Jessie’s Story

Jessie’s Story

I would first like to start my story with a big Thank You to God for making me a survivor and giving me the opportunity to share my story with the other survivors, the families and friends who just want to show their support or try to understand why tragedies like this occur in the military, a place that you would never think it could happen. Second, I would like to take the time to say thank you to my mom and dad who have supported me honorably and to the rest of my family and friends who never lost faith in me and have stood by my side my entire life.

I enlisted in the United States Navy in the spring of 2008. I was 19 years old when I started the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). I did the DEP program for roughly six months, and I left for boot camp on September 28, 2008. I was 20 years old. While in boot camp, I was in a performing division that performed at graduations and presented the State Flags. I graduated from boot camp the day before Thanksgiving and went to Hospital Corpsman School as a Navy medic. I graduated from my “A school” at the end of March and reported for duty at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC).

While stationed in Bethesda, Maryland, I worked in the Emergency Department for my first year and a half and then transferred to the pulmonary sleep lab. While being stationed at the NNMC, our main mission was to provide support in the war efforts by taking care of the wounded warriors. I also dated my ex-fiancé for the majority of these two years. My fiancé asked me to marry him prior to me leaving NNMC for a new duty station in Sigonella, Italy.

I reported for duty in May 2011 to Naval Hospital Sigonella where our primary mission was to provide support for Operation Libya. After two weeks of an introduction (INDOC) class, I reported for my first week of duty at the hospital. I didn’t know at the time, but by that following Monday morning, I would be reporting sexual assault by a fellow sailor.

I had only been on the island 17 days before I was raped. It was a normal Sunday morning at the barracks. My roommate asked if I wanted to go to the pool across the street so I could meet some of her friends and hopefully make some friends of my own. The pool was this extravagant in-ground pool with a swim-up bar. As Sunday continued on, my roommate, her friends, and I were drinking all day. I had done everything my dad told me not to do at a bar. I would leave my drink at the bar, go to the bathroom, and continue drinking the same drink. The only precaution I took regarding my drink was to let my roommate or one of her friends know I was going to the bathroom and to watch my drink, but they had all been drinking as well and I don’t think they remembered to watch my drink.

My roommate had introduced me to my assailant one night when they were hanging out, so he was an acquaintance. That Sunday, he showed up to the pool. He and I ended up being partners in a good, old- fashioned game of chicken. The last thing I remember is signing to get my card back and picking up my black backpack. On Monday morning, I woke up and my body felt sore. My left knee had a huge bruise on it. I instantly rationalized this as, “Jessie, you were drinking yesterday and probably fell down.” So I started getting ready for work when I noticed small, fingerprint bruises on my forearms and once again rationalized this as, “Jessie, you played chicken yesterday in the pool and that’s what the bruises are from.” However, I kept trying to piece together my night, feeling uncertain of what happened and asked myself how I got through the gate to my barracks. Who walked me to my room? When did I change out of my bathing suit? I saw that I called my fiancé the night before, but didn’t remember the conversation. I called him and he told me I broke up with him. Since I had moved to a new continent, our relationship wasn’t exactly easy – he was very over-protective and we had been arguing nonstop – but we reconciled and got back together. I continued to get ready for work and went to put my hair up in a bun when I saw that my left bicep had a bruise of a hand from where I had been pinned down. At this point, my anxiety and questions about the night before got worse. I started walking into work and one of my second class petty officers was giving me a hard time about not going hiking with the group that weekend. I literally flipped out and after showing my second class the bruises, he escorted me to the ER to begin the rape kit. While in the ER, I received a text from my assailant asking if I wanted to go to lunch. I asked him what happened last night and his reply was that we had sex. The nurse told me to stop blaming myself, that I couldn’t consent, and it’s not my fault.

There are now two types of sexual assault reports: unrestricted, which launches a criminal investigation and where your command is informed about the assault, and restricted, which is confidential from your command and allows you to get a rape kit and medical care. However, the medical person I talked to felt the need to tell my leading petty officer about the assault, who then reported it to my chain of command. So I went from having a choice of reporting options straight to unrestricted before the rape kit was even complete.

I filed my statement with NCIS who told me they thought I had been roofied and wanted me to see them in the morning to ask me questions. After the rape kit was complete, I went home on “sick in quarters” for three days. Three days, 72 hours, isn’t exactly a long time to process a traumatic event. After thinking about my family and my fiancé, I decided to go forward with pressing charges against my assailant.

