Month: December 2012

NO means it was not consensual

Maine, United States Army

My unit & I had been deployed in Iraq for approximately 10 months when I was sexually assaulted by my squad leader and a squad sized group of individuals.

The main perpetrator was my squad leader, along with four other male assailants. The assault occurred right before Christmas Day. Although I am unable to recall which exact day it happened, I do know that it was either Dec ember 22nd or 23rd of the year 2004. It occurred on Tallil Air Base, Iraq. It was not unusual for the squad leader to call a squad meeting late in the evening, after dark. ( 21:00 or sometimes later) He did this so that my squad would know what to expect for missions and to pass on general information. I would attend these meetings because I was required to do so. He held the meetings in his personal quarters, with the entire squad participating.

The night of my sexual assault, SSG (squad leaer) knocked on the door of my quarters, about 20:00. He told me to come with him to his squad meeting. I did as I was told. My entire squad was there in his living container quarters, which then SSG (squad leader) proceeded with his meeting. It was the ordinary agenda, just upcoming mission information. After the meeting, half of the squad immediately left SSG (squad leader’s) quarters. When I went to leave, SSG (Squad leader) suggested that I “stick around for a little while longer”. One of the assailants had received two 30 can cases of Budweiser beer in the mail, from a friend as an apparent Christmas gift. (Although it was against the general orders, consuming alcohol was very common for those in my unit. People got creative in order to obtain alcoholic beverages and did so often.

I did not partake in the consumption of the alcohol at all during my tour until the night of the assault) SSG (squad leader) and the other individuals present starting to drink the beer. They started to gather around me, and soon I was unable to physically leave. SSG put an open can of beer in my hand and told me to drink it. Since SSG (squad leader) told me to drink the beer, I trusted him, so I did. I drank the beer, which seemed to hit me very hard. It only took one beer to debilitate me. In retrospect, I have suspected that the open can of beer handed to me was probably spiked with a date rape drug. In fact, one of the perpetrators, had been in trouble with the law before deployment involving drug related charges as well being reprimanded for operating under the influence while in Iraq. With that being said, this particular soldier could have easily gotten a hold of certain contraband items, such as a variety of drugs.

While lying flat on my back on a bunk, I could see and hear what was going on, but could not move. I was terribly frightened, confused and in shock. I do not remember how my clothes came off, but before I knew it, I was completely nude and surrounded. SSG (sqaud leader) then proceeded to put his penis in my mouth and told me to “suck it”. I did as I was told because I didn’t know what else to do. At one point I remember SSG (sqaud leader) on top of me, and I said that “I don’t want to do this! Let me go! Stop doing that!!” The others in the room just laughed when I started crying, and SSG (squad leader) said “Come on, You know you want this! You’ve been asking for this the whole time we’ve been here.” SPC (co- assailant 1) stated that He wanted to get his camera and “film the action!” I begged and pleaded at him to not do that. SPC (assailant -2) seemed reluctant to touch me at first but was egged on by the others to “take advantage of the pussy.” SPC (assailant -4) bent me over the bunk and forced himself from behind. After that particular moment, I closed my eyes and blacked out. I came in and out of consciousness.

In the moments I remember during this phase, I was crying and just doing what I was told. I was able to sit up, and then SPC (co-assailant) told me to “suck his cock!” When I was finished doing so, SPC (co-assailnant 1) said “You are a goddess! I’m walking funny now!” SPC (co-assailant3) then bent me forward over the bunk and proceeded to rape me from behind. At this point, I could no longer feel anything in my genitals. SPC (co-assailant 2) laid me flat on my back on the bunk again. He proceeded to grab my breasts and put his penis between them, and ejaculated on my chest. I did not resist, as I was too fearful. At this point, I lost consciousness.

