Vanessa’s Story

Vanessa’s Story

Around the time Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was appealed, I was sexually assaulted by a Navy recruiter out of Alhambra, California. I do not know his name, but he had contacted me a few times on the phone before he decided to set up an appointment to meet me so I could take my pre-test to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

The day of the sexual assault, I was at a diner; the recruiter and I sat outside a Vietnamese sandwich store where I had just gotten food. I showed up in my maroon USC sweat capris and t-shirt. While I sat there, taking the computer test outside, he had dark shades on and I felt like he was staring at me the whole time. After the test, he told me he had to take me back to the recruiting station in his government vehicle. I thought I could trust him because military personnel are to be trusted and have high morals.

We pulled up to the recruiting station, which looked secluded and dark, as it was a hidden building under a parking structure. He unlocked the door and we headed on in. Immediately upon entering the building, I saw a wall with Navy recruits’ pictures. I asked questions while he shuffled papers around on his desk. He checked his phone, and I asked him about the picture of his son on his desk. He showed me a picture on his phone and said he had just had a child.

I was still looking at the recruits and walked around the office. As my back was facing the wall and not the door, the assailant came up behind me, pulled my ponytail so that I would fall back onto him, feeling his warm, dense chest. Within a flash, his hands and arms were wrapped around me as he fondled my breasts.

He then pulled me into a room where a side office had been, leaned up against the door, and told me to suck his penis. I’m not sure much of the conversation after that until we were finished, and he was threatening me in his car to keep all of this confidential and forget it all.

This was the first incident affiliated with the military. The same or next day, I told the police, Army, and Navy.

From October 2011 to April 2012, I was in the Army delayed entry program. I had worked very hard to maintain fitness, lose weight, and learn cadences before Basic Training. From October 2011 to December 2011, I was in California. I then moved back home to spend time with my family from December 24, 2012 until I left for Basic Combat Training. That entire time, I trained with the Greenfield Recruiting Station, fostering a good rapport with future soldiers and recruiters.On April 4, 2012 I flew to Fort Jackson, South Carolina from Los Angeles International Airport. As soon as I stepped off the plane and onto the bus to be soldiered by drill sergeants, I knew my experience would be interesting.

I graduated, but I graduated with many wounds.

There were instances in Basic Combat Training where a group of females banded together and spread rumors to the drill sergeants, in particular one of the drill sergeants. I remember this drill sergeant coming into the Bay one night before we slept, and she lined us all up and exclaimed, “Whoever was being inappropriate needs to stop.” I didn’t know what that meant until a few days later when the female soldiers and drill sergeant pulled me aside and started accusing me of “eyeing down female soldiers, naked in the showers, and looking at them inappropriately.” I remember just standing by while the soldiers made as many accusations as possible. I never understood where these accusations came from. I didn’t do anything different; I just kept to myself and stayed silent.

Eventually, it got to a point where the drill sergeant commanded me not to go into the women’s shower room or bathroom while all the other soldiers showered. I had to be the last one in there sometimes and with an escort. The isolation went on for a month. Later on, the drill sergeant had told me that it was only for a few days, but it lasted for a few weeks. I have journal entries from that time as proof. I felt isolated, wondering, “Why are they doing this to me?” and “What have I done?”
A male drill sergeant backed me up and stood up for me towards the end when I complained about those unwarranted actions.

Then, after taking a SHARP class, I became upset because it reminded me of the “quid pro quo” assault by the Navy recruiter.

In the middle of May, I experienced my second sexual assault. It was nighttime, and we were marching out to the site where we would begin our live night-fire exercise that consisted of us crawling with weapons in the rain and on sand under barbwire as real tracer bullets flew overhead. But before that started, we had to sit under a coveringwhile we waited our turn. That night, it was pouring, so we were under there for at least a few hours. There was a male soldier sitting next to me who had taken a liking to me. I do not remember his name, but he was attempting to finger me and ended up rubbing my genital area while I tried to kick him and move. I quietly told him to stop. I was not trying to raise an alert. I just wanted to move. He was doing it for at least 10 minutes. I felt uncomfortable and tried moving, but couldn’t. We were packed in that tiny area like sardines.