The real pain didn’t start until I went back to work. I don’t know which is worse – getting raped or making a victim feel raped all over again. When I went back to work, I got pulled into my chief’s office and was told I had to complete a week-long “Alcohol Impact Class” because I had admitted to drinking on Sunday, even though I had no alcohol in my system when I was in the ER. I completed the course and continued seeing my psychiatrist, fleet, and family counselors for the first month. The Navy never once moved me out of the room I was raped in; they never moved my assailant out of my building, so I saw him every time I would go outside to smoke. My assailant would follow me and I tried to get a military protective order against him, but was told that despite the ongoing investigation, I had no plausible cause to file for one. I didn’t feel safe. While my assailant was on legal hold pending an Article 132 pretrial hearing, he was allowed to go home to get married. Meanwhile, I – the victim – was fighting to go home on convalescent leave for a week to see my family.

After continued harassment from my chain of command, my chief moved me down to staff education and training where my mentor, who is also a rape victim, worked so I had more support. Also, one of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners was a Commander and the Division officer there. I thank my chief for sending me there and recognizing the ongoing harassment. On my first day there, my old leading petty officer (LPO) came down and started harassing me again about how I was wrong so my new LPO came out and told my old LPO that, if he had nothing professional to talk to me about, he needed to leave me alone. For the first time that I was in Sicily, I felt like I had a support system and a safe place to talk if I needed to without getting reprimanded for being a human with feelings.

On the day of the Article 132 hearing, I felt sick to my stomach. My victim advocate was allowed to come into the courtroom with me for support. I took the witness stand first and was presented with pictures of me basically running around the barracks in just my bikini top, which I didn’t remember, and I felt violated all over again. There was also a video that this guy took while in my room that I also didn’t remember. All I kept wondering was what happened that day because the defense was pointing fingers at me like I had asked for this to happen. My assailant had apparently said that we had rough sex and that’s why I had bruises. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The defense kept asking question after question until I started to get overwhelmed, but I was not going to let this guy see me cry. I looked at the Captain who was the judge and asked if I could have a minute. I took maybe 15 minutes, threw up, cried, collected myself, and went back into the courtroom where I was asked questions about my sex life. I was asked if I was only proceeding with this case to prove to my fiancé that I didn’t cheat on him. The last questions they asked me was whether I understood the consequences if my assailant got convicted, that he could do jail time in a military prison, and if I had anything I wanted to confess. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I knew what the consequences were if he got convicted, and I had nothing to confess because I did nothing wrong.

My friends and my roommate were questioned as well and said the defense tried to flip everything around and put the blame back on me. It blew my mind that the military would do this. I wondered over and over that maybe this was my fault, maybe I had said yes, but how can a person consent when they are incapacitated? I guess I thought that in the Navy, there would be upstanding citizens and that the core values of Honor, Courage, Commitment. Instead, I found out that the whole saying Ship, Shipmate, Self was a lie. I knew they weren’t going to punish my assailant. Everything I thought the military stood for was questioned and worst of all, my character was questioned. I never got into trouble until I was assaulted. I was known in the barracks as the girl who cried rape. I was talked about, picked on, and made to believe that this was all my fault.

After the hearing was over, I went home on convalescent leave and saw my fiancé and my family to try and regroup myself. But I felt like something was missing, like this light had just been drained from me and there was this voice inside screaming, but nobody heard anything. Every time my fiancé would try to be intimate, I couldn’t do anything without crying. It hurt that he couldn’t understand why I was emotional.

While on leave, my JAG officer called and told me that they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed to a trial and that he would be out of Sicily within the month. I was so confused. It felt like everything I did was for nothing, that all the judgment I received from everyone wasn’t fair, and I felt like nobody understood anything I was saying. My assailant didn’t even get extra duty or restricted to the base. How is this fair?

This is when I went into “fake it ‘till you make it” mode. I could put on a smile and be sarcastic and everyone thought I was fine. After the assault, and when I went back to Sigonella, I decided to get really involved with the command and started a sexual assault group for males and females. I also took time to speak with high school students about the effects of alcohol and what can happen when you leave your drink unattended. Speaking about my assault helped release the tension inside of me.