When I came to, I had my clothes back on, except for my bra. I felt very sick to my stomach and dizzy, but I managed to walk myself back to my quarters. I cried numerous times the next morning. For the first time, I felt suicidal. In fact, I had a specific plan in mind, to take my own life with my M-16 rifle in a remote part of Talill Air Base. At this point, I lost consciousness. When I came to, I had my clothes back on, except for my bra. I felt very sick to my stomach and dizzy, but I managed to walk myself back to my quarters. I cried numerous times the next morning. For the first time, I felt suicidal. In fact, I had a specific plan in mind, to take my own life with my M-16 rifle in a remote part of Talill Air Base. At the last minute I got a letter from my mother and it was then that I decided not to follow through with my plan. While these individuals were present in the event my rape, I place the chief accountability on SSG (squad leader). SSG (squad-leader) was the only NCO present as well, and if he had any integrity and character at all, he would have stopped this incident. He was my first line supervisor and the “ringleader” in my sexual assault. In retrospect, it seemed as through SPC (co-assailant 2), SPC (co-assailant 3), and SPC (co-assailant 4) were simply giving into the peer pressure, and I also did not resist or say no to these three individuals. I don’t know what ever became of SPC (co-assailant 1). A few days later, my platoon sergeant approached me in a private location. He told me that he knew what happened. He then went on to ask me if it was in fact consentual. Because I was too afraid to say otherwise, I said yes, it was consentual, but felt very bad about myself. I told him that I “felt like a whore” and that I wanted to talk to a Chaplain about what happened. I was advised not to not tell anyone about the incident, especially a chaplain. He reason being that if I told a Chaplain, I would get in serious trouble, especially because I was drinking. Fearing that I would get punished for drinking, I decided to keep quiet. However, SPC (co-assailant 1)was telling people throughout the 619th about what happened. I started to receive sexual taunts from other soldiers. Many of them coming up to me and saying things like “I heard you give good head!” or “How about a titty f*ck?” and similar comments. This sexual harassment persisted when I returned stateside within the 619th.

After being home for about 6 months, I started to receive phone calls from various soldiers who identified themselves as “investigators” One who called me very often said that He was LT from 94th headquarters (The battalion the 619th answered to) kept asking questions about the incident. I was offered no sort of advocate in that so-called investigation. During this investigation, I was extremely fearful of telling the truth. I feared for my personal safety at home, since I single at the time and lived alone, and knew my main perpetrator, SSG (squad leader) lived in the same state as I did. I feared physical harm and retaliation if I came forward even after the deployment.

About a year after returning from Iraq, I was told that I would have to face displinary actions for “indecent sexual acts”. SSG (squad leader), SPC (co-assailant 3) and myself had to travel together to Brockton, Massachusetts. I felt extremely uncomfortable and sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to go, especially riding in the same vehicle as SSG (squad leader) and SPC (co-assailant 3. I even felt suicidal again. I was made to stand at parade rest in front of Lt. Colonel Corkery, and explain my actions. I was the ONLY female soldier present at this Article 15 hearing. I stood at the desk and faced the Lt.COL Corkery completely alone, and there were other unknown male soldiers present. Again, I was offered NO advocate or even a chaperone. Lt. COL Corkery made me feel extremely bad about myself. He did his best at making feel even more ashamed and embarrassed, including telling me that “I was an embarrassment to the Army, and to all the female soldiers who came before me.” I received an article 15, but before leaving his office, Lt. COL Corkery said “as long as you stay out of trouble, I will remove the article 15 from your record.” I have no idea if this article 15 is still in my 201 file, but I have never had any article 15’s or similar disciplinary actions before or since this incident.

He made a copy of the charges against me, which was the violation of general orders (the consumption of alcohol while in Iraq) and indecent sexual acts, blacked out my name, and put it on the 619th bulletin board for the whole unit to see. My name wasn’t blacked out very well and still legible, so everyone in the unit knew it was me. I had thought my obligation to active reserve was completed, so I left the 619th.

I missed being a soldier, so I thought that I could do well in the Maine Army National Guard. Things went very well with my new unit and I even got promoted to SGT E-5. The Maine National Guard treated me well. I even started to date again and met my husband., who is my biggest advocate and is Marine Corp Veteran.

