landed at home the next day, I had a friend drive me to the ER to have an assault kit done, making sure that I had not showered since the attack to preserve evidence. Having gone through victim advocate training and worked with this specific ER, I knew saliva was one of the longest lasting sources of DNA and he had left his all over me.
Instead of the help I was expecting to receive from a program I was part of and believed in, I was met with blame and shame from the get-go. The ER didn’t have a friendly rapport with me and repeatedly asked me questions about what I was wearing, why I didn’t leave, was I sure I said “NO,” etc. The ER didn’t even want to take DNA swabs, but finally relented and took them. Then, when I decided I wanted to pursue an unrestricted report, I was cautioned that to do so would mean getting in trouble because of the man I was seeing at home (whose name I had to give due to having had physical relations within the last week), even though that had nothing to do with my case, and the possibility of a smear campaign against me due to my other restricted reports. I was shot down before I could even begin.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is our justice system for sexual assault and it desperately needs to be changed. My story could have ended so much worse, but I still am pained every day that myself and the other victims around me cannot get the justice we truly deserve.