My Military Experience Mirrored an Abusive Childhood.

Jen STG2 United States Navy

Gandhi said:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win.”

I grew up in a seemingly normal barely middle class home. What I mean by barely middle class was that I was born to two unemployed college students who moved from their provincial southern California hometown to the emerging economic boomtown that would become Silicon Valley.

My mother was an interesting but chronically depressed woman. My father was a seemingly jovial but bipolar alcoholic former Marine .He would say, “Once a Marine always a Marine. My father glorified his days as a Marine serving in Vietnam. He felt that his Purple Heart gave him a license to do pretty much anything that he wanted. Anything that he wanted includes beat and molest his children and psychologically terrorize his wife, my mother. They both put on a good game face and everything looked great.

In John Bradshaw’s terms, I was the “Acting out child.” The acting out child is relevant to the military rape that will come several years later. I knew that things in the house were wrong and I called attention to that fact. By the time that I was twelve years old, I was popping all sorts of over the counter allergy and sleeping pills to stay disengaged. I found solace in poetry and drama. I even watched pathetic soap operas as an escape.

By the time that I was in high school, we had moved to Duchess County New York because the IBM there looked as if it were going to be a new Silicon Valley. My father went to IBM East Fishkill ahead of us and I was hoping at this time that my mother would file for divorce and refuse to join him in New York. She didn’t. We moved to New York in May of 1983. I was about to turn thirteen.

Things looked normal for a while. My parents rented a house with five bedrooms in Rural Pleasant Valley New York. Things seemed like they were going to be great. I thought things had changed.

My parents eventually bought a raised ranch in the town of Pleasant Valley. My father’s drinking reemerged and the abuse came back. He had always physically and sexually abused my sister and me. One night he came to basement where we had bunk beds. He began to assault me, “As punishment.”

I was on the bottom. He had me pinned with one foot free. I called out to my sister. She whined, “Go to bed Dad.” She must have forgotten to say please. I pleaded for her help while she lay on the top bunk wishing that this was not happening. Perhaps she was in shock. She could wish all she wanted. I did not have that luxury.

The bunk beds were not very stable. I kicked the top bunk over and over until the top rack dropped on my father and me. My sister pulled him off of me and went and got my mother who came downstairs and took my father to bed. Betrayal began in the home.

Eventually, I told my father that I was going to turn him in for that night. He looked at me with his mean Marine stare and said, “I’ll beat the charges.” I did not turn him in for at least a year.

About a year later, I took off with a friend. We planned to report the crime. When the police picked us up I reported the assault. The police sent me home to my abuser and we were ordered by social services to attend eight visits of family counseling. This solved nothing!

I grew up and became a small time stand-up comic. Being wasted was a big part of my stick. Many funny people are damaged. Humor saved me. I was terrified to go out on the road as a stand-up. I knew the likelihood revisiting dangerous places. I put my career on hold and took a job at IBM in Burlington, Vermont, where my father was a legend.
I left that job to join the Navy in my mid twenties. I thought that I could serve my country, sober up, toughen up, and get back on the road as a stand-up when I got out. I really felt at home in the Navy.

I became the walking recruiting advertisement. I went to school on the side and I volunteered everywhere. I was grateful to be in the Navy. I loved being alive.
Things began to crash at FleetASWSan Diego. There were three men in C-School who were white power advocates. I have mixed faith and I feel closer to the Tanakh than the New Testament. I wore a Star of David back then. At a PT muster, one of these bullies saw the Star of David and yelled “Hey you dirty Jew” at me in front of sixty people who remained silent. Silent. Like my sister on top of that bunk back home. The difference, they were not barely thirteen years old and should be held to a higher standard.

I turned the haters in. The higher ranking among them – already on a suspended bust – was relieved of his supervisory role.

Thus began my decline. The recently demoted told most of the men on ASW that whoever went to sea with me should ruin me. In 1998, I reported to a DDG in Norfolk, VA.

Someone that I knew at Fleet ASW training Center in San Diego reported month ahead of me. He told the division that I was a feminist ball buster. By the time that I got to the ship, they already had it in for me.

I arrived with a good attitude and did my work. I won a few people over with humor. I was oblivious to me preemptive reputation. I found a “Dog log” where my “Other” names were listed. “Bitch, Dyke, Whore!” I confronted members of my division. I would take bitch and even dyke (I would never use a discriminatory term like that but as far as being called such a thing, who cares) but not whore.

