Sarah ,United States Marine Corps
I joined the Marine Corps in 2003. In 2006, at age 22, I was a LCpl stationed in Camp Pendleton as a Russian Linguist. I guess it’s fair to say I was a partier… I drank several nights a week to the point of drunkenness, occasionally to the point of blacking out. I’ve since learned my lesson… On August 26th, 2006, my friends and I had been drinking in the barracks, “pre-gaming”, waiting for a friend to get home who had promised to take us out and be our DD. When he got home, he took one look at me, apologized, and said I was clearly too drunk to go out. He was concerned it wouldn’t be safe considering my level of intoxication and that it was likely I wouldn’t even be allowed in at a club at this point. I shrugged it off and my friends and I decided to just keep drinking in the barracks. I don’t have much memory of the rest of the night, but I do recall at one point walking past the perpetrator. He was a supervisor of mine, a Cpl 12 years my senior. I had talked to him at work about running, but that was about it. I didn’t really know him. Honestly, I looked up to him, as most of us junior Marines did. He was older, seemed more mature than the rest of us. It was well known that he didn’t drink, or cuss, or smoke, and he was always wanting to talk about God to everyone. Our command adored him. I saw him in a friend’s room. He was standing in her doorway as I walked by. I remember being embarrassed that he saw me as drunk as I was. I APOLOGIZED to him for him having to see me like that! Ugh! Makes me so sick to think about now… He laughed and said, “Oh, that’s alright!” And I kept walking. The next thing I remember, I woke up in his room with him on top of me. I found out through the investigation what had happened: He had come down to my room later in the night. I was there with some friends. He asked me to come watch a movie in his room. Since I was nearing the point of unconsciousness, a friend of mine that I don’t even remember seeing that night apparently answered for me, said yes, and helped carry me up to the perpetrator’s room. But I passed out soon after getting there, so my friend suggested calling it a night. My friend asked the perpetrator, “Is it cool if she just crashes here tonight or do you want to help me carry her downstairs?” The perpetrator told him it was cool to just leave me there… that he would take care of me… The only words I remember from the whole incident were after he raped me: he asked me if I thought God could still love me after what I had just done. I think a combination of having dissociated and still being so drunk are what kept me from responding, but I remember those words…
Completely confused and devastated (not to mention, still drunk), I wandered around the barracks and found a group of shady people hanging out by the smoke pit behind the barracks. They offered me drugs and I took it. For all I know, it was an aspirin, but the point was, I had no clue what I was taking or who was giving it to me, and I honestly didn’t even care at that point. Definitely not something I usually do… I mean, I had just been horrendously violated and it had been suggested to me that God could no longer love me… I was feeling pretty low… I didn’t want to report it at first. I wasn’t even sure if it counted as rape. With my memory as hazy as it was, I kept trying to convince myself it was probably just some sort of misunderstanding, that I must have said or done something to make him think I had wanted him to do what he did. But I wasn’t handling it very well. I was breaking down at work; hiding in the bathroom, crying. Not eating, not showering, not sleeping. So a few days after it happened, I asked a friend what she thought about such a situation, hypothetically… She told me I had to report it and she called our battalion EO Rep, thinking he was the guy to talk to. He came to my office and took me outside to talk. I told him what happened, leaving out the perpetrator’s name. I asked him if that was even rape, and how I could get into counseling because I was recognizing the fact that I was not OK. He demanded I tell him the name. I asked if it would be kept confidential. He said yes. So I told him the name. THEN he told me he wasn’t really the EO Rep, that he was just filling in while the EO Rep was away, and that he was required to report it by law. And that I, too, was required by law to report it. Thus started my personal hell…
My command told me from the beginning to not tell anyone about what happened, “for my own good”. They told me that my safety was “their first concern” and that they would see this through to the end. So they said… In reality, they did everything they could to drag my name through the mud and punish me for having reported it, despite the fact that I was forced to do so!! I was frequently told that I needed to just forget about the incident, and “treat him with the respect his rank deserves!” I suffered a lot of psychological stress (diagnosed with PTSD), several breakdowns at work, hiding under my desk, running away from the office, locking myself in my boss’ office, crying during a battalion hike, having a panic attack during a PT session. All because my command never honored their promise to keep me safe.