While stationed at Sigonella, I also ended up getting titanium in my spine and was sent back to the U.S. for a disc replacement. I didn’t know that when I got the disc replacement, it would be the end of my Naval career. I was then reassigned to Great Lakes, IL to start the medical board process for the disk replacement and PTSD due to the rape. I would say that this was when my PTSD started to get so bad that I was only allowed to work half days. They had me on around 40 different medications. I started to learn very quickly that numbing my feelings made everything go away and I believed that I needed a pill for everything. It was almost like they wanted me to be so numb. I became of shell of my former self. It wasn’t until I got discharged from the Navy on July 28, 2014 and moved back to my parents’ house that I started to properly heal.

My parents knew I was addicted to my medication. I was in denial that I had a problem and felt like the doctors were prescribing it for a reason, so I needed to take them. Even when I didn’t need to take them, I would take them. I didn’t realize at the time that that year would be the hardest year of my life. Sometimes, I would take my medication just so I could sleep. By the time May came, I realized I had a problem and that something wasn’t right with my medication. I told my mom, and she took me to the VA Emergency Room. Little did I know this would be my first trip to the inpatient psych ward, but it wouldn’t be the last. I left the inpatient psych ward and was back in the hospital two nights later. My dad and I had gotten into a fight about my medication and both my parents wanted to control my medication. The argument spiraled out of control and ended up with an ambulance ride to the hospital because I decided to kill myself.

I know and understand how sad of a place a person has to be in to want to die because I have tried to do it. To feel like you have no other choice to escape your pain is an extremely vulnerable situation and I hope I never feel like that again. That morning, I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit. As I looked around the room, I saw my mom, dad, and two sisters. I then got admitted back to the VA in Marion, Indiana to the inpatient psych ward where I asked for help with substance abuse. The Marion VA told me that because I have never admitted to having a drug problem, I would have to start with an intensive outpatient program (IOP), so I did as soon as I left the inpatient ward. Unfortunately, IOP was a joke. Overall, I was admitted to the ICU four or five times last year, each time resulting with a trip to the inpatient psych ward in Marion. Each time, I pleaded for help. I was denied for the substance abuse program at the Marion VA twice before being accepted to the Battle Creek VA in Michigan.

Battle Creek saved my life. In many ways, it brought to light a lot of things I was in denial about put me around other veterans who understood what I was struggling with in a judgment-free environment. I completed my first program in September and then went to the Psychosocial Residential Rehabilitation program (PRRTP). I was in this program for a month and half when I had an accidental overdose in October. I was at the beginning of my recovery and it has been a rollercoaster ride. I was very fortunate to be able to get back into my program and had to start back at the beginning. This time was different. I don’t know what exactly changed or what clicked in my head. People had been telling me for years to write my perpetrator a letter, not that he would read it, but to do it for myself to express how I feel. I had tried this psychological tactic multiple times, but never felt any different. I think what made this time different was I forgave my perpetrator so I could forgive myself and move forward with my life. That moment in time is forever frozen. I felt like I went from being a victim to being a survivor. It’s a moment I hold close to my heart. I am thankful for this moment because this was when the true healing started.

I finished my program on February 17, 2016 and have been sober since October 26, 2015. This is a miracle and I am very thankful I finally feel like myself. Don’t get me wrong – I still have bad days and on those days, I consider it a win just getting out of my bed. I am able to channel my emotions and not be as impulsive as I used to be. I try to remember to tell God thank you for letting me wake up. Please trust that I have days where life just knocks the wind right out of me, but I have learned I can get through these moments. I learned that being extremely uncomfortable doesn’t mean putting a substance in my body is needed to get through it. I am proud to say I am sober and I am even prouder that I am alive to help others who are dealing with the same struggles.

I had no idea when I joined the Navy at 20 that, by the time I was 27, I would have survived being raped by a fellow sailor, being victimized and scrutinized by my chain of command and everyone around me, going through a medical board and being discharged after six years of honorable service, going to jail for a DUI, and going through a substance abuse program all within a little over a year of being released from active duty. The biggest thing I would say I have learned throughout this year is that just because a situation doesn’t turn out the way that I wanted it to, doesn’t mean that me walking away or saying no and standing up for myself is a bad choice. I am slowly realizing how much value I do have and am working hard every day to love myself. Although I can never go back to that innocent 20-year old self, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the good things that life has to offer. I have only been able to see the brightness of my future through the struggles of my past and it is in these moments I find my inner strength. I have faith that as survivors, we have a voice to make a difference in the system that has let so many of us down and that we can make the system better for future victims.

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read my story and I hope you all have a blessed day.