I joined the U.S. Coast Guard October 31, 1983. After graduating boot camp I was assigned to a small boat station in South Portland, Maine. It was there that I was brutally raped and told that if I told anyone that my face would be cut up with a knife.
The rape was reported and investigated. There was evidence. I was transferred to another duty station. Word spread and I experienced harassment about proceeding forward with the case. The rapist was a Second Class Boatswains Mate (E-5). He was later discharged from the service.
I requested counseling and the counselor was a woman who blamed me for the rape. I will never forget her saying; “If women would just say yes there would be no rape.” I ended up holding all emotions in and continued on with my service.
As time continued on, I experienced headaches, body pains, and panic attacks. In 1991 I sought treatment from the rape crisis center in Miami, FL. I was having difficulty with flashbacks and panic attacks. It was there that I was told that I had Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) delayed-onset. I received care through a civilian therapist.
I had to fight for my medical care and went through 2 medical boards and won both. I transferred to New York in October of 1993. The Coast Guard made healing and recovery difficult.
I went to a National Organization for Women meeting in NYC and listened to a speaker discuss (PTSD). I later went to her for therapy. In 1995 I had an increase in symptoms and realized that if I were to heal, I needed to move on and leave the service. I received a disability retirement in January of 1996. I tried to serve 20 years, but my physical body was worn from the trauma inflicted upon me.
After reporting the first rape and experiencing the after effects of reporting, I decided that I would never report a rape again.
A few years ago I was serving on a cutter in the Coast Guard (I’m at a different unit now). We were at a week-long port call and were moored up at a pier. I was on the mess deck eating lunch with a female coworker on a Monday and she told me a story.
She said that she was out at a bar with a bunch of other people from the ship and they all got pretty drunk. After coming back to the ship one of the guys pushed her up against a wall and sexually assaulted her. She couldn’t push him away and had to wait for someone else to walk by and pull him off of her. Another guy walked by and saw it happening, but didn’t do anything because the two of them were friends.
Now, we’re friends. I think of her as like a little sister. I was not happy when I heard this. I knew that I wasn’t thinking clearly because I was so angry, so I didn’t do anything and waited until later to talk to someone else. I got her to tell the story to another female that we work with and I said that my feeling is that we should tell our supervisor and get these two guys in trouble.
The female that it happened to said that she doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, and to just let it go. The other female said that we should just do whatever the other wants to do with it. Their main thought was that we’re in a job that no one on the ship likes, and the other two were thought of as everyone’s friends.
They were afraid that she would get in trouble and everyone would take the guys’ side. As much as I hated to let it go….they were probably right. We never did anything about it. It still haunts me to this day. I hate seeing bad people go unpunished.
I was separated from the Coast Guard because I reported a rape.
I am not ready to share my story. I do want to share these four concerns that I feel should be addressed by the Congress.
1. I was forced to pay out of pocket to attend my own Article 32 hearing. I was eventually reimbursed but I was given a hard time when I requested to be reimbursed and had to tell 3 people why I was traveling. One questioned me on why the Coast Guard should pay for a personal matter. Apparently you have to be rich to bring forward any charges against a rapist in the Coast Guard. Unless you are sitting on a pile of cash forget about having your parents or anyone there to support you.
2. The retaliation was worst than the rape. Almost everyone from an E-2 to an O-7 called me a liar.
3. After reporting my rape I was the one transferred not my rapist. You’ll think that the Coast Guard would have some common sense and not transfer a rape victim away from her friends and a unit she is familiar with. In addition to being the odd new girl that left early for counseling I felt even more isolated because I was at a new unit and in a new city.
4. The Coast Guard does not allow non-Coast Guard victim advocates to serve as victim advocates. I requested Panayiota as my victim advocate and the Coast Guard denied it. Instead they gave me 3 different victim advocates within a year. By the time I felt comfortable with one they gave me a new one. The irony of it all is that at times they did not know the answers to my questions and they’ll ask me to ask Panayiota and then requested to know what Panayiota has said so that they can know for future victims. Even though Panayiota was not allowed on base with me and at the hearing she was the only one that was stable in my life and the first person I emailed or called after getting any updates about my case. All of the victim advocates were very nice people but I felt that they were not trained enough. Every other branch of the military allows non-military members to assist rape victims why doesn’t the Coast Guard?
It’s the headquarters for the Coast Guard’s entire First District. It’s where many victims of sexual assault in the service get sent. And it’s where, all too often, their military careers then come to an end.
read full story here and in the current issue of Boston Magazine
When Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz was questioned about the increase of sexual violence at the Coast Guard Academy she released the following statement:
“At a time when they’re exploring their identity, it’s somewhat natural to have people experiment with what it takes to attract a person of the opposite sex. If, one time, a guy or gal is clumsy or stupid and tries to touch someone and they’re repulsed, they learn. Someone who goes around and keeps trying many times, that’s a different kind of behavior than someone who is awkward and experimenting.”
Sexual assault is not being “clumsy” or “stupid” but a violent crime –a felony with lifelong consequences for the survivor. Sexual Assault is sexual assault regardless if it happened once or if it happened repetitively over a period of time. The Coast Guard Academy should not tolerate Sexual Assault and the superintendent should stop making excuses for sex predators.
read more here.
You are about to read true first person testimonies of sex abuse in the United States military. A lot of the survivors do go into details about their sexual assault, rape and the military response to the rape. Reading these testimonies could potentially be triggering to survivors of Military Sexual Trauma or rape. Please take that into account before continue reading.
My Duty to Speak started as a writing workshop in Cambridge, MA for Military Sexual Trauma survivors that was hosted by the Military Rape Crisis Center in November 2010. The day workshop was taught by some of the greatest trauma and writing specialist in the country. By writing about what we went through while wearing the uniform we broke the silence of abuse liberating ourselves while also might be helping someone else who is feeling the same way.
We are thankful for so many survivors who came forward to share their Military Sexual Trauma testimonies with us. As you can read from the testimonies the military response to rape is often as disturbing and horrifying as the act of rape itself. Want to do something to help survivors? Take Action and call your representatives and demand better treatment for sexual assault survivors in the military. Head over to change.org and sign our brand new Petition to demand better treatment to survivors of rape in the Coast Guard. If you are interested in sharing your testimony go to Be Heard.
My staff and I are always available to you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Together we are making a difference and improving the military response to sex abuse within it ranks. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done and we can not do this without you, your support and your voice!
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