This is personal.

I was pretty excited to join the military. I spent every chance I could running and working out in the gym so that I would be trained the best that I could prior to entering the Air Force. I signed the dotted line and shortly after this I was invited to a “new recruit” party. It was my opportunity to meet new people like myself, therefore, I was excited to meet them and have some comrades going through the uneasiness of giving yourself to the armed services.

My recruiter organized the event and it was held a couple of weeks after I enlisted. I showed up to his house that night for what I thought was a military sponsored event. It was about 30 minutes from where I lived so it felt like I was driving to the sticks. I was not concerned in the least bit about the event being at the recruiter’s house because it did not seem appropriate to have a party at the Guard Station. This recruiter was also known for motivating his new recruits, working out with them to help them get prepared and basically spending time with them off the job. I thought he was dedicated.

Upon my arrival, I immediately noticed that no one was there, aside from his neighbors, one of which was a current member of the military. This man was there with his wife. I thought I was early and just settled in until others showed up. The recruiter immediately began to pressure me to drink. As a way to make it easier for him to “force” me to drink, he suggested playing drinking games. They decided to play “quarters” which I am horrible at. Each time I missed getting the quarter in the shot glass, the recruiter was pouring another drink and I had at least 5 shots in front of me at one point. I forced down a couple shots due to the extreme pressure I felt to drink and fit in but I also got upset and told him that I was not going to drink all the shots in front of me. He continued to pressure me. His pressuring was so powerful and so aggressive that I started getting angry. I felt like I was literally being pushed into drinking and getting drunk. I still had to drive home and I was not going to risk my new military career by drinking and driving.

It was at this point, that I got up from the table to step away from the drinking game, and I realized that I felt dizzy. It just felt like I was really drunk and needed to lie down for a minute because the room was spinning. I wasn’t sick to my stomach, just dizzy. While the others continued to drink, I meandered my way into the living room and lay down on his couch. I passed out on the couch and when I awoke, the neighbors were gone, the house was dark, and I was being picked up and carried by the recruiter.

He carried me into his bedroom. I knew what was happening but I had absolutely no life and could not move. I didn’t realize it until later because I was not aware of date rape drugs back then but I now know that I was somehow chemically restrained. I did not have the choice to decide. This man took advantage of my powerless body and then after he was done, he rolled over and turned his back to me. I remember feeling completely mortified and humiliated. I remember feeling like this was not right but I could not move. I fell back asleep and woke back up early in the morning, I presume after the drug wore off. The recruiter still had his back to me and he didn’t even wake. I quietly slipped out of the bed, put my clothes back on, and left his home immediately.

I could not believe what had happened. When I got home, I remember feeling horrible about myself and thinking that if I wasn’t so stupid, I would never have gone there. I beat myself up immensely and questioned how I could have let this happen. I still did not understand what had happened. I just felt dirty and ashamed. The first thing I did was take a shower. I was also devastated that I most likely had unprotected sex with this man and now needed to get tested for STDs to be on the safe side. I went to get tested less than a week after it happened. I had a pap smear completed and a full set of STD tests completed after sharing with the doctor that I had had unprotected sex but I didn’t tell her what had happened. My tests came back negative and she explained to me that although I was tested for AIDS that I should get retested in 3-6 months because it doesn’t always show up immediately. I was so angry that this man exposed me without my consent. I was celibate so I wasn’t exactly prepared to have sex and I was not on birth control.