The ship went to the Caribbean for a long cruise. We sailed through three hurricanes off the Florida coast. I was put on a nightly mid watch for six weeks with a shipmate (rapist) who just returned from a night in jail for beating his wife. It was known that I despised him.
Several times I was sexually assaulted by a second class petty officer (Rapist) during this watch. In high seas he would get seasick. Once, he got sick on me while he was trying to assault me.

The ship pulled into Puerto Rico. I bought a bunch of sleeping pills, Nyquil, and allergy medicine that I used to detach as a teenager. I drank Nyquil with sleeping pills. I could not sleep without them.

I took a bunch of Sominex, Nyquil, and Benadryl, and tried to drown myself in Puerto Rico. The Caribbean stays shallow for miles. The next day I called my aunt. She urged me to turn the rapist in. I knew this would come back on me.

I eventually reported it anyway. I went to the HMC, Chief Hospital Corpsman. I was taking a big risk because this HMC had been in trouble for leaking privacy act information about STD’s on the ship. I decided to throw my career away and report the crime.

Shockingly, the Chief’s mess circled their wagons and covered this up. My Senior Chief took me out on the fantail of the ship for a “Smoke break.” He told me that they knew that I was a feminist and that if I said anything more about this, they would have proof that I was just trying to get “The rapist” into trouble.

I was baited and trapped into an argument by my work center supervisor. He ranted that there was nothing wrong with “The Rapist,” “He just grew up in a touchy feely family.” Now some bitch that did not belong in the Navy made a division of people change.
Enter the famous “Unit cohesion” argument! I blew up and went to our LPO and told him in graphic detail what “The rapist” did to me. I blew the unit cohesion argument out of the water.

Whether or not “The rapist” grew up in a touchy feely family or not, I did. I grew up with a touchy feely father and it WAS molestation and it IS molestation now. LPO said, “It’s not molestation. It’s rape. I have three daughters. Report it!”

NCIS Investigated. “The rapist” passed a polygraph. The case was dropped. “Criminal” investigation!

America needs longitudinal policy discussions about preventing this epidemic, preparing women, treating the problem.

After I reported a rape I was put in the hands of two failure psychologists, sent to anger management, and sent to smoking cessation classes. Really? Anger management! Really?

Today I have emerged as a formidable woman. I still cannot sleep. I still jump if people come too close to me. This still hurts.

BUT,

When they come to accuse me of being a feminist, BRING IT! When survivors need strength, lend them hope. BRING IT!

If the rapists and rape apologist’s think they have won and that we cannot resist and rebuild ourselves, BRING IT!

If they think that women united cannot solve this problem, BRING IT!

Then we win!

10 comments

  1. JEN you will always be in my prayers! you are brave and strong! I can’t imagine the pain you have been thru! you are a good person and thank you for your bravery! JEN, you are my friend to the end, and beyond!

  2. Jen we all need to stand together all Vets male and female no one should ever have to go though what you and I did. Great Job Remember what Winston Churchill said
    “IF YOU’RE GOING THROUGH HELL, KEEP GOING”

  3. Wayne, I am so glad to hear from you. I never forget the men that suffer with us or the men that protect us. I know that this is far beyond a “Woman’s issue.” I totally appreciate you and your candor on this post and this issue.
    Panayiota, I am proud to join this fight to alter rape culture in the military and beyond.

    Gary,
    Let them bring it!

  4. I am sorry you went through all of this stuff. I too turned my boss in, I still remained under, during theinvestigation. I found that by me talking about it, I feel a bit better. Keep your voice known.

    Terri

  5. Dear Jennifer, I read a different post today at the OpEd place, but I couldn’t sign in, so I searched and found this older post. I hope you are still monitoring this thread.

    I just wanted to say I can relate to the piece, and your pain. I really can. I feel so sorry for you. It is so unjust. I don’t draw your same conclusions, but I certainly appreciate the dilemma. I too was sexually abused as a child (actually he was never successful, but I had to spend periods of time hiding in the house, or outside, and so I didn’t get raped but I did get hungry and cold a lot, and peed myself more than once). Then I married a guy who just–was nuts over sex. Not over love, over sex. Like your dad he was successful, and successful at his affairs. Once he brought two women to our own house at the same time. Our kids were like twelve and fourteen. The worst age. Then he divorced me for a woman he met in the park the previous month who gave him an awesome blowjob (she left him, though). I have been a single parent ever since. Now my sons are showing the same pattern. My oldest, adult son, just got arrested for exhibitionism–not the charge, that’s the term they use for the behavior.He hasn’t had a girlfriend for a long time. He’s been doing it for many years! And one other son is very detached from people, too, from relationships. One seems normal, so far, but he thinks he’s an anarchist (that’s a measure of ability to deny reality) and believes they should teach their new one year old daughter to masturbate when she shows an interest. (You might feel inclined to agree with the latter. But I don’t. that’s just sex-without-love, too.)

