In 1977, I was the victim of attempted rape and murder in the Navy Barracks. I want to emphasize that I was never the perpetrator’s “girlfriend,” and we were never in an intimate relationship. He was an acquaintance in the barracks. He saw me one day and continually asked me out every time our paths crossed. When I told him that, due to my schedule, he would have to go to church with me if he wanted to see me, he attended with me one Sunday. One other time, we took a ride in his car to get a soda. This was the extent of our “relationship.” The next time I saw him was when he attained access to the women’s barracks at 0300 on March 12, 1977. When I told him I was sleeping and could not talk, he pushed his way into my room and attempted to rape and murder me. I did not smell alcohol on his breath and he did not act in an irrational manner such as yelling or screaming at me, so his behavior was puzzling to me. He did not count on me saying NO to his advances. I was a virgin and had not even had a serious boyfriend, so I was not equipped emotionally to cope with this man. I joined the Navy at 17 and had been in for a year and a half when this happened. I never anticipated the danger I could be in, since I was in a Navy barracks, which I assumed to be secure.
The physical injuries I received seem trivial compared to the mental toll this assault has had on my life. I had numerous abrasions around my neck and face along with the blood vessels in my left eye breaking due to the strangulation. I suffered a severely lacerated tongue, making eating and talking difficult. That was ok because I did not feel like talking – I felt numb and was in shock. The mental toll has recently come to a point, 37 years later, where the nightmares and insomnia have been so difficult to manage along with working that I have taken 12 months off. I was accepted into a PTSD (Military Sexual Assault) Program at the VA. I completed this program and went from blaming myself and feeling guilty all these years to seeing I had nothing to do with this man’s behavior, and it was not my fault. The financial total of my recent leave of absence is approximately $90,000 in lost wages, not counting my living expenses while I have been off.
I have been a productive member of society these past 37 years. I channeled my guilt and anger through overworking and avoidance. I neglected my ex-husband and my daughter because, if I “stopped,” I would have to listen to all the “rambling” in my head. I went back to work the day after this assault happened and never received therapy or support of any kind from the Navy in 1977. The culture in the Navy at the time was that I needed to “be strong.” Weakness was not something you wanted to show, especially as a woman in that era.
I was so ashamed about it all that I never told any of my friends or family, not even my mother or ex-husband, who have now both passed away, and it is too late. This assault has impacted my life and my family. My overworking and avoidance have left me with poor skills in building trusting relationships. Unable to attain a close, “authentic” relationship, I missed out on it all with my ex-husband and daughter. My trust is now slowly returning after therapy, but at what cost to my life? If I had to list my accomplishments they would be: I raised a poised and confident daughter on my own after her dad and I divorced; I attained two Associate degrees and am now working on my B.A.; and I have been an Occupational Therapy Assistant for 19 years after I retired from the Naval Reserves with 8 years of active duty and 14 years of Naval Reserve time. My health has been impacted by my depression. I isolate myself and still have difficulty sharing my feelings due to the numbness. How much more fulfilling could my life had been without this assault?
I cannot forget to address the one thing that still haunts me. I was a witness for the prosecution at my perpetrator’s murder trial in 1978. The incident was so similar to my assault that it brought home how close I came to dying and how I was not afraid of dying because I am a Christian. I am afraid of something like this happening again and living through it.
This man has also badly hurt other women, including one woman he stabbed to death. I am here to speak for her, too. She is a part of the reason I wanted to share my story. This woman should also not be forgotten.