By Stacey, United States Coast Guard
Joining the Coast Guard seemed only natural for me. My Grand-father was a retired United States Coast Guard officer, my father and my three uncles all served with the Coast Guard, with an uncle that was a Master Chief. I grew up in a fundamental evangelical home having been home schooled by my mother and father who has become a pastor since leaving the Coast Guard. At the age of 17 I was on the bus to TRACEN Cape May, NJ to continue the family tradition.
I do not remember much about the rape. It was week six. I was called into the office of my Company Commander. He closed the door and raped me. I don’t remember much else. I remember after it all happened sitting on the floor of my squad bay watching my shipmates as if everything was in slow motion. Sitting there, numb. I could not cry. I think they called us to go somewhere or something cause I remember them all leaving. I remember just sitting there and my lead Company Commander (not the rapist) coming in looking for me. He was angry that I was not in formation and kept on asking what was wrong with me but I could not respond. He sent me to medical. I remember the medics asking me questions. Ridicules questions and I could only nod yes or no. I was sent to the hospital in town. A friendly nurse asked what was wrong but I could not respond.I was mute. I could not talk. She finally asked if I was raped and I nodded yes and started to cry. A rape kit was conducted at the hospital. Because of the level of emotional distress that I was feeling I was required to stay several nights in the psych. unit.
When I returned to TRACEN Cape May I was reverted to an earlier company. It was their way of separating us. I still saw my assailant at the chowhall and he found it fun to pick me out in line and question me on Coast Guard-related material. It was not much different than what every other recruit had to do only difference is that I was doing this with the man that raped me. He was eventually told not to speak to me and by doing so they moved my chow hour till after everybody left the mess deck. Not only was I being pulled away from my company to be investigated and questioned but was also ordered to eat alone. That Sunday I went to the religious services that was offered for all recruits. The Chaplin allowed me to use his phone to call home. I left a message for my parents.
On Monday and every Monday after that for almost six months I was reverted to an earlier company. I received orders to Seattle but because of the rape allegations I had to remain in Cape May until the investigation was complete. Instead of allowing me to graduate and assigning me a temporary position somewhere in Cape May they instead decided to revert me. I know week-six of Coast Guard bootcamp like the back of my hand, I did after all repeated it 23 times.
The investigation was a very difficult process. They questioned me close to 20 times often repeating the questions as if they were hoping that I would give a different response and change my story. I did not. I was asked why I went to my Company Commander’s office. What recruit will say no when her Company Commander calls her to their office? They asked if I was flirtatious to him. I was 17 years old being raised and homeschooled by conservative fundamentalist evangelist I do not think I knew what being flirtatious even meant. They also asked what I was wearing and told them my uniform just like every other recruit. The rape kit was “misplaced” and eventually they blamed me for losing the rape kit. It is against policy wherever you go to give the rape kit to the survivor but was to be kept by the hospital or law enforcement officials to review for forensic evidence yet somehow it was my fault for it being misplaced Almost six months later the investigation was concluded and they found “not enough creditable evidence to prosecute”. Years later I was unable to find a copy of my investigation and medical records from the Coast Guard. I was able to locate my hospital records from the civilian hospital that shows that a rape kit was performed. I was allowed to graduate and during graduation I could not find my family in the stands.
I had two weeks off before I had to report to duty. I went home and my mom answered the door and acted like it was any other day. My dad did not even get up from the couch. My Grandfather that lived upstairs in our duplex did not make an appearance. Something was wrong. This was not the welcome home that I was expecting. I went to my room and went to bed. The next morning everybody in my house exploded. My family was embarrassed and angry at me. My Grandfather, in his 35 years of service knew of only three rape cases and in each case the woman was “lying”. He was angry that I became “one of those girls”. My uncle agreed with him. My mother, being very fundamentalist religious was most concern about my virginity-or lack of and how pre-maritial sex looks in God’s eyes. I guess there is a quote somewhere in the bible that says that women who are raped are at fault and we should have fought till we die cause we are useless if we are rape victim and better off dead. I just remember her repeating it constantly to me. I was now a sinner. I spent the remaining days crashing at a friend’s house before making my way to Seattle.
In Seattle a shipmate picked me up from the airport and first thing he asked me was what did I do to get in trouble. I did not understood his question. It turns out that TRACEN Cape May told the crew of my unit that I was being delayed in Cape May due to an investigation, that is true, but it was interpreted by the crew that I was the one being investigated. Less than six months later I was being separated from service.
I was not welcomed back home. Because of my age and no job I was having difficulties renting an apartment in Seattle without a co-signer. I did not even own a car that I could live in. I met some people and went through a downwards, self destructive path. They introduced me to drugs and alcohol. The VA rated at 100% for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I used the disability money to self medicate because the pain that I was feeling from the rape and betrayal was so severe that I only knew how to numb it with alcohol and drugs. I knew I needed to improve my life. I ended up in a college class room. I never completed that semester. The kids in my class were around my age and living without a care in the world while I was dealing with a rape, being betrayed by my shipmates, my family and my country as well as being homeless. I moved constantly, mostly with men who were no good for me. I was battling severe addiction problems. I ended up in Boston at a party where I met my future husband who was a junior in college. We hit it off pretty well and I crashed on his couch for several weeks till he told me to get myself a job or move out. With his help I went through intense treatment for alcohol and drugs and finally made my way back to college and this time I graduated. We got married and moved to Washington DC for Graduate School. I landed a job working with the Congress where I am still employed today. I have a two years old son and another on the way. I have been sober for close to 10 years.
It is not all a happy ending though. My family is still not speaking to me, not even to see their grandson. They are even angrier that I went public with my story. However I do have a new family now; my son, my husband and his very supportive family. I also have my sisters, not sisters by blood but sisters in that we all served and all we been raped. Most importantly my little sister and the only person that I can call shipmate. I met her when she stood on the steps on Capital Hill telling America that she was Active Duty Coast Guard and a rape survivor. I remember just turning around and telling her “me too” and automatically we knew what each other went through and built a bond that won’t ever be broken. That is my family now.
I am lucky, I have a fairly high position working for a Congressperson and access to the entire Congress at my fingertips. But what about other people? It’s my duty to do whatever I can to stop this abuse and I hope by sharing my experience that anyone who feel that they are at the very bottom and do not see a way out that there is help out there and you can continue to live a very successful life despite what we went through in the military. If you told 19 years old me living on the street that one day I’ll be working for a Congressperson and be married with kids I wouldn’t have believed it but as long as you surround yourself with people that want to help and get professional treatment you can get better. It does get better but we need to work for it. I still have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and extreme anger by what happened to me in the Coast Guard but I need to take that anger and channel it in a positive way that would make changes for the better.