A couple weeks later, I noticed that I was feeling nauseous like every day all day. I hadn’t even considered the fact that I might be pregnant but of course it was a deeply engrained fear. I went back to the doctor to see her about my condition and found out that I was pregnant. I was devastated. I immediately started crying and the baby inside me felt like a disease or a cancer that was spreading. It was not a joyous experience whatsoever and all I remember is thinking I want this out of me. I was so upset and I remember thinking I wanted an abortion. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I needed to right the wrong that was done to me. I should not have to pay for this man’s act the rest of my life. I probably never would have needed an abortion in my lifetime because I was very responsible with my health care needs. I took good care of myself and utilized the services of Planned Parenthood. I was not going to get pregnant. And here I was pregnant with a rapist’s baby, with no money, and nowhere to turn. I was forced to turn to my dad for the $400 I needed to get the procedure done. He told me that I better never ask for money again for something like this. I didn’t tell him what happened. I was so embarrassed and ashamed.

As most people enjoy their baby growing inside me, I was resentful that my choice was taken away from me, that I was forced now to get an abortion, and that if I didn’t get an abortion, my military career would be over before it even started. What are you supposed to do? I found someone safe to take me to the abortion clinic. I told her that I was pregnant but she didn’t know anyone that I knew and I knew she would never tell. She dropped me off and picked me up which was one of the conditions that you had to agree to prior to the procedure. You would never have known that the building was an abortion clinic. I now realize that this was for safety purposes but back then I didn’t know why the building didn’t have a sign, that the doors were locked for a reason, and that you had to be buzzed in and only you could enter the building.

You could not bring anyone with you. I met with some medical personnel prior to the procedure. They explained what would happen and then I was led to the room where the abortion would be completed. I was crying the whole time. It was not painful physically, but it was painful emotionally. I felt like something was ripped away from me and I cried in anguish. I never wanted an abortion to begin with, let alone to be faced with this. But now, here I was the victim of a rapist who took the control away from me not only once but twice. I wanted nothing to do with him and I certainly did not want a child out of wedlock that I was forced to take care of by myself. I had no money. I was so broke that I had to ask my dad for the money for the procedure. That was not easy. I left that place and never looked back.

It is now sixteen years later and this is the first time that I have ever talked about it let alone described the experience. This issue is personal for me and I strongly believe that every circumstance is individualized and that the person deserves the choice. How can anyone force and expect another human being to carry a child they don’t want to term, a child that they did not have the choice to create, or a child that is the product of a sleazy manipulative rapist who uses his position to set up his attacks. Do I harbor guilt and resentment over my decision? Yes. I am considered a murderer to some segments in society. But there is so much more to it than that. My life turned out the way I wanted it to for the most part.

Our Armed Forces teach our service members about core values such as honor, courage, and commitment. The military has skated out of taking responsibility for this issue for far too many years. When one of our nation’s service members is the victim of a rape resulting in an unwanted pregnancy it should be the duty of the Armed Forces to provide for the care, and the physical and mental well-being, of that service member.

First Class Petty Officer (E-6) raped while serving in the United States Coast Guard.

The first time I was assaulted in the CG was by my Company Commander in boot camp. Then there was a rape while on liberty just before we graduated. Oh, but I had been drinking: ergo my “fault”…. it took me YEARS – my entire career – to understand that I was incapable of consenting.

I was raped in “A” school… I became promiscuous because I was told “You joined the Coast Guard. What did you expect? You’re just morale gear!”. I was raped at my first duty station (I was a Reservist at the time) and told “No one will believe you. You’re just a Reservist”. So the programming I was getting was: You don’t matter. You are never going to measure up. If you want to stay in the CG, you need to just suck it up and deal with it. Promiscuity was a coping mechanism because in my battered psyche it was the ONLY way I could find someone who “had my back”.

Gods… what a dreadful, twisted mentality at such a young age! Somehow my brain made it into that I “mattered” and had “control”… I DID matter, but was far from having any control. You’d think I would have gotten out… but, instead, I dropped out of college after getting raped at my Reserve Unit and went on Active Duty. When I would struggle, I was sent for counseling and with TWO different counselors at two different points in my career I was told flat out “If you want to stay in the Coast Guard, you have to be found Fit For Full Duty, so it’s your choice”. My choice… Hide the fact that I have severe damage done TO me in order to stay in the service that I DEARLY love, or face discharge for “Adjustment Disorder” or “Personality Disorder” or some other BS diagnosis. Some choice!

