My Duty to Speak

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… 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)