Initially, I wasn’t even moved from the office in which the perpetrator worked. I asked (begged) to work a crap job as a guard for a top-secret building. The perpetrator didn’t have a clearance, so I knew he would never be there and I would feel safer there. I was told that would be “special treatment” (despite the fact that it’s the kind of job that newbies are given when they first come to the battalion because NOBODY wants that job!) so they couldn’t do it. I was never even moved to another barracks like I was promised. I was forced to live below him for the next 2 years, constantly in fear, living in paranoia of what could happen. Their solution to that was taking a restraining order out against me (??!!) saying I needed to stay away from the perpetrator, unless it was work related. I was given the “consolation” that it was mutual: he would be forced to stay away from me unless it was work related, too. How nice… I told them I wouldn’t sign unless they took out the “unless it’s related to work” clause. I didn’t want to be forced to work with him. Again, I was told that would be “special treatment” and that I needed to put “personal drama” aside when at work and act like a respectable Marine, treating him with respect and professionalism. This was mere weeks after what had happened! I was in counseling and even saw a psychiatrist to treat me for the anxiety and panic attacks, the sleeplessness, and the severe depression. My command forced me to hand over my list of prescriptions (which I learned later they had no right to do) and told me that it indicated that I was too crazy to deploy or continue performing my job. I was told that I was a “threat to national security”.
They suspended my top-secret clearance, stripped me of my position on the deployment roster, and sent me to work for Area Maintenance. I spent 5 months there, picking up trash along the side of the road with “rejects” from other battalions. Area Maintenance is where you send Marines who are considered useless or troublemakers. It is also where other battalions had sent male Marines who were currently being investigated for rape. So I frequently had to listen to other perpetrators tell stories about how the girl “had it coming” or why she “deserved it”. And every time I communicated with my command, it was again thrown in my face that they didn’t believe me, that they adored him because he was a fast runner and he didn’t drink, and that I just needed to move on.
I had one female lieutenant, who didn’t even have any right to know about my situation, seek me out because she thought she “could help me – speak to me – as one female Marine to another”. She told me, “Well, what he did was capitalize on an opportunity. That’s not really the same thing as rape. You know that, right?” I was constantly being made to feel like I was the crazy one for being hurt by what had happened. They even suggested just charging us BOTH with “Inappropriate Barracks Conduct” as a solution to the whole thing! Him, for having raped me, and me for having drunk hard liquor when I knew only beer and wine are allowed in the barracks. Oh, they also suggested charging me for “drug use” since during the investigation I admitted having taken something from someone that night, even though the rape kit I did revealed no drugs in my system. In all odds, it was aspirin of some sort, but since I admitted that I didn’t know what I took, my command tried to jump on the chance to charge me with drug use… Seriously? Threatening someone for reporting something when they were forced to report it against their will?? THIS is the Marine Corps?? But my command was good at covering their bases. They did conduct the NCIS investigation, as they are obligated to. The thing that’s messed up about that, though, is the right to press charges lies solely with my command. I have no rights in this arena. NCIS has no rights in this arena. Just my command. So, NCIS came back with the results of the investigation, which just listed the facts: “he says he knew she was drinking, but that he didn’t realize she was drunk. She says she was passed out drunk and barely remembers anything. Everyone who saw either of them that night confirmed that she was visibly drunk and he was sober.” The end.
