I am a 42-year-old mother, wife, and grandmother. I joined the United States Air Force in June 1988. I was so happy and ready to join the good guys, to be part of the team that keeps others safe. Little did I know that the guys that I needed to fight stood right beside me.
My first encounter with sexual harassment happened immediately. My recruiter invited me to his house under the pretence that he had invited all of the recruits over for a party. When I arrived to his house and no one was there, I asked him where everyone was. He explained to me that I had misunderstood the time and was an hour early. So I sat down to wait for the other ones and he sat beside me. First, he started to make polite conversation. Then he made sure that I understood all the trouble he went through to get me the job I wanted. I told him how grateful I was because It was very important to me to enter under a job that I wanted. Then he put his hands on my legs and when I went to move it off, he grabbed my hand really hard and told me that I owed him.
That was when I figured out there was no party. How stupid of me. I jumped off of the couch and screamed, “If you touch me, your wife will know!” I guess he believed me because he did not come after me. I ran to my car, cried all the way to my home and told myself this man was only one bad seed of dishonor to the military. No man who joins to serve the country could be that way. After that, I transferred to New Orleans and would never see him again.
What a naïve child I was because the worst was yet to come. I will spare you all the little incidents of accidental touches or names I was called because there were too many. My second big encounter was at my first station on the 33rd Combat Communication SQ. I was working as a supply person (which was not the job I was promised, what a surprise). I was receiving a part after hours, so I was by myself in the office making sure all the paperwork was in order, when a new supervisor showed up. I was surprised, so I asked him what he was doing in there. He explained that since he was new, he wanted to learn the procedures, which made sense to me. I was sitting on the desk when I felt something on my shoulder. At first, I thought that it was his hand, but for some reason it did not feel right. When I looked back, it was his penis. I asked him what he was doing and he closed his pants like nothing had happened and left. I stayed there for a long time because I thought he might be waiting in the parking lot. When I finally got home, I could not talk. I just lay there, thinking all of it had just been a nightmare.
The next day, I did what I was always told to during basic training: When you have a problem, yo go to your First Sergeant, the protector of the enlisted people. So I did. To my surprise, when I finished telling him my story, he said that I deserved the treatment since women did not belong military, especially a Puerto Rican. I was stunned to say the least. I told him that I would go to the commander and tell him what had happened. In a very scary voice he said that I can go ahead and tell whomever I want because they will not believe the word of an airman over my word. I did learn a lesson that day: I was at the mercy of that monster. The months after that where brutal. He gave me every hard duty he could find, even when I was pregnant. He made me drive the MC35 trucks, and I remember my belly hitting the steering wheel and my legs barely reaching the pedals.
In August of 1990, after my son had just turned a year old, there was once more terrible news: I was being sent to the Gulf War. The funny thing was that several guys in my office volunteered to go in my place, but my offers were declined. So there I was, saying goodbye to my baby and getting on a plane to Bahrain.
While serving in the Gulf War, I was raped. I remember every detail as if it was yesterday. I was going to take a shower in the women-only shower and I remember walking in to see some girls at the sinks and hearing a shower running. I stepped out of my uniform, grabbed my towel and toiletries. I remember facing the shower and starting to shampoo my hair, I felt someone standing behind me. I thought it was another girl looking for an open shower stall. And when they stayed, I thought that maybe she wanted to ask me for some toiletries. Before I could rinse my face or turn around, I felt the full force of an arm around my neck and a naked body pressed against me. His arms were so strong and he kept squeezing my throat and abusing me. All I could think was, God, please let me see my son again. I really don’t remember how long it lasted – all I remember is being in the corner of the shower, scared to look back. Once I got up, I ran and put my uniform on while I was still soaking from the shower.
I ran as fast as I could to my tent. By the time I got there, I was hysterically crying and incoherent. I finally spoke to the highest-ranking person in my tent and we went to the security police and wrote a statement. After that, nothing happened. No trip to the doctor or anything else. I was told to return to my tent and report to work the next day.
The next six months were hell, knowing that my rapist knew who I was and I did not know who he was. He could be talking or standing next to me. All I could think was, Please take me out of here.
When I finally left, I went to the security police and asked for a copy of my report. The answer that I got was, “What report?” When I got back, the rumor was that I deserved what happened to me.