    I am afraid of my own sons. And their dad, who taught them these behaviors through the skin, I think, without any words, is no where to be found. And I cannot desert them, any more than you can undo the rape. I can only protect myself as best can, which in my case means not owning a house and being ready to escape quickly. Because I’m pretty sure my oldest son’s condition is going to get worse, and he’ll take it out on me, just like society takes it out on you. But at least I’m ready for it, not naive as I was when I made my pretend-marriage with that pretend-man (he never agreed to anything–why couldn’t I see it? Because I was valueless. I took what I could get. It was him.)

    I don’t draw your conclusion that the solution is to be found in women uniting. Around what? The only thing that could relieve us is to have a standard and tough sexual ethic. Stoning rapists–okay, I don’t mean that, but a consistent social position in the movies, in the school, in the church, in the home, one that is really clear about rape–and affairs–and masturbation–and exhibitionism.

    Guess which faith has that consistency, and does not privilege men? It is not Islam, or protestantism, or Judaism, it is only Catholicism. You’ll say, but they don’t let people have sex just for sex! They say you have to allow kids to get conceived in every act of intercourse. They say you can’t masturbate, you have to be married. And so forth. But Jennifer, if you looked into it, you’ll see that as much as they insist women accept the role of motherhood and men of fatherhood, they also insist on equal treatment and most of all, that sex be a relationship. A life-long, exclusive one. None of the other religions reach this. Women are shit on in all of them. Protestantism was born in accommodating Henry VIII’s lust, and has upheld the principle ever since. Holding men to consequences is what you want. Only Catholicism delivers–well, Christ did. He was unique in his appreciation of the situation and told men to put the veil in their own hearts, that they were responsible for their own lust, not the woman, not how she was dressed or how she acted (he also told the woman ‘found in sin’ to quit it).

    If women would unite around that sexual ethic, we’ d have something. Meanwhile, I get as much comfort as I can from the practice of my faith. There’s a lot! And at my church, traditional Catholic, we try to live this, and at least the rules are known and if someone violates them, it’s clear, there’s no way to twist and turn out of it. Rape is rape, there. We don’t blame the victim. We call a sin a sin.

    I’ll pray for you, and hope so much the pressure eases on you. I’m so sorry we both have had to suffer so much.

    I’m going to try to send this to you without giving my real info because–I was really frank. I said things here I’ve hardly said to myself, that I am afraid of my sons. So, you know, I just don’t want my comments to be found.

    1. I forgot to say Catholicism gives men and women an out from marriage if they don’t like the terms, but it means celibacy. They can be nuns, brothers, or priests, or unmarried laypeople, although that is not encouraged, and good for it. I’m sorry some priests broke their vows with children recently, they have earned their place, in the afterlife, and we’re all their victims (not only those abused children) for having less faith that people can act in responsible ways, are in control of their sexuality, are not slaves to anything. Still, there were good priests. I pray for the two priests in my parish when I was living in the home of my stepfather every single day, because I could have gone to either one of them and been received graciously, and they would have acted in my behalf. Because my stepfather was a brutal man, and a highly placed official, people were afraid of him. Most people didn’t cross him–store owners didn’t even send him a bill! But I knew these two priests were for real. They acted so in smaller ways for me, larger ways for others where I saw it. They were holy. That’s what it takes to go up against tyrants. As long as I could stay out of my stepfather’s clutches, I didn’t press the issue and put them in such a dangerous position. But I felt sure that if I needed to, they’d be there for me. And the nuns who ran the school, too. I don’t know what they thought of me, I was dirty, my teeth were green, I surely smelled like pee, but they just made sure I had a milk like the other kids after mass, and taught me. Those vocations are alternatives for women, under Catholicism, and they are wonderful alternatives for wonderful people. I just forget to say that, and put it as if marriage were the only alternative.

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