First of all, you would THINK that this would be enough, considering both California and military law say that any alcohol at all equates to inability to legally consent, but nope… They didn’t seem to care about that. I had begged them for a lie detector test, but they said they only issue lie detector tests if the perpetrator denies having “had sex” with the girl. For some inexplicable reason, they can’t ask “Did you know she was drunk?” or, “Did she seem incoherent?” or even, “Did she seem to be enjoying it?” Nothing like that. All they ask is, “Did you have sex with her?” and he had already admitted that. So they denied my repeated requests for a lie detector test. So everything came down to “he said/she said” (why everyone else’ testimony was useless is beyond me… chalk it up to another failure in this system). NCIS insisted that the decision to press charges or determine criminality was with my command. My command insisted that it was up to NCIS to tell them if he was guilty or not. NCIS said they couldn’t make that call, it was up to my command, so on and so forth… My command insisted that the results were therefore “inconclusive” and that their hands were “tied”. Told me once again that I needed to get over it once and for all and put it in the past. That I needed to “give them an honest day’s work”. Like I was somehow a bad Marine for having PTSD. One MSgt even took the liberty of telling all of his junior Marines about my situation, telling them that I was a lying whore trying to ruin the reputation of a “good Marine”. He told his whole office. Probably about 30 Marines… And since I had been advised by them from day one to keep my silence, many of my friends (who weren’t involved in the investigation) had no idea what had happened and were still friends with the perpetrator. I can’t even begin to explain how painful that was… Seeing everyone revere him as this super-Marine, while I was silently suffering from this hell, often wishing I were dead.
Since my command had failed, was now refusing to let me transfer to another battalion, and was now forcing me to go back to working with the perpetrator, I decided to go beyond my command. I emailed news stations, I called lawyers, I wrote to senators and governors (both my home state and California), and I even contacted the base IG (Inspector General). Nothing happened. News stations never replied. Lawyers told me they would love to help but couldn’t touch my case since it was the military. I was advised by my advocate not to trust JAG. She said their primary goal is to support the battalion command and that they would just take anything I might tell them and use it against me, to help my command shut me up. The politicians either told me that I was out of their voter range (not a citizen of California, and no longer living and voting in my home state) or that my command had done everything they were legally required to do. The IG came and talked to me a few times, but that was about it. I vaguely remember there having been a brief investigation into my command’s actions, but since they conducted the NCIS investigation, and that’s all that’s legally required of them, there was nothing to be done. They are legally allowed to refuse to press charges, no matter what. The more pressure I tried to bring down on my command, the more they mistreated me. I had gained weight from the depression and was placed on BCP. Basically, we worked out at lunch everyday. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except shortly after I was put on BCP, the perpetrator, who had been promoted during this investigation, was put in charge of BCP! I was forced by my command to report to him everyday!!! And they don’t understand how this contributed to my mental instability??? I had my psychologist, my psychiatrist, and my victim advocate all lobbying for me, begging my command to take me out of this situation (and many other situations just like it) for the sake of my mental health, but all requests were denied as this would be “special treatment”.
Finally, after almost a year of fighting with my command… I gave up. I had sacrificed my clearance, lost most of my hair, gained about 30 lbs, and about lost my mind. I was completely defeated and had nothing left in me to keep fighting this system. I “moved on” in the sense that I started running and getting back in shape, working on me. I became very bitter and hardened towards the entire Marine Corps, feeling let down by a system that makes it illegal to sue your boss, no matter what they do to you. Upon giving up, I was called into one of my bosses’ offices and “congratulated” for having moved on. He congratulated me for giving up!! Again, this is the Marine Corps…?? A few months later, our battalion CO even held a battalion wide meeting where he told my story (without names) to everyone, and basically patted himself on the back for having helped get me through it! He even said, “I am proud to say that the Marine is now once again a functional member of this battalion because of our ability to step in and take the appropriate measures.” I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon-long brief crying. I hate him so much for having so callously swept everything under a rug, destroying so much of who I was, and then freakin’ congratulating himself for it! In front of everyone… Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled to now be a civilian. May they never call me back…