Obviously I chose the former. Failed relationships. Failed marriages. Never quite “measuring up” because I was terrified more of the bullying than assaults. I developed a potty mouth and was first to jump to a sexual innuendo because if I said it, “they” wouldn’t say it ABOUT me. Another coping mechanism. Easy to do when I was the only woman. I only had to stand up for myself, and that was impossible. Forward to 2004. I was struggling at my unit mainly because of misogynistic Neanderthals (I was, and am, a Boatswain’s Mate. Not the best rate in which to be if you want to avoid bullying morons) and I already crumbling near the breaking point.

I didn’t understand what was happening in my brain – the hidden things – the fears – everything there was shut down hard. All I knew was that I thought daily of suicide. Had planned to just step off the fantail during some deployment. Everything hurt that badly. I lost the ability to even qualify for watch stations – the big ones – Underway OOD on two different ships… just could NOT make it to the boards… terrified. Then I was raped while on leave. This time it was by a civilian. I came back into the area and reported it to my Command via my FEMALE XO (the CO was plain useless). I was told “Because you were not raped on Coast Guard property or by a Coast Guardsman the Coast Guard is not obligated to help you”.

My mind instantly snapped to and the thought came “If I had broken my arm on liberty, would the Coast Guard have set it?” Of course the answer is “yes”. So, how is this damage any different? The HS2 on board at the time told me “40 year old women aren’t raped” and something about how I should be “thankful”. What a POS he is! The XO tried to tell me about “Needs of the Guard”. Her punk ass had been in all of, what, 6-7 years INCLUDING the Academy? I’d done THREE geo-bachelor tours in that amount of time. I had over 20, but not all Active Duty though. I was still on leave and when I got back I had TAD orders to the Group nearby.

The XO there directed me to go to the Local Women’s Resource Center. I also got counseling locally and finally found an AWESOME therapist. Here it is 2012 and I’m STILL seeing him! Anyhoo… I started working through repressed memories. Meanwhile I had to return to my ship, where my Command was trying to get an Administrative Separation through.

Because of my longevity I was able to file a rebuttal. I had been removed from the ship and sent to work in our “office” ashore. The office was just me in a building. We got a new XO and he was no better than the former . I put in to become a Victim Support Specialist for our District and the request was denied because our unit “didn’t need one”. I was starting to get a little “Towanda” to me by now and the Command was forced to let me become one, even though they still wanted me out. I was given access to my Medical Record because it was in disarray (about 3″ thick and not in order). While I was putting it in chronological order I started noticing things that matched up to the memories I’d been recording through therapy. There was a distinct pattern. There was “proof” of the times when I was being assaulted with things like increased trips to medical for things that they were never able to diagnose that were summarily just ignored. Especially during my tour in Alaska, where I had been FORCED to file a Sexual Harassment charge (DACOWITZ had just been started and I was told my orders would be held up if I didn’t comply) but after 2 months of hell CGI told me they couldn’t get any corroboration. No shit? Really? Where the person was either a perpetrator or a witness? What a surprise!!!

In 2006 we had a Change of Command and the XO figured the new CO would believe everything the old Command said of me. I had been busy, though. When the XO gave me the letter so they could Admin Sep me (by this time they were calling it “unsuitability due to ADHD”) I had my response in hand. I created a document 2″ thick, bound, color coded, indexed and including what I called a “Trauma Timeline” giving dates, incidents, NAMES and corresponding entries in my medical record for things like recurring UTIs, and so on, as well as the Coast Guard’s own policies, all available information I could find regarding Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD, plus the information regarding Fibromyalgia (both of the latter have many of the same cognitive issues as ADHD). The XO told me that I could only submit ONE page and I stood up to him. “No Sir, THIS is my response!”. He had no choice but to hand it to the brand new CO.