Quite a few days passed before I reported because I didn’t want to get the soldier in trouble nor did I want more issues to arise, knowing I was being hazed and bullied. The drill sergeant had me talk to the SHARP rep, but they never did the official reporting and it doesn’t show in my records. I have silently reported this assault to mostly all the mental health providers. All they did was talk to the soldier and take our family days away. I told them I did not want to press charges, I just wanted them to be aware. The drill sergeants told me that I was making it up and could have stopped him. They insisted that I let him do it for that amount of time, and that was the end of it.

I graduated on June 14, 2012. I then advanced to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) where I eventually became an acting platoon sergeant, participated in drill honors, and scored well on my human resources exams, all while still under harassment from my female and male coworkers for my sexual orientation and not being “tough or normal” enough. One particular female and her friends bullied me nearly every day, and one of them became my roommate and still went on with rumors that I was “ogling” them. I reported many times to my platoon sergeant. Even while undergoing harassment from my fellow peers, I rose to the occasion, led soldiers, marched with them, and volunteered my time to serve food.

I graduated from AIT and was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea as my first duty station. From September until December 2012, I was the seen as a highly motivated soldier, who received waivers for her rank, did everything she was supposed to do, prepared for the board, was given accolades, and spoken very highly of by many leaders and peers.

The two most terrifying incidents are the ones I endured in South Korea during my first tour in the Army. In the first incident, the assailant kissed me on the lips, I didn’t kiss back. He continued to kiss my breasts from left to right, simultaneously, and started tracing his lips down my stomach while placing his hand in my pants. As I kept tightening my legs, he kept asking “No?”, but when he couldn’t get me to stop tightening my legs, he proceeded to start kissing me and playing with my chest the same way as before. When forcefully pried my legs open, I became numb and couldn’t resist anymore.

On the night of the assault, December 1, 2012, my supervisor rushed me to the Emergency Room for a nurse to evaluate me and begin the process of reporting. This is where victimization came into play and when I was forever stigmatized with a label above my head that told the world I was a victim of sexual assault. Imagine you are in a room in tears, scared, and humiliated with your supervisor and the medical provider. The provider asks you to tell him what happened, the sexual acts, and jotting, “He said, she said” right in front of you. Nonetheless, during the process, they collected a rape kit. I had to spend three to four days in a room with investigators and no sleep as they interrogated me. I felt ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed, and like I was a criminal.

After reporting to the Criminal Investigation Command, my story was out. All the SHARP representatives could say was, “Good job!” and “That was the right thing to do, you spoke up!” but deep down inside, I felt disgusted with myself – how I could let this happen to me again? When the assaults occurred, my body went numb and my mind was barely involved. That was the beginning of being victimized, and it just got worse throughout the year.

Immediately after reporting, I had to return back to the barracks only to find out my Commander wanted to speak with me so I walked to her office, only to be humiliated once again. I was told to sleep on a cot in the staff duty office and be monitored for the first three days after the assault. From there, I was allowed back in my room and only allowed to leave the battalion if I had one of my NCOs present.

During that treatment, which lasted well over a month, I was forced to attend behavioral health classes, all while being threatened by my Commander to be chaptered out due what she interpreted as my “failure to adapt to the military environment.” Furthermore, I was cast out by my unit because someone told everyone I was assaulted. Please consider the possibility, by understanding and imagining yourself in my boots, that by being isolated and mistreated, any soldier would want to take his or her own life. I finally understood why the military has so many suicides, and in those conditions, all I could do was huddle on the floor, crying and screaming at myself. The feeling of disgust grew deeper and deeper until one day I looked in the mirror and decided to volunteer for a Winter Fashion Show. After that uplifting event, I was able to move forward, and I attempted to train for the air assault mobile unit that was coming to Korea.

As the stigma followed me throughout my 1-year tour, I treaded lightly until I was assaulted yet again at the end of my tour. Unfortunately, this second assault ended up following me to my current unit, which I am still being victimized for.

Remarkably, I was able to pass all the rigors of the air assault entry test. In my mind, I thought, “I can do this. I am not going to allow these assaults overcome me, and I will prove my ability to continue the fight.” As I have demonstrated the power of being resilient and persevering, I would have never made it to this point where I am today If I didn’t have the courage and willpower to overcome fear of reprisal, disrespect among my past units, and my self-deprecation. I speak to you not as a victim but as a survivor of sexual assault.