The CO came directly to see me. He told me that he and his wife had been stationed at the same unit as I in Alaska, but arrived shortly after my departure. His wife worked for Work-Life and they heard about an incident that had been investigated. It turned out that was me. So when he received my “response” and read about that chapter in my career he KNEW I was telling the truth and HE hand carried it to District, directly to the Admiral THAT DAY. My request? My request was to be allowed to remain on Active Duty for the remaining 6 MONTHS I needed to get my Active Duty 20 and be allowed to retire.

Thanks to him, I got it. I also got an interview with CGIS that lasted 5 hours (no breaks… I just rambled on). I never asked for anyone to be prosecuted. I never asked for anything other than for this crap to CHANGE (unfortunately it hasn’t) and be allowed to retire. The CGIS Agents actually told me they were sorry all this had happened to me and thanked me for my service. Sounds great in the end. Yes, I got my PTSD diagnosis and was able to get Concurrent Receipt on my Retirement and VA Disability. I’m 100% P&T and could get all my pay from the VA so it was tax free, but I’ll be DAMNED if the CG isn’t going to pay me my retirement. But it’s not better.

I still feel like I missed out on so much of the CG. I haven’t really been able to stay in contact with former shipmates. I have two really close ones, both females, both are now Chiefs and I could not be prouder! So many of my “Sea Babies” went on to be Chiefs and above. I did make a difference. It was during my last year while part of the local Domestic and Sexual Assault Response Team that I learned something that made the most difference in my healing. Here I was trying to learn to help others and paid my way to a course given to professionals. When I learned that it’s not just “Fight” or “Flight” as we’ve heard all our lives… there’s a third. There’s “Freeze”. People who naturally fight can learn to flee and those who naturally flee can learn to fight… those, like me, who lock up – can’t scream – can’t move – may only be able to cry and beg “please don’t!”… we will freeze when threatened personally. I’ve always been able to stand up for others… just not myself. I see now all the times I froze… rapes… assaults… harassment… bullying… to abject terror of failing a board and being ridiculed there toward the last 6 years of my career… all because of something over which I had NO control. It wasn’t my “fault”. It just was. I still can freeze… but now I avoid situations that are “too much” for me, or have someone with me that can help get me “out”. Someone who understands my need to stand with a wall to my back, or who understands when I stop moving and my eyes are like saucers that they need to take me by the hand and MOVE me someplace “safe”. I shop on Amazon.com… heaven for someone who just can’t deal with crowds!

Here it is now 2012. I’ve been retired almost 6 years. I WANT to work with MST Vets. I tend to bounce around in my own little chaotic universe, but when it comes to talking about MST I am brave. I want to help. I am not the norm because I managed to last a full career… but at what expense? If it hadn’t been for ONE person that read my “story” and backed me… I’d be, well… most likely dead. I would have put up with all of that bullshit for nothing. The service I STILL so dearly love would have discarded me as easily as they do those who report the first rape…

Times have changed… or have they? The DoD got cracked down upon, but the Coast Guard so deftly manages to say “Oh, sorry, we’re not DoD! That doesn’t apply to us!”. Bullshit. I dare one of these assholes to tell me “Why are you bashing the CG?!?!” I’ve NEVER bashed the Coast Guard… just individual assholes that screw it up for those who deserve BETTER. I joined in ’81. Between then and 2007 it SHOULD have been better. By now it SHOULD be damn near perfect! But it’s not. It’s still the “Corporate Mentality”. How do we fix it? By speaking out! By putting faces to the acts. It happened to ME. “ME” being all of us. We are a sister AND brotherhood of those who are walking wounded from an invisible war that is ongoing.

This is unacceptable. We may feel our voices alone are weak, but together we CAN and DO make a difference. Perhaps we can write letters to the First Lady and encourage her NOT to let her daughters join the Military, and point out how our beloved Coast Guard manages to continue to put everything else above Victim Support. We support the Coast Guard by making it BETTER than it is. Love to you my sisters and brothers

~ BM1 Elsa Nethercot (USCG, Retired)